UK legal misconceptions

During a recent conversation with a client he said he thought UK law was an ass. I pointed out it was not UK law that was an ass but the misconceptions surrounding the law in the UK.

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Lloyd Barrett

Some of which are just a nuisance whereas others will be seriously detrimental to life and wealth being…below are just a few UK legal misconceptions

Misconception: If you live with someone you are Common-Law Husband and Wife.
Reality: The law does not recognise Common-Law Wife. You’re either “married” or “not married”. There is nothing in between. The legal phrase for people who live together is cohabitees.

Misconception: If I’m married and I die my wife will get everything whether I’ve written a will or not.
Reality: This is not the case. If you die without a will you have died Intestate. Your wife may end up with a very small proportion of your estate and your children a large chunk of it automatically. You should really write a will.

Misconception: You can’t marry your mother in Law.
Reality: Oh yes you can (but why would you want to do that?!)

Misconception: If you want to copyright something you simply put it in an envelope and post it to yourself.
Reality:This is no proof of copyright at all. The contents can easily be changed. A better way is to get the material date stamped by a firm of solicitors or put a first class postage stamp on the material and ask your local post office to cancel the stamp with their date stamp.

Misconception: If I am stopped for speeding by one policeman on his own I can not be prosecuted.
Reality:Oh yes you can. The courts are more likely to believe a policeman saying you were speeding other than you saying you weren’t.

Misconception: If I cover the number plate of my car in cling film speed cameras can’t pick up my number plate.
Reality: This may or may not be true but in any event it is illegal and you can be prosecuted for obscuring the number plate even if you are not speeding! We suggest that you don’t try.

Misconception: Trespasses will be prosecuted.
Reality: Trespass is not a crime it’s a civil matter. You can not be prosecuted for trespass. You can sue someone for trespass but unless they have done some damage you are not likely to get any money. If they continually trespass the best you are likely to get is a court order telling them not to do it anymore.

Misconception:If you put “goods belong to the seller until paid for in full” on your invoices it means that you can go and get them back if the buyer doesn’t pay for them.
Reality: This may or may not be the case it depends on how long you have been dealing with the customer for and what he has done with them. More often than not this clause is completely unenforceable although it can be enforced by wording it properly.

Misconception:If I partake in an activity and I sign a form that says I agree that I will not hold the organisers responsible for any death or injury then I can not bring a claim.
Reality: It is impossible to exclude death or injury as any consequence of any negligent action. This clause is simply unenforceable under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977

Misconception: If a trespasser hurts himself by, for example, tripping on a hazard on my premises, (perhaps a burglar even during the course of a crime) then that’s tough on him.
Reality: Under the Occupiers Liability Act 1984 I have a duty to keep even a burglar safe from harm when on my premises! (This act was brought in to prevent victims laying traps for unwary burglars)

Misconception:There is an old law which says that policeman must walk with one foot in the gutter.
Reality: Oh no there isn’t. If there is we have never found it.

Misconception: A policeman must wear his hat if he arrests you otherwise the arrest is unlawful.
Reality: If you get arrested for something and the policeman doesn’t have his hat on don’t think you’re going to walk away from it.

Misconception: It is legal to kill a Welshman inside Chester City walls after dark.
Reality:It may have been true 2000 years ago but in the 21st century it would be a sure fire way to life imprisonment.

Misconception: Housebreaking is during the day, burglary is at night.
Reality: There is no offence of housebreaking in the UK, the offence of burglary is entering a building as a trespasser with the intent to commit theft, GBH or rape.

Misconception: If a limited company owes money and goes bust there is nothing I can do to get it back.
Reality: Although you will usually be an unsecured creditor and therefore way down the list of people for payment, the limited company is a “one man band” and is one individuals “alter ego” then its possible to sue the individual “behind the corporate veil”.

……..and some interesting facts…….

If you take something from someone without their knowledge and leave a note saying “I will bring your xxx back next week” AND you take it back next week having treated it as your own and returning it in exactly the same condition, then you can not be charged with theft. In these circumstances we struggle to find what you could be charged with. Bizarre, but true.

A man once stole a ladder and committed a burglary using the ladder wearing nothing but his socks. It must have been a warm night!

On the road, if there are no speed limit signs and the street lights are less than 200 meters apart then it is a 30 mph speed limit.

If someone owes you some money and pays you (say) half of it on the basis that “its half or nothing” and you accept it under duress it’s still usually possible to sue the debtor for the balance (this goes back to the 17th ct).

Slavery wasn’t abolished legally until 1998 by the Human Rights Act because the 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act did not define what slavery was.

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