Law Making

As a teacher of Law, understanding the law making process is essential for building a solid foundation in the subject. This article will provide an insightful overview of the UK legal system, focusing on the various aspects of law making in Parliament, Scotland, and the judiciary's involvement in shaping legislation. Delving into the advantages of parliamentary law making, such as efficiency and democratic accountability, you will gain a comprehensive view of the inner workings of the legislative process. Additionally, we will explore the role of judges and how their decisions influence the development and interpretation of laws. By deepening your understanding of law making in the UK, you will be better equipped for further study and analysis within this complex field.

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Table of contents

    Law Making in the UK Legal System

    The UK legal system relies on a combination of different sources and mechanisms to create and enforce the laws that govern the country. Understanding the law making process not only provides insight into the workings of our legal system but also serves as a useful tool for better engagement with the laws that affect daily life.

    Overview of the Law Making Process

    Law making in the UK follows various stages and involves multiple sources, including:

    Primary legislation refers to laws passed by the UK Parliament or a devolved legislature, while secondary legislation is made by a person or body with the authority delegated by Parliament or a devolved legislature. Case law, on the other hand, refers to the body of previous decisions made by judges in various courts of the land that set precedent for future cases.

    These different sources of law often interact and complement each other, providing a comprehensive legal framework for the UK.

    Law Making Process in Parliament

    The process of making law in the UK Parliament involves several stages and can be initiated by the government, members of parliament, or members of the house of lords.

    1. Introduction and First Reading
    2. Second Reading
    3. Committee Stage
    4. Report Stage
    5. Third Reading
    6. Consideration in the Other House
    7. Royal Assent

    During the introduction and first reading, a bill is presented to Parliament without debate.

    The second reading is the first opportunity for members of Parliament to debate the general principles of the bill. If it passes the second reading, it moves on to the committee stage, where detailed examination and amendments to the bill take place. In the report stage, the committee reports its findings and any amendments to the full house for further debate.

    The third reading is the final opportunity for members to comment on the overall bill before it is passed on to the other house (House of Commons or House of Lords) for consideration. Once both houses agree, the bill is presented for Royal Assent, where it is formally signed into law by the monarch.

    An example of a bill going through the parliamentary process is the introduction of the Climate Change Act 2008, which set legally binding targets for the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    Law Making Process in Scotland

    Scotland has a devolved system of government, meaning that many areas of law are now dealt with by the Scottish Parliament. The law making process in the Scottish Parliament is similar to that of the UK Parliament, but there are some differences and distinct stages.

    1. Introduction
    2. Stage 1: General Principles
    3. Stage 2: Detailed Consideration
    4. Stage 3: Final Stage
    5. Royal Assent

    During the introduction, a bill is lodged with the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament and published, followed by a brief explanatory document. Members of the Parliament then debate and vote on the general principles of the bill during Stage 1. If the bill is approved, it moves on to Stage 2 where a committee examines the bill's detail and considers any proposed amendments.

    Stage 3 involves the final debate and vote on the bill, taking into account any changes made during the previous stages. If the bill is passed by the Scottish Parliament, it is then submitted for Royal Assent and becomes an Act of the Scottish Parliament.

    It is noteworthy that the law making process in the devolved legislatures of Wales and Northern Ireland also follows similar systems to that of Scotland, reflecting the increasing autonomy of these regions within the UK legal system.

    Advantages of Parliamentary Law Making

    Parliamentary law making is the process through which bills become Acts of Parliament. The UK legal system benefits from parliamentary law making due to the efficiency, expediency, and democratic accountability it provides, ensuring the creation of laws that reflect societal needs and values.

    Efficiency and Expediency

    One of the key advantages of parliamentary law making is the ability of Parliament to enact laws quickly and efficiently. The various stages of the law making process, from introduction to Royal Assent, serve to streamline the process while allowing for thorough examination and debate on the bill.

