Law Acts of Parliament

Acts of Parliament. For OCR.

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Parliament made up of House of Lords and House of Commons.


People who sit here are MP's. They are elected by public. Each constituences returns 1 MP. There must be general election once every 5 years but can be sooner if called by PM. By elections may take place if MP has died or retired. Goverment of day formed by political party with majority in House of Commons.


End of 2007 was made up of 92 hereditary peers, Life peers, Law Lords and most senior bishops in Church of England.Orginally most members were hereditary peers but liife peerage became more common. Prime Minister nominated people who should get the title for their life but would not be passed nto their children. Title awarded by Monarch. For people who served country and could bring expertise to House. Most former politicans eg Margret Thatcher. 

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Labour government decided inherited title should not give them right to make law. Felt people should be elected and some should be nominated. To help decided what reforms should be made Wakeham Commission was set up to consider how many members should be selected. In meantime right for most hereidtary peers to sit was abolished.

Wakeham Commission recommened 1/3 of House should be elected and there should be a limit on number of people PM can nominate. Also thought an Appointment Commission could reject poorly qualified people and appoint people peers.

People peers were supposed to be ordinary people but ended up being celebrities. 

Meant to be temporary solution but there has been major disagreements about how many should be elected by public and how many should be nominated. Resulting in reform never being completed.

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Most senior court in England and Wales is also called House of Lords. 

Only 12 Law Lords allowed to sit.

Its agreeded that judges should not sit as part of Parliament. So a new Supreme Court will replace the House of Lords, so jduges will cease to be members of the House of Lords and will no longer sit in Parliament.

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Influences on Parliamentary law making


When governemtn formed they will have reforms they want to carry out. They put these it their manifesto which they ask people to vote for in election.


EU law can lead to new Acts being passed in order to bring our law in line with it.


Other outside influences include:

  • Law reform agencies
  • Specific events- Eg Attack on Twin Towers. After this Parliament passed the Anti Terrorism, Crime and Security Act.
  • Pressure groups- The Civil Partnership Act gave right to same sex couples to have civil ceremony.
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The pre-legislative process

On major matters a Green Paper may be published. Its a consultative document where a topic the Goverment wants to reform ideas are put forward. Interested patires can send in their thoughts so that full consideration can be made and changes can be made to proposal.

After this a White Paper will be published with its firm proposals for new law.

Consultation before any new law is framed is valuable as it allows time for consideration. Government has been crticised for sometimes making "knee jerk" reactions to incidents such as Dangerous Dog Act.

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Introducing an Act of Parliament


Proposed Act is drafted and published.

Will become Act of Parliament if it successfully completes all stages.

It must be unambiguous, precise and comprehensive which is not always easy.



Bills can be sponsored by individual MP's. Parliamentary process allows for a ballot to be taken where 20 private members selected who can present a Bill to parliament. The time to debate them is limited. 

Only a few become law but there have been some important ones eg the Abortion Act 1967 which legalised abortions in this country.

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Introducing an Act of Parliament


Backbenchers can try introduce a Bill through the 10 minute rule, where an MP can make a speech up to 10 minutes. 

Rarely successful unless there is no opposition.

Some Acts of Parliament have been brought in this way eg Bail (Ammendment) Act 1993 which gave prosecution right to appeal against granting bail.


Involves matters of public policy which will affect the whole country or large section of it. Most government bills are in this category. An example would be the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.


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Introducing an Act of Parliament


Effect only individual people or corporations. An example would be the Whitehaven Harbour Act 2007.

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The process in Parliament

For Bill to become Act, usually must be passed by both Houses.


Formal procedure where name and main aims of Bill are read out.

Usually no discussions take place, but will be a vote on wether the House wishes to consider the Bill further. Vote may be verbal eg Aye or No. If it is unclear members leave through 1 of 2 doors and be counted by a teller.


Main debate on the whole Bill in which MPs debate principles behind it. Debate usually focuses on main principles rather than smaller details. 

MP's that want to speak must catch Speaker's eye.

