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The Scottish Parliament and law making
The Scottish Parliament and law making

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1 Acts: An overview

You have learnt that Acts of the Scottish Parliament and Acts of the UK Parliament (also referred to as statutes and often referred to as legislation) originate in the Scottish (Holyrood) or UK (Westminster) Parliaments as Bills. Once a Bill has passed through the various Parliamentary stages it may receive Royal Assent and become an Act. Some Acts of the UK Parliament still apply to Scotland, while all Acts of the Scottish Parliament apply to Scotland only.

Since 1999 Explanatory Notes have been produced for all Public Acts (and some Private Acts) published by the Scottish Parliament and UK Parliament. These Explanatory Notes are designed to make the Act of Parliament accessible by providing explanations in plain English outlining what the Act sets out to achieve, why it was passed and its content and extent. These are aimed at readers who have no specialised knowledge of the matters dealt with in the Act.

Recent Acts of Parliament have moved towards using ordinary language and being more clearly written so that they are accessible. This is regarded as important as individuals should easily be able to understand exactly what the Act was intended to cover and what ‘the law’ is on a particular subject. Some Acts of the Parliaments however, particularly older Acts, can be more difficult to understand. This may be due to the complexity of the subject matter, the more traditional language used, the length of the Act or the number of provisions within the Act.

Some Acts may codify (bring together) the law on a specific area. Some Acts codify common law, some Acts may amend the law while also creating new laws, others consolidate several Acts into one and other Acts create new laws. Acts of the Parliaments may also include a lot of exceptions to the Act, a lot of ‘whereases’ and cross-references to other Acts. This can make it difficult to understand what an Act means and covers.

Box 1 Citations

When an Act is referenced in writing it is given a citation. The citation allows the reader to locate the relevant Act and Section that the writer is referring to.

Every Act is given a running number for the year in which it is passed. These are known as the asp (lower case is used) number for Acts of the Scottish Parliament and Chapter Number for UK Acts.

Acts are referred to by their short title and year, for example, National Galleries of Scotland Act 2003 (whose running number is asp16) or the Scotland Act 2016 ( whose running number is Chapter 11).

Parts of statutes

Acts tend to be divided into sections which are often further divided into sub-sections. For example Section 28(6) refers to Section 28 subsection 6.


Many Acts have schedules at the end. Don’t overlook these as they can contain important information. For example, in week 1 you learnt that Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 (as amended) sets out the reserved matters on which the Scottish Parliament cannot legislate. These may be further divided into paragraphs, for example: Sch.1 para 8 is a reference to schedule 1, paragraph 8.