Dying in Westminster Palace is illegal and other crazy laws in the UK

There are many popular rumors about crazy laws in the United Kingdom. For example it is told that it is illegal to die in the Westminster Palace in London or that it is a crime to put a stamp upside down on a letter. 

Such fun facts are often presented in news, media and television:

In the following I will disprove these myths.

Dying in Westminster Palace

The reason for this (not existing) law could be that anybody who dies in the Houses of Parliament comes under the authority of the royal coroner and is entitled to a state funeral which is usually reserved for royalty. It is said that the paramedics would remove the corpse of anyone who dies inside the Parliament and only declare the person as dead once they are no longer within the building.

According to the Coroners Act 1988, the coroner of the Queen’s household had jurisdiction over an inquest into a death in a royal palace. But this office was abolished in 2013 by section 46 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. Furthermore there is no law that grants anybody who dies in a royal palace a state funeral.

The UK Law Commission was not able to trace any law that forbids dying in the Westminster Palace. Furthermore there have been some deaths in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster and none of them received a state funeral or was prosecuted for dying there:

  • Guy Fawkes and Sir Walter Raleigh were both executed in the Old Palace yard (the present buildings being the New Palace, built after the fire of 1834).
  • Spencer Perceval the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated, was shot and died in the lobby of the House of Commons in 1812.
  • Sir Alfred Billson collapsed and died in the House of Commons ‘Aye’ lobby in 1907, while casting his vote on a sugar duty Bill.

In conclusion dying in Westminster Palace is not illegal in the UK.

Placing a stamp upside down

The Treason Felony Act 1848 makes it an offence to do any act with the intention of deposing the monarch.

If any person whatsoever shall, within the United Kingdom or without, compass, imagine, invent, devise, or intend to deprive or depose our Most Gracious Lady the Queen, from the style, honour, or royal name of the imperial crown of the United Kingdom, or of any other of her Majesty’s dominions and countries, […] and such compassings, imaginations, inventions, devices, or intentions, or any of them, shall express, utter, or declare, by publishing any printing or writing or by any overt act or deed, every person so offending shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable to be transported beyond the seas for the term of his or her natural life.

The stamps in the UK show the counterfeit of the Queen. But putting a stamp upside down does not depose the monarch according to the statement of the UK Law Commission. This means placing a stamp upside down is not illegal in the UK.

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Posted by Phil

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