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United Kingdom: Legislation

A research guide to legal sources in the UK.


There are two main types of legislation: primary and secondary (or delegated). Secondary legislation is made under the authority of a piece of primary legislation. Examples of primary legislation are: Acts of Parliament; Acts of the pre-UK parliament (acts by independent parliaments of the separate countries prior to unification in 1801); Acts of the devolved parliaments; Church of England Measures; and Prerogative Instruments. Examples of secondary legislation are: statutory instruments made under Acts of Parliament (orders, rules, and regulations); Scottish and Welsh statutory instruments; statutory rules of Northern Ireland; Church instruments; and bye-laws.[i]

Although secondary legislation is often referred to as a statutory instrument, primary legislation may also be referred to as statutes. This distinction is important for purposes of understanding the law in the UK, and it is also important in the Bluebook as there are different citation forms for “Statutes” meaning primary legislation and “Regulations” meaning secondary legislation.

[i] The National Archives, Guide to Revised Legislation on Legislation (PDF Download), Legislation.Gov.UK (Jan. 2012).

Print Resources

Guides to UK Legislation

  • Jean McFadden & Mark Lazarowicz, The Scottish Parliament: An Introduction (4th ed. 2010) KDC 766 .M39 2010. Although there are likely upcoming changes to the purview of the Scottish Parliament in the wake of the Referendum, this is one of the most up-to-date guides on the Scottish institution. This is a must-read for those studying governmental relations within the UK. 
  • Michael Zander, The Law-Making Process (6th ed., 2004) KD 660 .Z36 2004. This book provides an in-depth look at legislation and the legislative process. It is particularly helpful for those who are unfamiliar with law-making process and institutions in the UK. Although it was written prior to the establishment of the UKSC from the House of Lords, it contains information that is mostly accurate.
  • D J Gifford & John Salter, How to Understand an Act of Parliament (1996) KD 662 .G53 1996. This book serves as a basic how-to guide. It contains: an overview of types of legislation; the parts of an act; rules of interpretation; the relationship between legislation and the judiciary; international treaties; and the European legal system. It is a bit outdated so keep in mind the constitutional changes when consulting this book; the sections on legislation, parts of an act, and interpretive rules should still be up-to-date.

Compilations of UK Legislation


Electronic Resources

The United Kingdom National Archives hosts a web site that is the Official Home of UK Legislation. It has "newly enacted legislation for the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland".  It also has archives of older legislation, including Acts of the English Parliament going back to 1267, Acts of the Old Scottish Parliament back to 1424, and Acts of the Old Irish Parliament back to 1495. Realize that the legislative process and legislative resources in the UK are very different from what we are used to here in the United States. The National Archives also provides a Guide to Revised Legislation (PDF download) that can help you understand how statutory law is made and promulgated in the UK.