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Legislation: Finding and using legislation

Online support for legislative research

  Legislation refers to one of the primary sources of written law in the UK (the other primary source of law being case law).


There are different forms of legislation and the two main categories are:


  • Acts of Parliament, sometimes also referred to as Statutes.


  • Delegated legislation, usually Statutory Instruments.


An Act of Parliament creates a new law or introduces changes to an existing law.

Public General Acts are the most common as these result from Public Bills which have received the Royal Assent.  There are also Local and Personal Acts which follow from Private Bills and Church Measures.   Find out more about Bills and how to trace them via the Parliamentary Papers guidance. 

Church of England Measures are the instruments by which changes are made to legislation relating to the administration and organisation of the Church. The General Synod of the Church of England has the power to propose legislation to Parliament's Ecclesiastical Committee. This committee is made up of Members of both Houses. The committee examines the Measure and then makes a report as to whether it thinks the Measure should be made. A draft of the report is sent to the legislative committee of the Synod. If Synod agrees, the report and the Measure can then be laid before Parliament. Motions need to be passed by both Houses before the Measure can be presented for Royal Assent.


Numbering Acts

Each Act is given a chapter number within a year.  This is not the same number as when it was in Bill form so if you are tracing legislation from its initial bill stage through to enacted legislation you will have a number of different official publication document references to note for your research

Acts are referred to by their short title, year, chapter notation abbreviation and the chapter number.  

For example the Human Rights Act 1998 is referenced as follows, meaning that this was the 42nd Act passed in the year 1998

Human Rights Act 1998 c.42

The European Union Referendum Act is referenced as follows, being the 32nd Act passed in 2015

European Union Referendum Act 2015 c.36

Since 1963 chapter numbering has been within the calendar year, but before 1963 it was by parliamentary session, indicated by regnal year or years. For example: 

Films Act 1960, 8 & 9 Eliz. 2, Ch.57 (57th Act in the 8/9th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.)


JustCite provide a handy regnal year listing that you can use to identify the calendar year if you only have a regnal year citation.


Putting Acts into Force

An Act may come into force immediately, on a specific starting date, or in stages. The enactment provisions are detailed in the Act. 

For example, here are the enactment provisions for the Human Rights Act 1998 c.42



The practical implementation of an Act lies with the appropriate government department rather than Parliament.  However, Parliament can investigate how the Government implements an Act and it considers any future changes that are introduced to amend an Act.

Future changes are introduced through the passing of another Act or through delegated legislation.  Acts or specific provisions of Acts can also be repealed so that they are no longer law.

Secondary legislation is sometimes also referred to as delegated or subordinate legislation as it is  made under powers provided for in a primary Act of Parliament. It is is usually concerned with detailed changes to the law made under powers from an existing Act of Parliament. 

Secondary legislation allows the Government to make changes to a law without needing to push through a completely new Act of Parliament. The original Act (also known as primary legislation) would have provisions that allow for future delegated legislation to alter the law to differing degrees.

Statutory instruments form the majority of delegated legislation but it can also include Rules or Codes of Practice.

House of Commons Background Paper provides more detailed information on Statutory Instruments and other forms of secondary legislation.

In this example the Statutory Instrument is made under powers conferred from the primary legislation in the Football Spectators Act 1989.


The changes that may be introduced range from the technical, like altering the level of a fine, to fleshing out Acts with greater detail; often an Act contains only a broad framework of its purpose and more complex content is added through delegated legislation.

SIs are normally drafted by the legal office of the relevant government department. Consultations often take place with interested bodies and parties.

In the example above the Minister for Sport, Heritage and Tourism, Secretary of State: Department for Culture, Media and Sport made the order in consultation with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority.

Around two-thirds of SIs are not actively considered before Parliament and simply become law on a specified date in the future. Others will require approval from both Houses before they become law.
Around 3,000 SIs are issued every year and each contains an explanatory note explaining its scope and purpose.

 In our example the explanatory note records that this order relates to all seater requirements at the new home stadium for West Ham United


Numbering and referencing Statutory Instruments

Statutory Instruments are numbered sequentially by calendar year, e.g. SI 2016 No.629 The Football Spectators (Seating) Order



All legislation from 1988 – present day is available in its original form, plus a revised version showing amendments which have been made since the original version.  Most pre 1988 legislation is also available, however in some cases there will only be an originally published (as enacted) version and no revised version.  This guide explains more about the legislation on




 2. vLexJustis

vLex Justis is a fully-searchable legal database of case law and legislation. Full text legislative coverage extends from medieval times to the present day.

Comprehensive online help is available to support you when using this database. See the vLex resource centre for online guides, videos and webinars.

