What you need to know
o How Parliament is constructed
o Who sits in each House
o An outline of the recent reforms to the House of Lords
o How an Act of Parliament is made
o Different types of bill
o Advantages of the system
o Disadvantages of the system
Introduction to law making
In today's society there is often a need for new laws to be made, for example a new green
paper was submitted this week by Gordon Brown to give teachers a £10000 golden hello
for working in failing school for a period of 3 years. This has to go through the process
which we will be looking at during this lesson.
There are many ways in which law can be interpreted. Judicial law making through
precedent is not always suitable for major changes to the law and acts of parliament are
The other point to make is that judges are not appointed by the people and in a
democratic society laws should only be made by elected members. These are MP’s
(members of parliament)
Acts of Parliament
What is an act of parliament?
An Act is a Bill that has successfully passed through the necessary stages in Parliament.
Most Acts of Parliament are introduced by the government and are primary legislation
which always overrules judicial precedent.
For example, the Law Reform Act of 1996 (year and a day rule) overruled Coke’s
definition of murder. The law reform act (year and a day rule can be found below
followed by information on Lord Chief Justice Coke’s definition of murder:
Law Reform (Year and a Day Rule) Act 1996
1996 CHAPTER 19
An Act to abolish the “year and a day rule” and, in consequence of its abolition, to impose a restriction on the institution in
certain circumstances of proceedings for a fatal offence.
[17th June 1996]
Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and
Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—
1 Abolition of “year and a day rule”
The rule known as the “year and a day rule” (that is, the rule that, for the purposes of offences involving death and of suicide,
an act or omission is conclusively presumed not to have caused a person’s death if more than a year and a day elapsed before
he died) is abolished for all purposes.
2 Restriction on institution of proceedings for a fatal offence
(1) Proceedings to which this section applies may only be instituted by or with the consent of the Attorney General.
(2) This section applies to proceedings against a person for a fatal offence if—
(a) the injury alleged to have caused the death was sustained more than three years before the death occurred, or
(b) the person has previously been convicted of an offence committed in circumstances alleged to be connected with the
(3) In subsection (2) “fatal offence” means—
(a) murder, manslaughter, infanticide or any other offence of which one of the elements is causing a person’s death, or
(b) the offence of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring a person’s suicide.
(4) No provision that proceedings may be instituted only by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions shall
apply to proceedings to which this section applies.
(5) In the application of this section to Northern Ireland—
(a) the reference in subsection (1) to the Attorney General is to the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, and
(b) the reference in subsection (4) to the Director of Public Prosecutions is to the Director of Public Prosecutions for
3 Short title, commencement and extent
(1) This Act may be cited as the Law Reform (Year and a Day Rule) Act 1996.
(2) Section 1 does not affect the continued application of the rule referred to in that section to a case where the act or
omission (or the last of the acts or omissions) which caused the death occurred before the day on which this Act is passed.
(3) Section 2 does not come into force until the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is
passed; but that section applies to the institution of proceedings after the end of that period in any case where the death
occurred during that period (as well as in any case where the death occurred after the end of that period).
(4) This Act extends to England and Wales and Northern Ireland
Coke’s definition of murder
Murder is when a man of sound memory, and of the age of discretion, unlawfully killeth within any county
of the realm any reasonable creature in rerum natura (the person) under the King's peace, with malice
aforethought, either expressed by the party or implied by law, [so as the party wounded, or hurt, etc. die of
the wound or hurt, etc. within a year and a day after the same].
Bills and Legislation
Before a bill is drafted it will often have started as a green paper – a proposal for a new
law with comments required before it progresses to a bill. When the proposed act has
been drafted, it is published, and at this stage it is known as a bill.
The Bill will only become law if it successfully completes all the necessary stages in
Stages in Parliament
It is then sent to the House of Lords where the same stages are gone through. If the bill
started in the House of Lords then it will be sent to the House of Commons for
amendment. If there are any amendments they have to be sent back to the House of
Commons. At this stage there are often amendments that need to be made and the bill is
passed back and forth until both houses are happy. The bill is then passed for Royal
Assent which nowadays is a mere formality; the last bill refused assent by a Monarch was
In groups of 2-4 people, you will be given one bill which is going through parliament at the
First Reading: A formal introduction to the Bill, where the title of the Bill and its main aims
are read out
Second Reading: The main debate on the Bill, followed by a vote; the Bill must get a
majority vote to go any further
Committee Stage: A standing committee examines the Bill (between 16 – 50 MPs) clause
by clause, and amendments are made
Report Stage: The amendments made in the committee stage are reported back to the
House and voted on. Only when the House is satisfied with the bill will it go to the…
Third Reading: The final debate and vote. The Bill is unlikely to fail at this stage
Using the information you have been given, produce a visual resource which can be
presented to the rest of the group, highlighting:
When was the bill introduced?
Who is the bill aimed at influencing/helping?
What the bill is trying to achieve?
Advantages to the process
o The lengthy process makes it possible to spot mistakes
o Amendments can be made at various stages throughout the process
o A more objective view is supported by the number of viewers and editors.
o Contingencies can be covered
Disadvantages to the process
o The Bill can get confusing with the amount of editing and amendments
o The standing committee is not, as it states, a standing committee. The MPs involved
have a vested interest in the bill, making it possible for bias
o With a large majority the government can force legislation through using the whips
o The language and structure of the Bill can be very confusing.
True or False