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Law

Information to help you carry out legal research

Primary legislation

Primary legislation comprises the acts or statutes passed by Parliament.

Acts are arranged into volumes chronologically according to the year in which the act was passed.  Within each volume the acts are ordered by their chapter number which indicates the order in which an act was passed within a calendar year, or, prior to 1963, a parliamentary session.

Acts are usually cited by their short title, e.g. Consumer Protection Act 1987, or by their chapter number, e.g. 1987 c 43.

Before 1963 acts were generally cited according to the regnal year(s) of the parliamentary session and the chapter number, eg 4 & 5 Eliz 2 c 74 = Copyright Act 1956

The regnal year and calendar year are printed on the spine of all volumes up to 1963.

Secondary legislation

Secondary (or delegated or subordinate or subsidiary) legislation is made under powers delegated by statute to government departments or official bodies.  It contains the detailed requirements of the law necessary for the functioning of the state.  Most delegated legislation is published as Statutory Instruments whose title generally contains the words Regulations, Rules, Order or Warrant.  SIs are also used to implement EU directives.

Before 1949 statutory instruments were called Statutory Rules and Orders.  They are usually cited by year and number, e.g. SI 2004/102 or by title, e.g. The Price Marking Order 2004.

Other primary legislation

A secondary category of statutes are Local and Personal Acts.  They can be distinguished by the typography of the chapter number. eg

Local:  Medway Council Act 2004,  c v

Personal:   Lucas Estate Act 1963, c 1

The government's legislation website has a chronological table of local acts plus information about where to access major collections

The final category of statutes encompasses Church of England legislation - General Synod Measures.

Finding electronic legislation

Amended legislation

Amended (as opposed to enacted) legislation includes any changes that have been made to the legislation since it was first passed by parliament. Amended legislation, plus some enacted legislation, which is still in force is available via the main legal databases:

Enacted legislation

Enacted legislation comprises the text of the legislation as it was passed by parliament, without any subsequent amendments.  This is available at

The official home of UK legislation, 1267-present, with both enacted and revised material.

Finding print legislation

Enacted legislation

Enacted legislation comprises the text of the legislation as it was passed by parliament, without any subsequent amendments.

The series Public General Acts and, pre 1866, Statutes at Large, contain the majority of legislation. General Synod Measures are bound with Public General Acts. They are shelved at Law Reports and Legislation SE 20. Within each regnal or calendar year, the acts are organised in chapter number order. If you do not know the chapter number, use the alphabetical list in the index volume or pages.

Statutory Instruments are shelved at Law Reports and Legislation SE30.

Amended legislation

Amended (as opposed to enacted) legislation includes any changes that have been made to the legislation since it was first passed by parliament.   You can find this  in the Halsbury's Statutes service at Law Reports and Legislation SE20.