    Several factors contribute to the efficiency and expediency of parliamentary law making:

    • Government majority: The ruling party or coalition typically holds a majority in the Parliament, which means they can more easily pass new legislation without excessive delays or opposition.
    • Parliamentary time: The government controls the Parliamentary timetable and can allocate time to discuss and debate the most important bills, resulting in a more focused legislative process.
    • Guillotine motions: The government can also impose time limits on debates through guillotine motions, ensuring that time is used efficiently and preventing debates from becoming unnecessarily protracted.
    • Party discipline: Members of Parliament usually vote in line with their party's position, which helps maintain unity within the government and opposition and avoids fragmentation and gridlock.

    By streamlining the law making process and minimizing delays, parliamentary law making ensures that crucial legislation can be enacted swiftly and effectively, addressing pressing issues and maintaining the proper functioning of the legal system.

    Democratic Accountability

    Another significant advantage of parliamentary law making is the democratic accountability it provides. As elected representatives, Members of Parliament (MPs) are beholden to their constituents and have a responsibility to represent the interests and values of the public in the legislative process.

    Democratic accountability in parliamentary law making is ensured through various mechanisms:

    • Elections: Regular parliamentary elections provide an opportunity for citizens to voice their opinions on the performance of MPs and the government, and to decide which party or parties should be responsible for passing laws.
    • Debates and scrutiny: The parliamentary process is designed to encourage active debates, both within the government and opposition parties, as well as between them. This ensures that proposed laws are thoroughly examined and critiqued, leading to stronger and more effective legislation.
    • Select committees: These committees consist of cross-party groups of MPs, tasked with scrutinizing specific policy areas, proposed legislation, and the work of government departments. Their reports and recommendations contribute to a more transparent and accountable legislative system.
    • Public consultations: During the pre-legislative stage, policy proposals can be subject to public consultations, involving individuals, organizations, and experts, allowing the public to have a say in the drafting of laws and contributing to their improvement.

    In essence, democratic accountability ensures that the law making process is transparent, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of the public. This, in turn, fosters trust and respect in the legislative process, leading to laws that accurately represent the collective values and interests of society.

    Judicial Involvement in Law Making

    While Parliament is responsible for creating and implementing legislation, the judiciary also plays a vital role in shaping the body of law in the UK. Judges have the authority to interpret, clarify, and apply existing laws, as well as establish precedents that can influence future legal decisions and developments.

    The Role of Judges

    Judges occupy a complex and significant position within the UK legal system, serving as the final arbiter of disputes and safeguarding the rule of law. They are responsible for interpreting and applying legislation, ensuring the effective and fair administration of justice, and protecting the rights and liberties of individuals. Through these responsibilities, judges can have an immense impact on the evolution and application of the country's laws.

    The key roles and responsibilities of judges include:

    • Interpretation of the law: Judges play a crucial role in determining the meaning and application of statutes, common-law principles, and other legal rules. This involves considering the intentions of Parliament, the principles of natural justice, and established legal doctrines.
    • Creation of precedent: In the common-law system, the decisions of higher courts create binding precedents that must be followed by lower courts. When judges hear cases that involve new or uncertain areas of law, they can develop new principles or refine existing ones, thereby shaping the legal landscape for future judgments.
    • Control of delegated legislation: Judges possess the power of judicial review, which allows them to scrutinize secondary legislation and, if necessary, declare it invalid if it is found to be ultra vires (beyond the powers) of the body that created it.
    • Resolution of disputes: As neutral arbiters, judges are tasked with resolving disputes between parties, ensuring the fair application of the law, and upholding the principles of contract, tort, and property law, among others.
    • Protection of individual rights: Judges have a constitutional duty to safeguard the rights and liberties of citizens, particularly in cases involving the Human Rights Act 1998. They can provide remedies for breaches of rights and signal the need for legislative change.

    In carrying out these duties, judges contribute to the maintenance of the rule of law and the development of a just and coherent legal system.

    Influence on the Law Making Process

    Despite their primary role as interpreters and enforcers of the law, judges can exert significant influence on the law making process through their decisions, legal expertise, and advisory capacity. This influence operates both directly, by creating primary case law and enforcing statutory law, and indirectly, by informing the legislative agenda and fostering legal reform.

