In the Media

Workhouse legislation goes on bonfire of statutory dead wood

PUBLISHED April 4, 2012

Wednesday 04 April 2012 by Jonathan Rayner

More than 800 pieces of 'statutory dead wood' from the 1600s and earlier would be scrapped under measures proposed today by the two bodies charged with tidying and modernising UK legislation.

Laws identified for repeal include a 1696 act to fund the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire of 1666, a 1696 turnpike act to repair roads between towns in Surrey and West Sussex and 57 obsolete acts to raise money for the parish poor, including a 1697 act to run a workhouse in Exeter.

The two bodies, the Law Commission for England & Wales (LCEW) and the Scottish Law Commission, are expected to put the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill before parliament this summer. It will call for the repeal of 817 whole acts and the part repeal of 50 other acts, and is the largest such bill that the commissions have produced.

LCEW chair Sir James Munby said: 'Getting rid of statutory dead wood helps to simplify and modernise our law, making it more intelligible. It saves time and costs for lawyers and others who need to know what the law actually is, and makes it easier for citizens to access justice.

'We are committed to ridding the statute book of meaningless provisions from days gone by and making sure our laws are relevant to the modern world.'

The bill covers a range of subjects, from poor relief and lotteries to turnpikes and Indian railways. The earliest repeal is from around 1322 (Statutes of the Exchequer) and the latest is part of the Taxation (International and Other Provisions) Act 2010. The repeal proposals followed a rigorous research and consultation process, the commissions said.

Other laws to be repealed include: an 1856 act to help imprisoned debtors secure their early release; a 1710 act to raise coal duty to pay for 50 new churches in London; 38 obsolete acts relating to the various railway companies operating in British India and the East Indies; 40 acts relating to the City of Dublin and passed by the UK parliament before Ireland was partitioned; an 1800 act to hold a lottery to win the £30,000 Pigot Diamond; 295 obsolete railway acts, many of which relate to railways projects that collapsed in the banking crisis of 1866; and 16 acts passed between 1798 and 1828 to impose duty on every pint of ale, beer or porter brewed or sold in parts of Scotland.