This article explains the citation of United Kingdom legislation, including the systems used for legislation passed by devolved parliaments and assemblies, for secondary legislation, and for prerogative instruments. This subject is relatively complex both due to the different sources of legislation in the United Kingdom, and because of the different histories of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom.
Each piece of legislation passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom ("Westminster") is known as an Act of Parliament.
Each modern Act of Parliament has a title (also known as a " long title ") and a short title . A short title provides a convenient name for referring to an individual Act, such as "Jamaica Independence Act 1962". The long title is more comprehensive in scope, providing a sometimes very detailed description of the Act's provisions that is too unwieldy for convenient citation; for example, the long title of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 is around 400 words.
Acts are today split between three series, Public General Acts, Local Acts, and Personal Acts, and cited accordingly. Each Act within each series is numbered sequentially with a chapter number, identifying it as a chapter of the (notional) statute book. Since 1 January 1963, chapter numbers in each series are organised by calendar year.The first Public General Act passed in a year is "c. 1", the second is "c. 2", and so on; the first Local Act of a year is "c. i", the second is "c. ii", and so on; while the first Personal Act of a year is "c. 1", the second is "c. 2", and so on (note the use of italics).
Chapter numbers for Acts passed before 1963 are not by calendar year, but instead by the year(s) of the reign during which the relevant parliamentary session was held; thus the Jamaica Independence Act 1962 is cited as "10 & 11 Eliz. 2 c. 40", meaning the 40th Act passed during the session that started in the 10th year of the reign of Elizabeth II and which finished in the 11th year of that reign. Note that the regnal numeral – the 2 of Eliz. 2– is an Arabic rather than a Roman numeral.
Earlier practice was to specify the parliamentary session by the year in which it started only – and sometimes to date its Acts accordingly. So, for example, the Adventurers Act was passed by the session 16 Cha. 1 in 1642 and is cited as 16 Cha. 1 c.33. That session began in 1640. In consequence the Act is often referred to as the Adventurers Act 1640: despite being passed in response to events in 1641.
Short titles were only introduced in the middle of the nineteenth century, and it was only by the late 1890s that every individual Act of Parliament had one. Some earlier Acts that originally lacked a short title were given one by later legislation, most notably by the Short Titles Act 1896; also, since the independence of the Irish state in 1922, an Act may have a different short title in the United Kingdom and in the Republic of Ireland because of the different legislation passed in the two states. Older Acts may also have a "conventional" short title, such as "Crewe's Act".
The Parliament of the United Kingdom came into being on 1 January 1801; before that date, legislation was passed either by the Parliament of Great Britain or the Parliament of Ireland. Similarly, the Parliament of Great Britain came into being on 1 May 1707 (OS); before that date, legislation was passed either by the Parliament of England or the Parliament of Scotland. Acts passed by each of these parliaments, except for the Parliament of Scotland, are cited in the same way as pre-1963 Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom; i.e., by parliamentary session and chapter number. Acts passed by the Parliament of Scotland are cited by calendar year and chapter number.
Acts of the last session of the Parliament of Great Britain and the first session of the Parliament of the United Kingdom are both cited as "41 Geo. 3". The numbering runs straight through, effectively merging the sessions: that is, the numbers for the Parliament of Great Britain's Acts continue unbroken from the numbers for the Parliament of England's.
Some individual Acts from these parliaments have more than one citation, depending on the edition in which the Act is printed. Modern practice for the parliaments of England and Great Britain is to follow the citations used in The Statutes of the Realm , while for Scotland the citations used are those in The Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland (both of which are considered legally authoritative). These latter citations are also used in the official Chronological Table of the Statutes.
Only a small number of Acts passed by these parliaments have been given a short title by later legislation.
All legislation passed by the various devolved parliaments and assemblies has both a short title and a long title.
Each piece of legislation passed by the former Parliament of Northern Ireland (Stormont) was also known as an Act of Parliament. The system of citation of Northern Ireland Acts of Parliament is almost identical to that for the Westminster parliament, except that the change to numbering by calendar year happened earlier (starting in 1944), and that Northern Ireland Acts are cited in Westminster legislation with "(NI)" appended to the chapter number.
