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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison

The Unrepealed

I had never given much consideration to the question of unrepealed laws. These are laws on the British Statute which have fallen into disuse due to irrelevance in modern times. Legally binding they might still be, but Parliament has never bothered to officially repeal dozens of them. What, after all, would be the point of prosecuting the drivers of London cabs for failing to carry adequate hay to feed a horse for a day. The internal combustion engine has long replaced the horse, so the fact that drivers of hayless black cabs could be arrested has never concerned the Metropolitan Police.

This issue was brought to public attention by the evangelical wing of the anti-smoking lobby. They had realised that ‘Arson in Her Majesty’s Dockyards’ remained a capital offence and brought the first successful prosecution of a tourist who carelessly discarded a cigarette-end on a pavement in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard. Even the judge at the trial agreed that the penalty lacked proportion, but he had no choice under the law than to sentence the guilty to be hung from the yardarm of HMS Victory.

Initially, I drew no connection between this legal anomaly and my purchase of Manor Cottage. It was only when researching the history of my home that I learned that the cottage was the last remnant of the old feudal manor and that, together with the ownership of the cottage, I inherited the title of ‘Lord of the Manor’. This would have been no more than an interesting historical curiosity had it not also given me a number of unrepealed legal rights in relation to the village.

The locals initially entered into the spirit of the fun by providing free food from local shops and free ale at the local hostelry. On reading the small print of the powers gifted to me by King Henry, however, I noted the right to claim conjugal rights in relation to any female within a five mile radius of the cottage. The original Royal Decree specified that this applied to any species, although I thought I might limit my discretion to homo sapiens and try not to visualise a good Friday night in Merry England.

This ancient privilege clearly presented moral dilemmas for modern times, but the law is the law and after mature consideration I concluded that not to exercise my rights would undermine the very fabric of the English legal process.

Thus all seemed to be going very well in the village until I was the victim of an untrue and scurrilous accusation. How could anyone in the twenty-first century accuse me of being a witch? Twenty villagers did, however, and the stupid and unrepealed medieval obligation to burn witches was invoked.

The Jailer stands at the door and tells me that the stake is prepared. I reply that I don’t smoke and so, no, I don’t have any matches - but that will not delay matters for long...