Refining Existing Legislation

It is often possible to avoid creating new laws by refining existing legislation, for example by ministers exercising their discretion.

Britain has a system for introducing ‘secondary legislation’, which is described on a parliament website as “law created by ministers (or other bodies) under powers given to them by an Act of Parliament” (not to be confused with what Hart referred to as ‘secondary rules’ for maintaining the legal system, as described earlier: 5.2.3).  The website provides more clarification on how this works in practice and it lists some examples:

“Statutory Instruments (SIs) are documents drafted by a government department to make changes to the law. They are published with an explanatory memorandum, which outlines the purpose of the SI and why the change is necessary.

SIs are the most frequently used type of secondary legislation, with approximately 3,500 made each year, although only about 1,000 need to be considered by Parliament.

They usually have either rule, order or regulation in their title.”

The overall process for refining existing legislation can be iterative, as illustrated:

Politicians can respond to people’s demands for change by making legislative changes or by adjusting measures for enforcement.  Public feedback, in the light of experience, is also illustrated.

This diagram applies to legislative change, but it is also possible for judges to make changes in interpretation – as described in the next section (5.4.2).


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/5413.htm.