Acts of Parliament coverage includes:

  • Acts of Parliament (United Kingdom) 1707 to present
  • Acts of Parliament (Scotland) 1999 to present
  • Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly from 2000
  • Church Assembly and General Synod Measures 1920 to present
  • Acts of Parliament (England) 1235 to 1706


All Acts appear as enacted, with links to amended and amending legislation allowing the user to trace the development of the law.


Statutory Instruments

Secondary legislation covering England, Scotland and Wales from 17th century to the present day is available (1671 – present) and includes:


  • Statutory Instruments from 1949 to present
  • Scottish Statutory Instruments
  • Draft Statutory Instruments
  • The legislation published in Statutory Rules & Orders and Statutory Instruments Revised to December 31, 1948, which was published by HMSO in 1950 and includes regulations dating back as far as 1671
  • Statutory Rules and Orders issued prior to 1987


Statutory Instruments covering England, Wales and Scotland are included, incorporating tables, diagrams and maps where appropriate.


Local Acts 

A complete and fully searchable database of all as-enacted, full-text local legislation from 1797 to date is available.

3. HeinOnline: Statutes of the Realm (1235-1713) 

The Statutes of the Realm (1235-1713) are available online as part of HeinOnline’s English Reports collection in a facsimile of the edition published in 1800 



The Statutes of the Realm were originally published between 1810 and 1825, as an authoritative collection of the statutes from 1235 to 1713.  Hein Online presents the 11 volumes, of which volume 10 is an alphabetical index and volume 11 is a chronological index.  Chronological tables and alphabetical indexes are also available in each separate volume.  The Statutes of the Realm were compiled in pursuance of an Address of the House of Commons of Great Britain of 11 July 1800, respecting the public records.  Some of the earlier statutes are in Latin or Norman French.  

Volumes follow the date of the statutes:

1   1235-1377

2   1377-1504

3   1509-1545

4   1547-1624

5   1625-1680

6   1685-1694

7   1695-1701

8   1702-1707

9   1708-1713

10  Alphabetical index

11 Chronological index

Browsing and Searching

If you know the year or century of the Act you need, choose the relevant volume from the contents list in Hein, and look up the Act by name or topic in the alphabetical index to the volume, or by year in the chronological index.  If you are unsure of the date, try looking up the Act by name or topic in volume 10.  Using the work's own indexes works best.  If you use the Hein search engine to search by word or phrase, be aware that Hein presents the Statutes of the Realm in very close proximity to the English Reports, and the results of your search will contains hits from the English Reports as well!





4. Legislation on Lexis

The Lexis database includes current amended versions of UK Public General and Scottish Acts and Statutory Instruments that are currently in force.

Choose the Legislation option from the Lexis menu and then you can browse through the menus or search to find content.

 In addition to the amended text you can also use a range of different database features to explore related content and quickly see which sections are in force and which have been amended/repealed.  




5. Legislation on Westlaw

Westlaw provides full text access to in force Legislation and offers added value features. 

Select the Legislation option from the Westlaw menu bar to search or browse to find contentt and to choose whether to restrict your search to the full text of legislation as it stands today or broaden it to include other historical versions. 

Fully consolidated full text of Acts since 1267 and Statutory Instruments since 1948 and selected Westminster Parliamentary Bills from session 2015-16 onwards are available.

You can use the added value features to link seamlessly to other pieces of legislation, cases citing that legislation and access related secondary material such as journal articles.




6. Public Information Online

The Public Information Online database holds:

  • Acts of Parliament from 1901
  • Acts of Parliament Explanatory Notes from 1999
  • Draft Statutory Instruments and Statutory Instruments from 1988




The Lasok Law Library has a print Legislation section with copies of print Statutes (Acts of Parliament) and Statutory Instruments. 

However, it is recommended that you use online sources for your legislative research.  Often you will not only be interested in consulting legislation as it was originally enacted, but will also want to examine the revised versions which incorporate any amended or repealed sections that have come into force subsequently.  It is much easier to trace these legislative changes using online legislation resources.

Print series include:

  • Statutes at large covers the period 1225-1835,
  • Pickering's statutes cover 1836-1851 
  • Statutes of the UK covers 1852-1871.
  • Law reports Statutes, published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting since 1866, reproduce the text of all acts in chronological (chapter) sequence.
  • Current Law Statutes have been received by the Law Library since 1948; this series also contains Scottish statutes.
  • Halsbury's Statutes of England is an encyclopedia organised by subject containing the text of all statutes in force.  

Use the Guide to printed Materials below to find the bay numbers for the legislation series in the Law Library.

View the full Law Subject Guide for guidance on other legal materials

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