March 13, 2023
Our world is certainly a complex place. It contains a huge range of opinions when it comes to clothing, food, or music – and apparently this applies to lawmaking, too. Across the planet, unique cultural contexts often lead to a notable diversity in laws. In other cases, legislation presents itself as downright silly (and makes you question why certain laws were ever introduced in the first place). Many are almost too far-fetched to believe. In this article, we take a look at a range of weird laws from all over the world, attempt to understand why they came about, and consider the implications.

Strange Laws Around the World

1. It’s illegal to hold salmon under suspicious circumstances

Section 32 of the Salmon Act 1986 stipulates that it’s an offence to handle salmon under suspicious circumstances. This section creates an offence in England and Wales for any person who receives or disposes of any salmon in circumstances where they believe or could reasonably believe that the salmon has been illegally fished – perhaps a more reasonable law than you might first expect (‘how could you hold a salmon suspiciously?’). The maximum penalty is two years imprisonment.

A primary aim of this act was to update legislation already introduced in the Victorian Era (the 1868 Salmon Fisheries Act). It also points specifically to the Secretary of State as having the power to define different forms of fishing and what is (or isn’t) allowed – not entirely sure if they still realise that it forms part of their role today…

2. It’s illegal to let your chickens cross the road in Quitman, Georgia

Simply put, the law wants owners to have their chickens under control at all times. 

Georgia likes to ensure the safety and sacredness of their chicken because in Gainesville Georgia, you eat fried chicken with your bare hands. Keep your forks away from them. The law describes chicken as a “culinary delicacy sacred to its municipality.” Perhaps this is why chicken deserves a specific transport safety law. Part II, Chapter 8 specifically states: ‘It shall be unlawful for any person owning or controlling chickens, ducks, geese or any other domestic fowl to allow the same to run at large upon the streets or alleys of the city or to be upon the premises of any other person, without the consent of such other person’. Quite the mouthful – and much less entertaining than a subgenre of jokes which comes to mind.

3. It was illegal to change a light bulb unless you were a licensed electrician in Victoria, Australia

Under Victorian law, changing a light bulb without a valid licence was against the law. Taking your light into your own hands brought a fine of 10 Australian dollars. However, a revision to the 1998 Electricity Safety Act updated this law. A spokeswoman for Energy Safe Victoria said that, “While the Electricity Safety Act makes it illegal to do your own electrical work if you are not licensed, changing a light bulb and removing a plug from a socket were specifically exempted from this requirement under Order in Council G17.” Better to leave it to the professionals if you’re not sure, either way…

4. It’s a legal requirement to smile at all times except at funerals or hospitals in Milan, Italy

What’s with the long face? In Milan, the law compels you to smile. It’s prescribed by a city regulation from Austro-Hungarian times that was never repealed. Historian Andrea Santangelo recalls this rule as stemming from the suggestion of one Luigi Fabio. Exemptions included funeral goers, hospital workers or those at the bedside of an ill family member. For everybody else there is no excuse for being glum, the alternative being a fine. Not that there is too much to be unhappy about in Milan for visiting tourists, who flock to the city in great numbers every year.


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5. It’s illegal to pass wind in a public place after 6pm on Thursdays in Florida

One weird law, that’s since been long-forgotten, is that it’s illegal to pass wind in Florida after 6pm on a Thursday. It’s never really been enforced in Florida but it was probably written in the 1800’s. It’s not clear why this ever became a law, or a rumoured law in the first place. There’s probably a good opportunity here for an aspiring lawyer to practise their debating skills, though (see our skills advice for aspiring lawyers) – the law states that it is outlawed to ‘annoy the community’ or ‘corrupt the public morals’, both of which are naturally very open-ended statements demanding some level of subjective interpretation. Would passing wind certainly annoy the community, or would some members exhibit a more comedic response? Discuss (30 marks).

6. It’s against the law to play too many non-Canadian artists on Canadian radio

Canadians are a patriotic bunch. This is the primary reason for the fact that Canadian radio stations are required, by law, to play Canadian artists for 35% of the time (with a special emphasis placed on the weekdays during working hours). CBC aim even higher – more than half of their ‘Popular Music’ offering is sourced exclusively from Canadian artists (think plenty of Justin Bieber or Drake). Canada has some incredibly detailed programming rules. If you weren’t already tired of Michael Bublé on repeat at Christmastime, then moving to Canada might not be the best option for you.

7. It’s illegal not to walk your dog at least three times a day in Turin, Italy

Dog owners in Turin, Italy will be fined up to €500 if they don’t walk their pets at least three times a day, under a new law from the city’s council. Italy considers itself an animal-loving nation and in many cities stray cats and protected by law.

To enforce the law, Turin police would rely largely on the help of tipsters spotting cruel treatment by neighbours. Turin has the most stringent animal protection rules in the country – they even ban fairgrounds from giving away goldfish in bags. We can certainly appreciate the sentiment to protect animal welfare with these ones (as obscure as they may seem).

8. You must let anyone use your toilet if they ask in Scotland

If you need the toilet you can knock on someone’s door and ask to use their bathroom in Scotland – and by law, they cannot deny you. This derives from an extension of old Scottish common law regarding hospitality (fair play to the Scots!), and is technically still enforceable today (even though it was never officially authorised by Parliament). Whether you’re likely to find much success upon attempting it, however, might be a different story.

9. In Samoa, it’s illegal to forget your wife’s birthday

You will get more than the silent treatment from your wife if you forget her birthday in Samoa. It is unclear how long your sentence would be (it’s been implied that the first offence may only culminate in a warning), but maybe some time apart for you to think about how to make it up to her wouldn’t be too bad. 

10. It’s a legal requirement to own a burial plot before you die in Sarpourenx, France

The mayor of Sarpourenx issued an edict forbidding people from dying within the city limits unless they had previously purchased a plot in a local parish cemetery. People who broke this by dying without a plot would be ‘severely punished’. What kind of punishment you give the dead however is as of yet unclear. The mayor introduced the law as a consequence of being told his parish could not purchase more land to increase the number of burial plots available. He later apologised for any upset caused by this ruling (around the time of the next election cycle, it’s worth noting). The town does only have 260 residents – although that doesn’t make predicting your own death much easier.

By Declan Peters

Looking For More Weird Laws?

Take a look at unbelievable laws that still exist in America, the strangest English laws – or try our quiz of strange laws from around the world below:

Quiz: More Weird Laws Around The World

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