There is a difference in naming convention between Acts passed in Northern Ireland and Acts passed at Westminster but relating to Northern Ireland. Thus, the Criminal Evidence Act (Northern Ireland) 1923 is an Act passed at Stormont, but the Criminal Appeal (Northern Ireland) Act 1930 is an Act passed at Westminster (note the different placement of "(Northern Ireland)" in the two).
Acts passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly are cited by calendar year and chapter number.
Each Act of the Scottish Parliament is cited by calendar year and the acronymic "asp" number ; e.g., the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act 2000 is "2000 asp 5".
Measures of the National Assembly for Wales (2003–2011) are cited by calendar year and the acronymic "nawm" number; e.g., the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 is "2011 nawm 1" ("2011 mccc 1" in Welsh).
Acts of the National Assembly for Wales (2012–) are cited by calendar year and acronymic "anaw" number; e.g. the National Assembly for Wales (Official Languages) Act 2012 is "2012 anaw 1" ("2012 dccc 1" in Welsh).
Measures passed by the General Synod of the Church of England (formerly the Church Assembly) follow the numbering conventions used for Westminster legislation, except that each Measure has a "Number" rather than a chapter number. For example, the New Parishes Measure 1943 is cited as "6 & 7 Geo. 6 No. 1".
With the exception of Northern Ireland secondary legislation, each piece of secondary legislation made in the United Kingdom since 1948 has been numbered as a Statutory Instrument (or SI). Most individual SIs have what is generally referred to as a "short title" (despite none having a "long title"). Each SI is centrally registered and issued with a number; the numbering resumes from "1" at the start of each calendar year. Thus, the Northern Ireland Negotiations (Referendum) Order 1998 is cited as "SI 1998 No. 1126", or more simply as "SI 1998/1126". Commencement orders are also numbered separately as part of a "C." sub-series; this number is appended to the main number. Statutory Instruments relating to Scotland were similarly numbered as part of an "S." sub-series until the series of Scottish Statutory Instruments began (for which, see below).
The system for Statutory Rules and Orders in place from 1894 to 1947 was less comprehensive. However, those instruments centrally registered and issued with a number follow the same pattern; thus the Trinidad and Tobago (Constitution) Order in Council 1950 is numbered as "SI 1950 No. 510".
The annual volumes of SIs before 1961, and all those for SR&Os, were organised by subject matter rather than by instrument number. This means that these instruments should ideally be cited by both number and page reference; thus the full citation for the Trinidad and Tobago (Constitution) Order in Council 1950 would be "SI 1950 No. 510 (SI 1950 Vol. II p. 1156)".
Some prerogative instruments are also printed in appendices to the annual volumes of SIs. These instruments are not numbered, and are thus cited by page number only; e.g., the Fiji (Appeal to Privy Council) Order in Council 1950 is cited as "SI 1950 Vol. II p. 1555".
Older secondary legislation frequently lacks a short title. An example of an incorrect citation as a result of this can be found in regulation 3 of the Cremation (Amendment) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/92). Reference is made to "the Regulations as to Cremation (1930)", but the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, the body which oversees SI drafting, noted that the correct way to cite these regulations would have been, "the Regulations made by the Secretary of State under section 7 of the Cremation Act 1902 and section 10 of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1926 and dated 28th October 1930".This longer form of citation was used when the 1930 regulations were revoked by schedule 2 to the Cremation (England and Wales) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/2841).
A statutory instrument made by the Scottish Government is called a Scottish Statutory Instrument (or SSI). Each of these is separately numbered, with the numbering resuming from "No. 1" at the start of each calendar year; thus the Radioactive Substances Exemption (Scotland) Order 2011 is cited as "SSI 2011 No. 147", or more simply as SSI 2011/147.
Acts of Sederunt made by the Court of Session or Acts of Adjournal made by the High Court of Justiciary are numbered as Scottish Statutory Instruments.
