The Law: Shouting `taxi' to hail a cab, and other crimes you commit every day

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Britons break the law up to 20 times a day, without even realising it, claims a magazine. Michael Streeter on the law in our everyday lives.

Have you ever driven a car wearing wet shoes? Or borrowed a pen from the stationery cupboard and taken it home? If so you may have fallen foul one of the many unwitting ways to break the law in modern society.

The monthly magazine Focus, which reports odd events in the world of science and society, claims that a person's average day is a "legal minefield" of which we are blissfully unaware. The bad news is that a typical Briton, driving to work at an office, may break as many as 20 laws in a day.

The good news is that such laws, many of them contained in obscure and ancient statutes, are often not enforced, and more honoured in their breach than their observance. Many are at the discretion and judgement of the enforcement authorities.

In cars, smokers are under more threat than that to their health. The simple act of stubbing out a cigarette or lighting up another can lay a driver open to the charge of driving without due care and attention. Having wet shoes could make you unfit to drive.

Alternative transport such as a taxi could be equally fraught. It is still technically illegal, says Focus, to shout "taxi" to hail a cab; while hailing any mini-cab in the street is also forbidden. Once at the office the problems do not end; taking home a pen from the office can lead to a theft charge while a "free" coffee or cup of water at work should be declared to the Inland Revenue as a taxable benefit.

As we approach the festive season, there are lessons to be learnt by the law enforcers themselves. It is, under old statute, apparently still unlawful for the police and other emergency services to work on Christmas Day, while even more oddly serving more than three courses for Christmas dinner is also against an old law.

The further back the laws, the more strange they seem. Any butcher found guilty of selling bad meat can still be put in the pillory for a day, and it is still illegal for a salesman to try to sell anything to a woman on a Sunday.

Paul Colbert, the editor of Focus, said many of the laws came from attempts to control small sections of society, the rules quickly becoming outdated.

"The nation's lawmakers need to wake up," he said. "It's still illegal to beat your wife after 9pm because of the noise or to make love on the steps of a church after sundown. I suppose it's allowed in broad daylight, is it?"