An Act of Parliament

Parliament is the supreme law-making body in the country.  This is known as the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty.  Parliament can make any law it chooses.  Parliament can make or unmake a law and can undo the actions of previous Parliaments.

For our purposes we need to establish some key principles about Parliamentary sovereignty:

  1. Parliament has the freedom to make laws of any kind.  It does not matter if the law is unfair or practically impossible to enforce.
  1. Statute cannot be overridden by anybody outside of Parliament.  This means that UK Courts and International Courts have no power to declare an Act of Parliament invalid.  Since 1998 they have been able to make Declaration of Incompatibility under the Human Rights Act but this is not equivalent to making an Act unlawful.
  1. In the event of a conflict between statute and some other kind of law statute prevails.  We will see when it comes to considering statutory interpretation how the Courts navigate this issue but fundamentally the important principle to remember is that statutory law is supreme. 
  1. Parliament cannot bind its successors.  In other words a statute cannot be protected from repeal and a later Parliament can always change Acts of its predecessor whether the words of the Act may contain to prevent its own repeal.

There are two principal kinds of legislation within the United Kingdom.  These can be divided into primary and secondary forms of legislation.  Primary legislation are Acts of Parliament which is also referred to as statutory law.  Statutory law may contain powers to make secondary legislation.  There are no principal kinds of secondary legislation.  These are:

  1. Statutory instruments; and
  2. Bye-laws.

Around 3,500 statutory instruments pass into law every year.  They are also known as subordinate or delegated legislation.

Statutory instruments are laid in draft for a period of days in an office of the House of Commons before being made or signed by a Minister at which point they become law.  Statutory instruments are a routine part of parliamentary life and their number far exceeds the Acts of Parliament.

Another kind of secondary legislation is Council bye-laws.  These are made by local Councils under an enabling provision granted by an Act of Parliament.  Typical bye-laws would include measures relating to open spaces, parks, burial grounds and market places.