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Short Title in United Kingdom

Statute Names

According to Renata E.B. Strause, Allyson R. Bennett, Caitlin B. Tully, M. Douglass Bellis, and Eugene R. Fidell, in “How Federal Statutes Are Named” (Law Library Journal Vol. 105:1 [2013-1], “in 1847, long before any (United States) federal law had one, a drafter of the Markets and Fairs Clauses Act 1847 gave that act that official short title. Lord Brougham’s Act (also known as the Interpretation Act 1850), the long title of which was “An Act for shortening the Language used in Acts of Parliament,” may also have paved the way. Among other things, it eliminated the requirement that British acts be cited by their long titles; citation by session and chapter number sufficed. (1) Both the first enacted short title and Lord Brougham’s Act were passed before the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel was created in 1869. The first holder of that office, Lord Henry Thring, had been drafting legislation since at least 1860 and memorialized his advice for legislative drafters in a manual titled Practical Legislation. (2) He recommended that every act include a short title, ending with the year of enactment. (3)

Parliament (or at least the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel) apparently found short titles useful, since in the Short Titles Acts 1892 (4-71) and the Short Titles Act 1896, (5) it retroactively provided official short titles for many earlier acts of Parliament.(6) As short titles have come into common usage, the British custom is to name the statute for the topic governed by the act in question and the year of enactment.(7) The United States was much slower to adopt enacted short titles, and to apply such titles to previously enacted measures. Not until the last quarter of the twentieth century did Congress generally provide short titles for most acts of Congress or stop referring to earlier legislation by official long title.”

Drafting of legislation

What Westminster does have in regard to evocative short titles do not come close to the tendentious and promotional titles of the U.S. Congress. Over the past decade the following have been among Westminster‘s more ?evocative short titles: the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012; the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010; the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009; the Green Energy (Definition and Promotion) Act 2009; the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008; the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006; and the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. The situation in the Scottish Parliament is similar. Since its first session in 1999 the Parliament‘s legislative short titles have been very similar to Westminster‘s titles, and thus usually more descriptive than evocative. In essence they have to be, because the two Parliaments share a statute book. The Scottish Parliament‘s only titles that may border on the ?evocative are: the Ethical Standards in Public Life Act 2000; the Standards in Scotland‘s Schools etc. Act 2000; the Protection from Abuse (Scotland) Act 2001; the Protection of Children (Scotland) Act 2003;23 the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005; and the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007…. Historically, U.K. politics on the whole was relatively immune to …(the US) political marketing practices until the past couple of decades. Influential researcher Jennifer Lees-Marshment believes that a so-called ?political marketing revolution is currently sweeping not only the British political system, but every organization in the public or governmental sphere.(27) She says that some of these public relations campaigns started in the 1990s, with movements such as ?Ready for Governmen and ?Made in Britain,(28) though these were not legislative initiatives. Some of the marketing ideas appear to have come directly from the United States—in 1997, the Labour Party used a 10 point Contract with the People, similar to the Republican 1994 Contract with America. Also, at one point the Conservative Party in Scotland adopted the ?No Child Left Behin slogan to convey their new approach, mimicking the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) of the U.S. Congress…. Because of the proliferation of evocative titles, congressional insiders, including lawmakers and staffers, now note that:
Short titles are no longer referential in nature, but have multiple purposes; bill titles may affect whether measures become law; some are not content with the tendentious and evocative language used in short titles; and that naming is now an important part of the lawmaking process . . . all of which takes away from the substance of the legislation.33



