By Derek French
Derek French is editor of Blackstone's Statutes on Company Law
He is also author of How to Cite Legal Authorities (published by Oxford University Press).
Statutes (also known as Acts of Parliament, or legislation) are primary sources of law. Analysing the meaning and effect of statutory provision is often a key step in solving a legal problem. So every law student needs access to the exact text of relevant statutes. The Blackstone's Statutes series provides an accurate updated text of carefully selected statutory provisions in the main areas of law studied on university courses.
In your legal studies you will consult statutory provisions first when you are learning a new topic: your teacher will tell you which provisions you should look at; a textbook will give references to the legislation from which its statements of legal principles are derived. Later, you will consult statutory provisions to analyse legal problems in tutorial, project and dissertation work. Finally, you will consult statutory provisions when answering examination questions: the Blackstone's Statutes books are designed to comply with typical regulations governing what reference materials you can take into an examination, but, of course, you should check what specific regulations apply on your particular course.
Legislation is a continuous process and most new Acts of Parliament amend previous Acts. Other amendments are made by delegated legislation in statutory instruments. A very important reason for using Blackstone's Statutes is that, in each volume, the text of all the legislation incorporates all amendments which have been made up to a cut-off date, which will be stated in the editor's preface. Subsequent amendments are on the Online Resource Centres for selected volumes.
An Act of Parliament is divided into consecutively numbered sections (abbreviation, s). Sometimes a section will introduce a schedule (abbreviation, sch) containing supplementary detailed provisions. The schedules are placed at the end of the Act. In many Acts, the sections are grouped into parts, which deal with distinct topics. A long part of an Act may be divided into chapters.
The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 has 149 sections followed by 18 schedules. The 149 sections are arranged in seven parts. Part 1 contains only section 1. The much longer part 4 contains sections 61 to 122 and is divided into four chapters.
Sections and schedules are referred to like this: Constitutional Reform Act 2005 s 1; Constitutional Reform Act 2005 sch 17.
A section may be divided into subsections, which are given numbers in parentheses. Traditionally, each subsection is a single sentence. On the rare occasion that there is more than one sentence, they are usually laid out as separate paragraphs. A subsection is referred to like this: Constitutional Reform Act 2005 s 8(2).
It is very common for most of a sentence in an Act to be laid out as a displayed list in which each item is identified by a letter in parentheses.
The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 s 15(1) introduces Sch 4 to the Act by listing its contents:
(1) Schedule 4 provides for -
(a) the transfer of functions to or from the Lord Chancellor,
(b) the modification of other functions of the Lord Chancellor,
(c) the modification of enactments relating to those functions, and
(d) the modification of enactments relating to the organisation of the courts.
A paragraph is referred to like this: Constitutional Reform Act 2005 s 15(1)(c).
Sometimes paragraphs have sub-paragraphs numbered in roman numerals (i), (ii) and so on.
A schedule is divided into consecutively numbered paragraphs. The paragraphs of a long schedule may be grouped into parts.
You will sometimes see sections identified by numbers followed by one or more capital letters. This arises because, when amendment of an Act involves inserting new sections, the usual convention is that a section inserted after, for example, s 84, is numbered s 84A, followed by s 84B and so on. If a later amendment involves inserting a section between s 84A and s 84B it will be numbered s 84AA, followed by s 84AB and so on. If a section is inserted between s 84 and s 84A it will be numbered s 84ZA. It must be admitted that when there are many insertions of new sections at different times, it becomes very difficult to work out what order the sections are supposed to be in.
The Companies Act 1985 now has sections 234, 234ZZA, 234ZZB, 234ZA, 234A, 234AA, 234AB and 234B, in that order.
When a whole section is repealed (deleted), subsequent sections are not renumbered. The traditional rule is that the repealed number should not be used again, but this rule is not always followed in practice.
The conventions for numbering new subsections, parts, chapters and schedules are the same.
When considering whether a statutory provision applies in a particular situation it is very important to remember that many of the words used in the provision will be given special meanings by the statute itself. If a term is used with a special meaning only in one section, the meaning will be set out in that section, usually at or near the end of it. For terms used in several places, there will be a section with the title 'Definitions', either at the end of the part of the Act in which the defined terms are used or near the end of the whole Act. Locating the definitions provisions is an essential step when trying to understand an Act.
The basic rule is that an Act of Parliament comes into force at the first moment of the day on which royal assent is pronounced in Parliament, unless there is provision for it to come into force on another day (Interpretation Act 1978 s 4). In practice nearly every Act includes a section titled 'Commencement' which provides that the Act (apart, perhaps, from formal provisions such as the commencement section itself) will come into force at some future date.
Statutes (Acts of Parliament) are enacted by Parliament and are called 'primary legislation'. It is very common for primary legislation to empower a government minister (sometimes other persons) to make legislation, which is called 'secondary legislation'. Usually secondary legislation is required to be made by statutory instrument (SI). Secondary legislation usually deals with the detailed implementation of primary legislation and is not usually worthy of much attention when studying for a law degree. Secondary legislation which implements European Directives may be much more important.
Each Blackstone's Statutes book includes all the secondary legislation which its editor considers is relevant.
The title of a piece of secondary legislation may include one of the words 'Order', 'Regulations' or 'Rules'. An Order is divided into 'articles' (abbreviation, art). The more obviously named subdivisions of Regulations and Rules are, respectively, 'regulations' (abbreviation, reg) and 'rules' (abbreviation, r). A piece of secondary legislation may have schedules, which, like the schedules of Acts, are divided into paragraphs.