A statutory instrument made by the Welsh Government is called a Wales Statutory Instrument . Each of these is numbered as part of the sequence of UK SIs but is also numbered separately as part of a "W." series, with the numbering resuming from "W. 1" at the start of each calendar year. Thus, the Isle of Anglesey (Electoral Arrangements) Order 2012 is cited as "SI 2012 No. 2676 (W. 290)" ("OS 2012 Rhif 2676 (Cy. 290) in Welsh).
Statutory instruments made by Order in Council as primary legislation for Northern Ireland are numbered as part of the main UK series of SIs, but are also numbered separately as part of an "NI" series, with the numbering resuming from "NI 1" at the start of each calendar year. Legislation passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly cites these instruments by the "NI" number only.
Secondary legislation made by the Northern Ireland Executive is numbered sequentially as part of the Statutory Rules of Northern Ireland , with the numbering resuming from "No. 1" at the start of each calendar year. The numbering mirrors that used for the UK's main series of SIs; thus the Prohibition of Traffic (Ardoyne, Belfast) Order (Northern Ireland) 2011 is cited as "SR 2011 No. 270". Previously this type of secondary legislation was numbered as "Statutory Rules and Orders (Northern Ireland)".
Each distinct "enactment" within an Act of Parliament is called a section (abbreviated "s.", plural "ss."). Each section has a distinct number, in continual sequence from "s. 1" (section one) onwards. If a section is subdivided or has subordinate elements, then these are known as subsections, each of which has a bracketed number; e.g., "s. 1(4)" is subsection 4 of section 1. Subsections are subdivided in turn into paragraphs, which are identified by an italicised letter; e.g., "s. 1(4)(c)". Subparagraphs are identified with lower-case Roman numerals; e.g., "s. 1(4)(c)(viii)".
In schedules to an Act of Parliament, each distinct numbered element is called a paragraph (abbreviated "para."), which is subdivided in turn into subparagraphs.
The sections within a lengthy or complex Act are sometimes grouped together for convenience to form a Part. A "Part" may in turn be subdivided into "chapters". Other groupings are occasionally found as well.
When an amendment to an Act requires the insertion of a new section part of the way through a numerical sequence, then sequential capital letters are used following the appropriate number; thus, a new section inserted between s. 1 and s. 2 will be numbered "s. 1A".
The terminology for the structure of Acts and Measures of the devolved parliaments and assemblies follows that used for Westminster legislation.
During its passage through the Westminster parliament, each proposed enactment forming part of a bill is known as a clause, rather than as a section. For Scottish legislation, the term "section" is used for Bills as for Acts of the Scottish Parliament.
The terminology used for the equivalent in secondary legislation of sections of an Act of Parliament depends upon the particular type of instrument; however, the numbering system follows the same pattern. A comparison of terms and abbreviations is shown in the table below.
Note that the naming and citation of provisions included in a schedule is the same across all forms of legislation as the system used for Westminster legislation, and has therefore been omitted from this table.
|Type of legislation||Main division (1st level)||Subdivision (2nd level)||Subdivision (3rd level)|
|Order in Council||Article|
art. 1(1) or para. 1
|Order made by a Secretary of State||Article|
art. 1(1) or para. 1
Section 19(1) of the Interpretation Act 1978 provides:
Where an Act cites another Act by year, statute, session or chapter, or a section or other portion of another Act by number or letter, the reference shall, unless the contrary intention appears, be read as referring-
- (a) in the case of Acts included in any revised edition of the statutes printed by authority, to that edition;
- (b) in the case of Acts not so included but included in the edition prepared under the direction of the Record Commission, to that edition;.
- (c) in any other case, to the Acts printed by the Queen's Printer, or under the superintendence or authority of Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
Section 19(1)(b) refers to the edition commonly known as The Statutes of the Realm.
The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom, the Crown dependencies and the British overseas territories. It alone possesses legislative supremacy and thereby ultimate power over all other political bodies in the UK and the overseas territories. Parliament is bicameral but has three parts, consisting of the sovereign (Crown-in-Parliament), the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The two houses meet in the Palace of Westminster in the City of Westminster, one of the inner boroughs of the capital city, London.
The Legislatures of the United Kingdom are derived from a number of different sources. The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the supreme legislative body for the United Kingdom and the British overseas territories with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each having their own devolved legislatures. Each of the three major jurisdictions of the United Kingdom has its own laws and legal system.