    1. Id. § 3 (providing that “in any Act, when any former Act is referred to, it shall be sufficient, if such Act was made before the Seventh Year of Henry the Seventh, to cite the Year of the King’s Reign in which it was made, and where there are more Statutes than One in the same Year the Statute, and where there are more Chapters than One the Chapter; and if such Act referred to was made after the Fourth Year of Henry the Seventh, to cite the Year of the Reign, and where there are more Statutes or Sessions than One in the same Year the Statute or the Session (as the Case may require), and where there are more Chapters or Sections than One the Chapter or Section or Chapter and Section (as the Case may require), without reciting the Title of such Act, or the Provision of such Section so referred to” (emphasis omitted)).
    2. Lord [Henry] ThrIng, Practical LegIslatIon (2d ed. 1902).
    3. Thring also noted the “logical and political antagonism of arrangement” of ele- ments such as a short title and definitions within a piece of legislation. He thought that “[l]ogically, their proper place is at the beginning of the Act,” but recognized that “[p]olitically, their proper place is at the end of the Act, as a definition frequently narrows or widens the whole scope of an Act, and Parliament cannot possibly judge whether such narrowing or widening is or is not expedient till they are acquainted with the Act itself.” He thought that the draftsman should generally “adhere to the political and not to the logical rule, and to place the sections in question at the end of the Act.” Id. at 96–97.
    4. 55 & 56 Vict., c. 10.
    5. 59 & 60 Vict., c. 14. The Short Titles Act 1896 “authorised the citation of some 2,000 Acts by specified short titles.” statUte law revisión. A memorandum of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel prepared in relation to a Statute Law (Repeals) Bill indicates that before the introduction of official short titles in the 1840s: “Statutes of general importance had acquired short unofficial names, such as Jervis’ Act . . . .” law Comm’n and Scottish law Comm’n, Statute law Revision: Fifteenth Report, draft statUte law (rePeals) bIll, 1995, Cm. 2784, ¶ 4.2, available at http://www.scotlawcom.gov.uk/download_file/view/321. Examples of the unofficial names of British acts contemporaneous with the first fifty years of the republic include Burke’s Act (22 Geo. 3, c. 75) (1782) (Colonial Leave of Absence); Sturges Bourne’s Act (58 Geo. 3, c. 69) (1818) (Vestries); Aberdeen’s (Lord) Act (5 Geo. 4, c. 87) (1824) (Entail); and Scrope’s (Poulett) Act (6 & 7 Will. 4, c. 96) (1836) (Parochial Assessments). It appears as though all of the short titles are topical and none refers to an individual. It seems that in fact there is a significant difference between the United States and the United Kingdom in that while the unofficial popular names followed similar courses in referring to sponsors, Parliament has stuck to descriptions of the legislative content when enacting official short titles, whereas the United States has not.
    6. In addition to the two late nineteenth century Short Titles Acts, at least five other acts con- tained provisions authorizing the citation of an included schedule of acts by short titles. statUte law revIsIon, supra note 5.
    7. See, e.g., UK Public General Acts, legIslatIon.gov.Uk, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga (last visited Nov. 16, 2012) (listing, by short title, the most recent legislative enactments of the U.K. Parliament).
      33. Brian Christopher Jones, Drafting Proper Short Titles: Do States Have the Answer?, 23 STAN. L. & POL‘Y REV. 455, 459-62 (2012) [hereinafter Jones, Drafting Proper Short Titles].

Further Reading

  • Daniel Greenberg, Laying Down the Law: A Discussion of the People, Processes, and Problems that Shape Acts of Parliament. London, UK: Sweet & Maxwell (2011).
  • Lawrence M. Solan, The Language of Statutes: Laws and Their Interpretation. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press (2010).
  • Ruth Fox & Matt Korris, Making Better Law: Reform of the Legislative Process from Policy to Act. London, UK: The Hansard Society (2010).
  • Ian McLeod, Principles of Legislative and Statutory Drafting. Oxford, UK: Hart Publishing (2009).
  • Daniel Greenberg, Craies on Legislation (9th Ed.). London, UK: Sweet and Maxwell (2008).
  • Francis Bennion, Statutory Interpretation (5th Ed.). London, UK: Butterworths (2008).
  • Thomas R. Haggard & George W. Kuney, Legal Drafting in a Nutshell. St. Paul, MN: Thompson/West (2007).
  • William N. Eskridge, Philip P. Frickey, & Elizabeth Garrett, Legislation and Statutory Interpretation (2nd Ed). New York, NY: Foundation Press (2006).
  • William Safire, The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time: Wit and Wisdom from the Popular Language Column in the New York Times Magazine. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster (2004).
  • Eric Redman, The Dance of Legislation. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press (2001).
  • Murray Edelman, The Politics of Misinformation. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press (2001).
  • G.C. Thornton, Legislative Drafting (4th Ed.). West Sussex, UK: Tottel Publishing (1996).
  • Uwe Poerksen, Plastic Words: The Tyranny of a Modular Language. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press (1995).
  • David A. Rochefort & Roger W. Cobb, The Politics of Problem Definition: Shaping the Policy Agenda. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press (1994).
  • Edward v. Schneier & Bertram Gross, Congress Today. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan (1993).
  • Donald Hirsch, Drafting Federal Law (2nd Ed.). Government Printing Office: Washington D.C (1989).
  • Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics (2nd Ed.). Champagne, IL: University of Illinois Press (1985).
  • R. Douglas Arnold, The Logic of Congressional Action. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press (1990).
  • Reed Dickerson, The Interpretation and Application of Statutes. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co. (1975).
  • Reed Dickerson, The Fundamentals of Legal Drafting. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co. (1965).
  • David Mellinkoff, The Language of the Law. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co. (1963).

Definition of Short Title

The title by which an act or measure is usually known.

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Schema Summary

  • Article Name: Short Title
  • Author: International
  • Description: Short Title Statute Names According to Renata E.B. Strause, Allyson R. Bennett, Caitlin B. Tully, M. Douglass Bellis, and [...]

This entry was last updated: January 29, 2015


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