Common Scold

The Criminal Law Act 1967 contains this strange clause:

13 (1) The following offences are hereby abolished … any distinct offence under the common law in England and Wales of … being a common scold.

I doubt most modern lawyers would know what a ‘common scold’ is, because it’s been obsolete for about two centuries.  However, there is a definition in Blackstone’s Commentaries.  It is a woman (by law a man could not be a scold) who caused a public nuisance in her neighbourhood.  The punishment was the ducking chair.

These days, if you disrupt your neighbourhood, you can get an ASBO.  But if you were a woman disrupting your neighbourhood in 1966, you could theoretically have been sentenced to the ducking chair.

In fact, the last use of the ducking chair was Sarah Leeke, in 1817.  Fortunately for her, the water in the pond was too low, so she was wheeled round the town in the chair and then allowed to go.

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