Acts of parliament, also called primary legislation, are statutes passed by a parliament (legislature). Act of the Oireachtas is an equivalent term used in the Republic of Ireland where the legislature is commonly known by its Irish name, Oireachtas. The United States Act of Congress is based on it.
A statutory instrument (SI) is the principal form in which delegated legislation is made in Great Britain.
Promulgation is the formal proclamation or the declaration that a new statutory or administrative law is enacted after its final approval. In some jurisdictions, this additional step is necessary before the law can take effect.
The short title is the formal name by which a piece of primary legislation may by law be cited in the United Kingdom and other Westminster-influenced jurisdictions, as well as the United States and the Philippines. It contrasts with the long title which, while usually being more fully descriptive of the legislation's purpose and effects, is generally too unwieldy for most uses. For example, the short title House of Lords Act 1999 contrasts with the long title An Act to restrict membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage; to make related provision about disqualifications for voting at elections to, and for membership of, the House of Commons; and for connected purposes.
Coming into force or entry into force is the process by which legislation, regulations, treaties and other legal instruments come to have legal force and effect. The term is closely related to the date of this transition.
A Scottish statutory instrument is subordinate legislation made by the Scottish Ministers or a regulatory authority in exercise of powers delegated by an Act of the Scottish Parliament. SSIs are the main form of subordinate legislation in Scotland, being used by default to exercise powers delegated to the Scottish Ministers, the Lord Advocate, the High Court of Justiciary, the Court of Session, and the Queen-in-Council.
Northern Ireland legislation is a legal term of art.
The Interpretation Act 1978 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Act makes provision for the interpretation of Acts of Parliament, Measures of the General Synod of the Church of England, Measures of the Church Assembly, subordinate legislation, "deeds and other instruments and documents", Acts of the Scottish Parliament and instruments made thereunder and Measures and Acts of the National Assembly for Wales and instruments made thereunder. The Act makes provision in relation to: the construction of certain words and phrases, words of enactment, amendment or repeal of Acts in the Session they were passed, judicial notice, commencement, statutory powers and duties, the effect of repeals, and duplicated offences.
In many countries, a statutory instrument is a form of delegated legislation.
In the United Kingdom an Act of Parliament is primary legislation passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. As a result of the Glorious Revolution and the assertion of parliamentary sovereignty, any such Act is in theory supreme law that cannot be overturned by any body other than Parliament.
The Chronological Table of the Statutes is a chronological list of the public Acts passed by the Parliament of England (1235–1706), the Parliament of Great Britain (1707–1800), and the Parliament of the United Kingdom, as well as the Acts of the old Parliament of Scotland and of the modern Scottish Parliament, and the Measures passed by the National Assembly for Wales and by the General Synod of the Church of England. It is produced by Her Majesty's Stationery Office and published by The Stationery Office.
The Interpretation Act 1889 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The Acts of Parliament Numbering and Citation Act 1962 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It has never been amended. It was introduced because the existing system of citing Acts by session and chapter was considered "inconvenient".
An Act of Adjournal is secondary legislation made by the High Court of Justiciary, the supreme criminal court of Scotland, to regulate the proceedings of Scottish courts hearing criminal matters. Now primarily derived from the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, the original power to create Acts of Adjournal is derived from an Act of the Parliament of Scotland of 1672. Before promulgation, Acts of Adjournal are reviewed and may be commented upon by the Criminal Courts Rules Council.
In parliamentary systems and presidential systems of government, primary legislation and secondary legislation, the latter also called delegated legislation or subordinate legislation, are two forms of law, created respectively by the legislative and executive branches of government. Primary legislation generally consists of statutes, also known as 'acts', that set out broad outlines and principles, but delegate specific authority to an executive branch to make more specific laws under the aegis of the principal act. The executive branch can then issue secondary legislation, creating legally enforceable regulations and the procedures for implementing them.
An Act of the Scottish Parliament is primary legislation made by the Scottish Parliament. The power to create Acts was conferred to the Parliament by section 28 of the Scotland Act 1998 following the successful 1997 referendum on devolution.