Ancient laws to be scrapped in legal spring clean

Animal owners will soon be able to rest easier knowing their pets can no longer be impounded to pay off the king's debts.

The ancient decree, which relates to 1322 when King Edward II ruled England, is one of more than 800 dead laws that have been recommended to be swept clear of the statute book.

Others include acts that relate to the debtors' prison in which Charles Dickens set Little Dorrit, a diamond crushed upon the death of an Ottoman ruler and the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire of 1666.

The Law Commission for England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission have recommended that 817 acts as well as 50 partial acts be consigned to history. The matter is due before Parliament this summer.

"Getting rid of statutory dead wood helps to simplify and modernise our law," said Sir James Munby, chairman of the Law Commission for England and Wales. "We are committed to ridding the statute book of meaningless provisions and making sure our laws are relevant to the modern world."

Among the archaic acts is one from 1800 which set up a two-guinea lottery to win the £24,000 Pigot Diamond when the family of the 1st Baron Pigot, Governor of Madras in India, failed to find a buyer for a jewel described as "the equal of any known diamond in Europe". The stone was eventually sold to the Ottoman Albanian ruler Ali Pasha, who ordered it crushed to powder when he was mortally wounded.

The oldest partial act to be repealed is one believed to date back to 1322, which outlined "What Distress shall be taken for the King's Debts, and how it shall be used". The statutes regulated the taking and impounding of animals, how they were to be fed, cared for and sold, and what livestock was to be exempt.