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Legislation: How to find and use legislation: Introduction

What is legislation? Where can you find UK and Scottish legislation? How can you check the status of legislation?


Legislation is a primary source of Scots law. It emanates ultimately from the authority of a legislature. Today legislation affecting Scotland is produced by the the Scottish Parliament and the UK Parliament. Legislation is also created by government under ‘prerogative powers’ and by government ministers and other bodies through powers delegated by Parliament.

Video: Finding legislation | Online sources of legislationLegislation affecting Scotland | Original and revised forms of legislationStructure of an Act

Video: Finding legislation

Online sources of legislation

Legislation affecting Scotland

UK Legislation

A piece of legislation from the UK Parliament is known as an Act of Parliament, or a statute.

UK Acts are categorised as Public General Acts, Local Acts and Personal Acts.

Public General Acts are now the most common type of Act passed. Unless otherwise stated, a Public General Act is presumed to apply to the whole of the UK. However, the territorial extent may be limited to a particular area, e.g. Scotland or England and Wales.

Local Acts only affect a particular restricted area of the country.

Personal Acts only affect a particular individual or body (e.g. a company)

Scottish Parliament Legislation

A piece of legislation from the devolved Scottish Parliament is known as an Act of the Scottish Parliament (asp).

Acts of the Scottish Parliament (asps) are similarly categorised as being public and general in application or as being private Acts, which have local or personal effect. However, the scope of an asp does not affect the way it is cited in the same way as it affects a UK statute.

Delegated Legislation

The UK and Scottish parliaments can delegate legislative powers to another body enabling it to make legislation. Such legislation is known as delegated (or subordinate or secondary) legislation. Delegated legislation may be created by a number of bodies including government ministers such as a Secretary of State or the Scottish Ministers, local authorities, the courts, public corporations, statutory bodies and utilities. The most common forms of delegated legislation you will encounter are Statutory Instruments (or SIs) and Scottish Statutory Instruments (SSIs).

Pre 1707 Scottish Legislation

Historically, the pre-1707 Scottish Parliaments created legislation. A few of these 'Scots Acts' are still in force today.

EU legislation

Information about European Union legislation is available from the EU Legal Information guide:

Original and revised forms of legislation

Once legislation is enacted it does not necessarily come into force automatically. Furthermore, the version of legislation originally published does not necessarily remain the version in force in perpetuity. Legislation may require subsequent legislation to bring it into force and may be amended by later legislation. Indeed, once provisions are repealed or revoked, they cease to be in force. Not all provisions of UK legislation extend to Scotland. Conversely, the territorial extent of some provisions is restricted to Scotland.

When using legislation, you need to be aware of whether the source you use provides legislation in its original form or in a revised version.

  • Original, or unrevised, versions do not take account of amendments by subsequent legislation.
  • Revised, or consolidated, versions aim to incorporate subsequent amendments and present legislation in an up-to-date form.

In either case, you should check whether subsequent amendments have been made since the version you are using was created.

In addition, the meaning of legislation is subject to judicial consideration in case law.

Databases such as Westlaw, Lexis+ and incorporate features which allow you to check the status of UK and Scottish legislation. However, it is sometimes necessary to use “traditional” aids such as the Current Law Legislation Citator.

Structure of an Act

Modern UK Public General Acts and Acts of the Scottish Parliament usually comprise the following elements:

  • Contents – which outline the structure of the Act.
  • Short Title – an Act is usually referred to by short title. Older Acts did not have short titles but many have had these assigned retrospectively.
  • Year and chapter (or asp) – Modern UK statutes are assigned a chapter number according to the order in which they gained Royal Assent in a calendar year: chapter 1 is the first Act passed in that year, chapter 2 the second, and so on.

Acts of the Scottish Parliament are assigned an “asp” number rather than a chapter number.

  • Long title – this is more detailed than the short title and indicates the Act’s purpose.
  • Date of Royal Assent – In UK Acts this date, in square brackets after the Long Title, is when the Bill was passed by Parliament and became an Act. This is not necessarily the date all, or any, of the Act comes into force.

Acts of the Scottish Parliament include a note of the date the Act was passed by the Parliament and the date the Act received Royal Assent, this precedes the long title.

  • Standard Enacting Formula – Acts include this to indicate they have parliamentary authority.
  • Sections – Acts are divided into numbered “sections”. Sections may be divided into numbered subsections (subsection numbers appears in rounded brackets). Sections and subsections may be further divided into paragraphs (indicated by a lowercase letter in rounded brackets) and subparagraphs (indicated by a lowercase Roman numeral).

Longer Acts may be divided into large numbered “parts” and then into “chapters”. However, sections continue to be numbered consecutively throughout the whole Act.

  • Interpretation section – this may be found towards the end of some Acts and indicates the meaning to be given to certain words used in the Act.
  • Commencement section – this may be found towards the end of the Act and contains details of when sections of the Act are to come into force. If the Act has no commencement provisions then it is presumed to come into force at the beginning of the day it receives Royal Assent.
  • Short title section – restates the short title by which the Act may be cited.
  • Territorial or Geographical Extent section – in UK Acts this section indicates which sections of the Act apply to which parts of the UK. If a UK Act contains no information about extent, it is presumed to apply to the whole UK.

Note that provisions regarding interpretation, commencement, short title and extent may often be combined in a single section.

  • Schedules – often appear at the end of an Act and provide the detail of provisions laid out in the preceding sections of the Act. There is often a schedule listing legislation affected by the Act such as those previous Acts which are amended or repealed. Schedules are divided into paragraphs and subparagraphs.
  • Marginal notes – do not form part of the Act but are printed beside the main text. They offer a brief description of sections’ content and aid navigation round the Act.

Explanatory Notes – do not form part of the Act and are published separately. These are now officially produced for UK Public General Acts and Acts of Scottish Parliament which were introduced as government Bills (except budget bills). These may be used in the interpretation process.

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