In particular, what is the oldest piece of written law (whether statute, constitution, decree or similar) that is still in force somewhere in the world?

Alongside that, what is the oldest law still in force which has been shown to still be relevant?

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    Does your question require the law to be in force since its creation? Hypothetically, if there's a religious law that has recently been encoded into the laws of a theocracy, then that would be an extremely old 'law' that is now in force.
    – user171
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 15:26
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    @SF. You tell me.
    – user171
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 15:14
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    does for example "You shall not murder." count? I mean this is obviously in practice but of course all country explains it by their law environment. Or just laws count which are in practice unchanged text? Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 12:46
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    @SteveMelnikoff OK. Anyways it would be equally hard to answer since I am sure Ten Commandments are not the first which forbids murder. Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 13:43
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    The 604 Constitution of Japan is argued by some to still be in force today, due to not being explicitly repealed by later constitutions. I believe that's usually dismissed by most, though.
    – Geobits
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 1:18

4 Answers 4


The Fairs Act 1204 is still in force in Ireland.

  • Thanks, Steve. This book has some cautionary comments: Parchment, Paper, Pixels. Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 14:53
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    I'm not so sure, however, that this is relevant these days . . . Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 14:58

The Islamic laws (also called sharia) which appeared ca. 710 AD and still applied in some countries like Saudi Arabia, where the Koran is the official constitution of the kingdom.


Chapters 1, 4, 15 and 23 of the Statute of Marlborough 1267, an Act of the English Parliament, are still in force in the UK.

Chapter 1:

criminalised the taking of “revenges” or the levying of distress without first obtaining a court order.

Chapter 4:

prohibited the taking of distrained goods or belongings out of the debtor’s home county, particularly where the removal was carried out by a landlord against his tenant

Chapter 15:

made it unlawful for anyone to distrain on the public highway

Chapter 23:

made it illegal for “fermors” deliberately to “make waste, sale, or exile” (without written permission) of any house, woods, men or any other thing belonging to tenements demised to them.

They were considered for repeal by a Law Commission report in 2012, but were found to still be relevant.

(Quotes are from the above report; see also here, here and here.)

UPDATE, Jan 2016: A subsequent Law Commission report found that chapter 15, and part of chapter 4, have now been superseded and can be repealed (though at the time of writing, this has not yet happened). Chapters 1 and 23 "appear to have continuing value".


A rather old set of laws still in force, are the canons promulgated by the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea of 325. There were twenty canons of which some were later amended while others still in force in the Christian Church. One of the canons was Canon 1 for the prohibition of self-castration for Christians.

Another set of canons were adopted in the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381. This includes the Niceno-Constantinopolian Creed which is still in use by the Orthodox church and the Catholics who pray in Greek.

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    Does any nation (e.g. perhaps the Vatican) actually enforce these canons as statutes?
    – KRyan
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 19:55
  • @KRyan - Presumably, since they're Church "laws", they would only be enforced in the sense of ecclesiastical punishment for violating them (i.e. excommunication). I don't think even Vatican City enforces church law secularly.
    – Bobson
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 16:38

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