At the end a vote is taken with a majority in favour for the Bill to continue.

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The process in Parliament


Detailed examination of each clause of the Bill is undertaken by a committee of between 16 and 50 MPs. 

Members of each Standing Committee wil usually have a special interest in the subject of the Bill.


At Committee Stage ammendments may have been made, so the report stage is where the Committee report back to the House. If no ammendments the stage is skipped. 

The amendments will be debated and accepted or rejected and futher amendments may also be added.

Report stage has been described as a useful safeguard agaisnt a small committee amending a Bill agaisnt the wishes of the House.

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The process in Parliament


Final vote on the Bill. Almost a formality since Bill has passed all other stages and is unlikely to fail this late on.

In the House of Commons there will only be futher debate if at least 6 MPs request it.


If Bill started in House of Commons it's now passed on to House of Lords where it goes through same stages.

If House of Lords make ammendments then it goes back to House of Commons for them to be considered. 


Final stage. Monarch gives approval. Not even given text of Bill only short title. Monarch has not rejected since 1701.

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The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949

These Acts limit power of House of Lords to reject a Bill.

The bypassing of HoL after they voted against a Bill has only happend 4 times since 1949.

These 4 Acts are:

War Crimes Act

European Parliamentary Elections Act

Sexual Offences (Ammendment) Act

Hunting Act

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Commencement of an Act

After Royal Assent is given, the general rule is that Act will come into force at midnight on that day.

However, now quite usual for all or parts of Act to come into force on later date. This means it is difficult to know which parts of an Act are in force.

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Criticisms of legislative process

1. Language used in many Acts are obscure and complex.

2. Acts were over elaborate because draftsmen tried to provide for every contingency.

3. Internal structure of many Acts was illogical with sections appearing to be out of order making it hard for people to find relevant sections.

4. Lack of clear connection between Acts, so that it was not easy to trace all Acts on a given topic. Also, frequent practice of amending small parts of an Act by passing another made it hard to find out what law was.


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Parliamentary Sovereignty

Parliamentary law is highest source of English law. 

Parliamentary sovereignty is the idea that parliament is supreme and democratic law making. 

Although courts can and do develop the common law they are initally obliged to apply Acts of Parliament. They will only revert to judge made law (common law) if there is no relevant Act.

An Act of Parliament overrules all.

3 Flaws to idea of democratically elected maknig law fair:

1. MP's usually vote on party line rather than how constituency wants them to.

2. Many MP's elected by a small majority.

3. Elections only have to take place once every 5 years so it would take a while to replace an MP who votes against constituency wishes.

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Definition of Parliamentary sovereignty

First given by Dicey. He made 3 points:

1. Parliament can legislate on any subject matter

2. No Parliament can be bound by previous Parliaments, nor can Parliament pass any Act that will bind a later Parliament.

3. No other body has right to override or set aside Act of Parliament.

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Limitations on Parliamentary sovereignty

Main sources of limitation are:

  • Membership of European Union
  • The Human Rights Act 1998

European Union -UK joined Eu in 1973. Membership of EU means the EU law takes priority over English law. Not all areas are covered by EU law eg Criminal Law.

Human Rights- Was felt that Uk was falling behind in protecting Human Rights by failing to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. This resulted in Human Rights Act 1998 being passed. It does not make ECHR into a UK bill of rights, but judges will look at UK legislation with regard to ECHR. There is no longer need to go to European Court of Human Rights to enforce these rights.


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Limitations on Parliamentary sovereignty

There are important parts of the Act:

  • Acts in UK must be looked at taking into account ECHR.
  • Court of Appeal or HoL or High court can state that particular Act they are enforcing is in breach of ECHR. This is a declaration of incompatibility.
  • All courts in UK must look at decisions of European Court of Human Rights before making a decision
  • Schools, hospitals, conuncils and government departments must not be in breach of ECHR.
  • Human Rights Act says Parliament can pass legislation contrary to ECHR but must annouce that it intends to do this.
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