statute law

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The body of laws passed by the legislature. Statutes may be broadly divided into two. First, Public General Acts—namely, Acts passed by the government of the day or prepared by private members of Parliament winning a place in the ballot. Second, private Acts of Parliament prepared by private interests such as local authorities or companies. Relatively few private bills ever become law, as there are a number of procedural rules which make any objection to the content of the private bill amenable to rejection of the entire bill.

Prerogative powers, the residual powers of the Crown, may be abolished by an express statement contained in an Act of Parliament. For example the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 abolished the immunity of the Crown from being sued in tort and contract.

Statutes may take different forms. Some consolidate previous law and provide a comprehensive code of up‐to‐date law. Others may simply amend or reform the law with technical changes which add to existing statutes and over a period of time build up to a comprehensive set of laws covering a particular subject.

A. V. Dicey's view was that Parliament could not bind itself and consequently Parliament may pass any kind of law whatsoever. The exact nature of Parliament's powers has since 1972 and the entry of the United Kingdom into the European Communities raised questions about the sovereignty of the United Kingdom's Acts of Parliament. In Factortame [1991] 3 All ER 769, the Law Lords were prepared to override an Act of the UK Parliament which the European Court of Justice regarded as inconsistent with European Community (now European Union) law. Dicey's orthodox view of British sovereignty is obsolete. UK Acts of Parliament are to be read as consistent with EU law. The extent to which there is inconsistency the UK Act may be held to be invalid or inoperative.

The complete collection of UK statutes are published as a whole in the Statutes at large. Modern Statute law is comprehensive, technical, and detailed. There is a heavy reliance on additional powers to make subordinate (secondary) legislation which grants further wide powers. This is in contrast to broadly drafted and general legislation favoured in the Victorian era. Statutes are of infinite variety and complexity. Since 1965 the Law Commissions have been charged by Parliament with the responsibility of codifying and simplifying the law. They also attempt to identify and keep under review any out‐of‐date statutes. A common criticism is that the drafting of statutes is over‐elaborate with the result that the meaning is often obscure.

John McEldowney


Subjects: Politics.

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