English Law/Short titles

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This article addresses the question of whether the definite article[1] at the beginning of a short title is part of the short title of an Act of Parliament, and whether it would be incorrect to omit such a definite article when citing such an Act. The need for a discussion of this topic has been made clear by repeated suggestions[2] that the answer to both of these questions is "no". This article is not intended to be applicable to any place outside of the United Kingdom.

Where the short title of an Act is authorised by an enactment contained in that Act or elsewhere, the correct citation of that Act appears to be a question of statutory construction which is ultimately for the courts to decide. The author of this article is not presently aware of any such decision that would answer that question.

The Statutes Revised contains the following passage and many others like it:

Short title, "The Commons Act, 1236", see 11 & 12 Geo. 6. c. 62. sch. 2 (S.L.R.)[3]

Halsbury's Statutes says that the short title of 25 Edw 3 St 5 c 2 is "the Treason Act 1351".[4] It does not say that the short title of that Act is "Treason Act 1351".

Legislation.gov.uk includes the following passage:

Short title "The Burghs of Barony (Scotland) Act 1795" given by Short Titles Act 1896 (c. 14)[5]

The Australian Guide to Legal Citation refers to the definite article at "the beginning of a statute title".[6] The context, and the examples given, suggest that this refers to the short title.

Short titles conferred by Schedules[edit]

The entries in the third column, headed "short title", of Schedule 1 to the Short Titles Act 1892, Schedule 1 to the Short Titles Act 1896, Schedule 2 to the Statute Law Revision Act 1948, and Schedule 2 to the Statute Law Revision (Scotland) Act 1964, begin, in each case, with the definite article. An exception to this pattern is Schedule 3 to the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1977. Here, the entries in the column headed short title do not begin with the definite article. No explanation is given for this change in the Eighth Report on Statute Law Revision which is the precursor to that Act. The report does not contain any express statement that the change is deliberate. In Schedule 3 to the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1978, the definite article reappears. The Ninth Report on Statute Law Revision is again silent as to the reasons for this change. It is conceivable that the draftsman might have decided that the omission of the definite article from the entries in the previous Act was technically incorrect.

Citation in Schedules of repeals[edit]

Some Acts of Parliament contain a Schedule of repeals, the second column of which is headed "short title".[7] Sometimes the entries in that column begin with the definite article.[8] Sometimes they do not.[9] Sometimes it is not obvious that they are meant to be short titles,[10] and a person might question whether the heading is meant to be taken literally. The operative clauses relating to these Schedules do not mention citation, and do not say that their purpose is to declare or alter the correct citation of any Act.[11] In choosing whether to include the definite article in the citation of an Act, these Schedules do not appear to have regard to the appearance or absence of capitalization or speech marks in printed copies of the provision which conferred to short title, or to the definite article's appearance in the entry of the Schedule which conferred the short title.

Capitalization in provision conferring short title[edit]

Printed copies of Acts of Parliament now contain provisions that look like this:

This Act may be cited as the Homicide Act 1957.[12]

A person might argue that since the definite article is not capitalized, it is not meant to be part of the short title.

On the other hand, printed copies of Acts used to contain provisions that look like this:

This Act may be cited as "The Offences against the Person Act, 1875".

A person might argue that since the words have not changed, the meaning should not have changed either.

Notes[edit]

  1. The word "the".
  2. By Wikipedia editors.
  3. The Statutes Revised. Third Edition. HMSO. 1950. Volume I. Page 1.
  4. Halsbury's Statutes. Fourth Edition. 2008 Reprint. LexisNexis. Volume 12(1). Page 75.
  5. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/apgb/Geo3/35/122/introduction
  6. Australian Guide to Legal Citation. Third Edition. 2010. Paragraph 23.2.1 at page 243.
  7. It may also be headed "title or short title" (Justices of the Peace Act 1949, Sch 7) or "title, short title or subject" (Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1969, Sch)
  8. See, for example, Schedule 11 to the Courts Act 1971. It may be that this is the case for all Acts passed before some point in the 1970s.
  9. See, for example, Schedule 13 to the Criminal Law Act 1977. It may be that this is the case for all Acts passed after some point in the 1970s.
  10. See, for example, the second entry in Schedule 13 to the Criminal Law Act 1977.
  11. See, for example, section 120(2) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
  12. The Homicide Act 1957, section 17(1)