Acts of Parliament

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Acts of Parliament

  • Parliament = Main legislative body
  • It's a democratic way of making law as it's elected, unlike judges
  • The other option of changing the law: appeal all the way to the Supreme Court which is slow & expensive
  • Acts of Parliament are also reffered to as legislation and statutes
  • 60 - 70 are passed each year
  • Parliament consists of the House of Commons and the House of Lords
  • Both must be in favour of a bill before it can become an act
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House of Commons

  • Members of parliament such as MPs sit in the House of Commons, and are elected by the public
  • The country is divided into constituencies and each one has an MP
  • General electrions must take place at least every 5 years, but the Prime Minister can call one earlier
  • The government of the day is formed by the political party which has a majority in the House of Commons
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House of Lords

  • At the beginning of 2010 it consisted of 92 hereditary peers, life peers and most senior bishops of the Church of England
  • Up until 2010 the 12 most senior judges used to sit in the House of Lords, they have now been removed, they are separate from parliament and sit in the Supreme Court
  • Originally most members of the House of Lords were hereditary peers
  • During 1990s, the award of life peer was introduced to stop the title passing to children who haven't earned it
  • It's appointed by the Prime Minister and the Queen gives the title
  • It is awarded to those who have served the country and who could bring their expertise to the House. E.G. Lord Sugar and Margaret Thatcher
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  • In 1999 there were 1,100 members of the House and 750 of these were hereditary peers
  • The Labour Government felt that in a modern society a hereditary title should not automatically allow someone to participate in making law and that some members should be elected
  • The Wakeham commission: set up to decide how members of the House of Lords should be selected
  • In 1999 they abolished hereditary peers, leaving only 92 of them
  • The Wakeham Commission in 2000 reported that 1/3 of the House of Lords should be elected and that there should be a limit on the Prime Minister's right to nominate people
  • It recommended that an independant Appointments Committee could reject poorly qualified nominees and also be able to appoint peoples peers (nominating ordinary people)
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The Procedure for Legislation

  • If it is a major matter the process starts with a green paper
  • It's issued by the minister who is responsible for the matter
  • It is the government's proposal
  • It's a consultative document giving the government's view and what they intend to do
  • Interested parties are invited to give their comments and the government will listen to their views
  • After this the government will issue a white paper, which is the firm proposal of what the new law would be
  • The consultation stage is important as the government have been criticised in the past for rushing Acts of Parliaments through without a consultation and the act has been unworkable
  • E.G. Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 > Focuses on breed rather than the dog itself
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Introducing an Act of Parliament

  • Most will be introduced by the Government and these will be drafted by lawyers in the civil service known as 'Parliamentary Counsel to the Treasury'
  • They are instructed by the government department responsible for the particular area as to what is to be included and the effect the new law is intended to have
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  • Once the proposed Act is drafted, it is published and it is called a bill
  • It has to be drawn up carefully
  • It has to reflect what the government intended
  • It has to have clear language and must be ambiguous, precise and comprehensive
  • It's not that easy to achieve this which is why we have problems with statutory interpretation
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Private Members' Bills

  • These are the bills that are sponsored by individual MPs
  • During each parliamentary session, a ballot is allowed, which is where 20 members are selected and they can present a bill
  • They have limited time to debate the bill
  • This usually falls on a Friday
  • Only 6 or 7 have the chance to introduce a bill and very few do become law E.G. Abortion Act 1967 and Marriage Act 1994
  • Back benchers can also try to introduce a bill through the 10 minute rule
  • MPs can make a speech for up to 10 minutes, but this is rarely successful
  • An example of a successful one is the Bail (Amendment) Act 1993, which allows the prosecution to appeal if the defendent gets bail
  • Members of the House of Lords can introduce private members bills
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Public and Private Bills

  • Most of the Government's bills are public bills, which affect the whole company E.G. PACE
  • Private bills only affect individuals or corporations such as universities
  • An example of a private bill is the College of London Act 1996 which merged two colleges of the University together
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The Stages of an Act of Parliament

  • It must be passed by both Houses
  • It may start in either House except finance bills must start in the House of Commons
  • All bills go through the following stages
  • First reading
  • Second reading 
  • Committee stage
  • Report stage
  • Third reading
  • After these 5 stages, the bill goes to the House of Lords where it undergoes the same 5 stages
  • It can also start in the House of Lords, go through the stages then back to the House of Commons
  • It's thorough
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First Reading

  • The name and main aims of the bill are read out
  • There's usually no discussion but they vote to decide where it will go ahead
  • It's a verbal vote; they will say "aye" or "no"
  • The speaker will then declare the vote
  • If they can't tell, all members leave the chamber and there are two doors representing aye and no
  • They then enter back through the desired door
  • There is a teller on each door who counts them up
  • The speaker then declares the vote
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Second Reading

  • This is the main debate on the whole bill
  • They look at the main principles
  • If you want to speak you have to catch the speaker's eye
  • At the end of the debate, the vote carries out the same as the first reading
  • They need a majority vote to carry on
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Committee Stage

  • In this stage there is a detailed examination of each clause of the bill
  • It's done by a committee called the Standing Committee
  • It has 16-50 MPs who are on it for skills such as knowledge
  • It also depends on the composition of the house
  • The Government have a majority of MPs sitting on the committee
  • If it's a financial bill, the whole house sits there
  • At this stage, they will make amendments to clauses, which they vote on and are then passed
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Report Stage