    Key ways in which judges can influence the law making process include:

    • Creation of common law: As mentioned earlier, judges can establish binding precedents through their decisions in cases of first impression or where existing rules require modification. These precedents, in turn, become part of the body of common law, which coexists with statutory law to govern the country.
    • Interpretation of legislation: The process of statutory interpretation allows judges to clarify and give practical effect to legislative provisions. Their decisions can reveal ambiguities or inconsistencies in laws, prompting Parliament to amend or repeal problematic statutes.
    • Enforcement and application of rules: Judges enforce primary and delegated legislation through their judgments, ensuring the effective operation of the legal system. They also possess the power to grant declaratory judgments, which clarify the legal rights and duties arising from a given statute.
    • Expert advice and consultation: Judges can offer legal expertise during the drafting of legislation or the consultation stages of law making. Their input can help legislators craft clearer, more effective laws that respond to practical challenges and advance policy goals.
    • Initiating legal reform: By highlighting issues or trends in their judgments, judges can signal the need for law reform and shape the legislative agenda. Moreover, the Law Commission, an independent legal advisory body, draws from the expertise of judges and other legal professionals to recommend reforms in various areas of law.

    Through these various channels, judges contribute to the continuous improvement and evolution of the country's legal system, ensuring that it remains responsive to both present and emerging societal needs.

    Law Making - Key takeaways

    • UK law making process involves primary legislation, secondary legislation, and case law.

    • Parliamentary law making process includes stages such as introduction, readings, committee stage, report stage, consideration in the other house, and Royal Assent.

    • Scotland's law making process includes introduction, general principles, detailed consideration, final stage, and Royal Assent.

    • Advantages of parliamentary law making includes efficiency, expediency, and democratic accountability.

    • Judicial involvement in law making involves the roles of judges in interpretation of the law, creation of precedent, control of delegated legislation, resolution of disputes, and protection of individual rights.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Law Making
    What is the process of law-making in the UK?
    The process of law making in the UK primarily involves four stages: drafting, parliamentary approval, Royal Assent, and commencement. A proposed law, known as a bill, is drafted and then debated and amended in both Houses of Parliament (the House of Commons and the House of Lords). Once it has been approved by both Houses, the bill is sent for Royal Assent, where the monarch formally approves it. The law comes into force on a specified date or after further secondary legislation.
    Who is the lawmaker in the UK?
    In the UK, laws are made primarily by Parliament, which comprises the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The legislative process involves both Houses of Parliament discussing, amending, and approving proposed legislation, known as bills. Additionally, the monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II) gives final approval, or Royal Assent, for a bill to become law. However, the Queen's role is largely ceremonial and it is extremely rare for Royal Assent to be withheld.
    How are laws made in Scotland?
    Laws in Scotland are made primarily through the Scottish Parliament, which passes legislation specific to Scotland in devolved areas such as health, education, and transport. Bills are introduced, debated, and amended by Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) before they pass through three stages and are voted upon by the Parliament. For some matters which are not devolved, such as foreign policy and defence, laws are made by the UK Parliament in Westminster. Certain aspects of the Scottish legal system, such as criminal and civil law, are also influenced by a combination of statute, common law, and European Union (EU) law.
    How long does it take to study law in the UK?
    The time it takes to study law in the UK typically involves a three-year undergraduate Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree, followed by the one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) for solicitors, or the one-year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) for barristers. Subsequently, solicitors complete a two-year training contract, while barristers undertake a one-year pupillage. So, becoming a solicitor takes six years, and a barrister takes five years.
    Which branch of government makes laws?
    In the United Kingdom, the legislative branch of government, comprising the Parliament, is responsible for making laws. This branch consists of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, along with the monarch who gives Royal Assent. They work together to create, debate, amend and pass legislation. The laws they make then apply to England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What are the three sources of law in the UK legal system?

    What are the seven stages of the law making process in the UK Parliament?

    What is the primary difference between primary and secondary legislation?

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