  • The committee reports back to the house on the amendments they have made
  • If no amendments have been made, there is no report stage
  • The amendments are debated in the house and can be accepted or rejected
  • New amendments can be added also
  • The report stage is an important safeguard; it stops a small committee making changes against the wishes of the whole house
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Third Reading

  • This is the final vote on the bill
  • It's only a formality
  • It's rare for a bill to fail at this stage
  • There is a debate only if 6 or more MPs request it
  • In the House of Lords, amendments are sometimes made at this stage
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The Parliaments Act 1911 and 1949

  • These Acts limit the House of Lords power to reject a bill
  • These Acts allow a bill to become law even though the House of Lords has rejected it, provided that the bill has to be reintroduced into the House of Commons in the next session of parliament and pass the 5 stages there
  • The reason for this is that the House of Commons is elected whereas the House of Lords is not
  • "The House of Lords should not be able to pose the will of democratically elected MPs, it should refine, not oppose"
  • This procedure has only been used on 4 occasions since 1949 to bypass the House of Lords after they have voted against a bill
  • The 4 occasions are: the War Crimes Act 1991, the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999, Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 and the Hunting Act 2004
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Royal Assent

  • Royal Assent is the very last stage
  • In this stage, the monarch approves the bill
  • This is only a formality
  • Here it gets a short title
  • Royal Assent was last refused in 1701
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Commencement of an Act

  • Following Royal Assent, an Act will come into force at midnight on the day it gets Royal Assent, unless a date is stated in the Act or a Minister is given responsibility to fix a commencement date
  • If the Minister is to fix the date then the act comes into force by him issuing a commencement order
  • This can cause problems because large Acts may have different dates for different sections E.G. Criminal Justice Act 2003
  • Some sections of an Act may never become law or the whole Act may not E.G. Easter Act 1928; it passed all the stages but never became law. It was to set a specific date for Easter
  • A bill will usually take several months to pass through parliament; it's a very slow process- law doesn't change quickly
  • Some can pass urgently E.G. the Northern Ireland Bill 1972 was passed through in 24 hours
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Parliamentary Sovereignty

  • This means that statutes are supreme, they overrule all other law once it's passed
  • The reason for this is that an Act of Parliament is democratically made
  • MPs are elected by society, Judges are not elected; they tend to be white middle/upper class male, which isn't a good representation
  • Yet there are flaws in this: MPs don't tend to vote in line with what constituents want, MPs are often voted by a small majority and if an MP doesn't act in line with what the constituents want - all they can do is vote out in 5 years
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The Definition of Parliamentary Sovereignty

  • Dicey in the 19th Century made three points
  • Parliament can legislate on any matter
  • No parliament can bind the next parliament
  • No other body can overrule an Act of Parliament
  • They can also legislate on any subject E.G. in 1700 the Act of Settlement stated that King James II's children could not succeed to the throne, E.G. parliament can change its own powers
  • They also cannot bind the successor, however, there are laws that will be almost possible to pass. It's unlikely an Act of Settlement will ever be repeated
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Limitations imposed by Parliament

  • Membership of the European Union: UK joined the EU in 1973 by passing the European Communities Act 1972
  • Because it's an act, they could repeal
  • This is very unlikely. EU law takes priority over English law even if English law was passed after the EU law E.G. Merchants Shipping Act 1988, this stated the rules for who could own fishing boats. 95% of the owner has to be British. This protects British jobs. The European Court of Justice: it's contrary to the free movement of workers
  • Human Rights Act 1998: States that all Acts of Parliament can be challenged on the ground that they breach the convention. Under S4 of HRA, the courts can declare an Act in compatible with the convention. H v Mental Health Review Tribunal (2001) MHA 1983: burden is on the patient to prove they should be released. Court ruled this breached human rights, state should prove to detain
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Cannot be overruled by others

  • A court cannot overrule an Act of Parliament and this applies even though fraud led to Parliament passing the act
  • British Railways Board v Pickin 1974
  • A private Act of Parliament
  • The British Railways Act 1968 took Pickins land away
  • He took it to court and proved that the British Railways Board frauduentally withheld information from Parliament
  • The court said there was nothing they could do 
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Criticisms of the Process for Acts of Parliament

  • The Renton Committee in 1975 identified four main categories of complaint:-
  • 1) The Language used in the Acts is often obscure or complex
  • 2) Acts are usually over-elaborate, they try to cover every single possibility or lawyers will find a loop hole
  • 3) The structure of Acts can be illogical because the sections can be out of sequence
  • 4) There is a lack of clear connection between Acts on the same topic, so it's hard to get all of the Acts together. Also they often amend just part of an Act by bringing out another Act
  • The Committee made 81 recommendations, but only half of these have been fully implemented
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Lack of Accessibility

  • The law should be accessible to ordinary citizens but some laws create problems for lawyers and even the Lord Chancellor
  • As seen it is difficult to know which Acts or sections of Acts have been brought into force
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Finding the Law

  • Often it is hard finding the law because an act has been amended so many times
  • Delegated legislation may also have been passed which will have to be consulted
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The Language Used

  • Often the language used is not always easy to understand which causes difficulties but also leads to many cases going to court
  • 75% of cases heard by the Supreme Court involve a dispute over the interpretation of an Act of Parliament
  • In 1992 the report of a Hansard Society Commission under Lord Rippon identified 5 principles for democratic law-making
  • There were:-
  • 1) The legislative should be open (so citizens can see)
  • 2) The process should be subject to scrutiny
  • 3) Statute law should be certain and intelligible
  • 4) Statute law should be accessible
  • 5) Getting the law right is as important as getting it passed quickly
  • If the rules were followed, statutes would be greatly improved
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