Legislation, often referred to as statute law, is the term applied to a country’s written laws. In the UK legislation usually refers to Acts of Parliament, but in its broadest sense it also includes laws made under the powers conferred by Acts of Parliament.
Legislation is created by Parliament. There is primary legislation, Acts of Parliament, and secondary legislation, Statutory Instruments.
Act of Parliament are introduced into Parliament as a Bill. The Bill must be passed by both Houses of Parliament, and is then given Royal Assent to become an Act of Parliament, the highest form of law in the UK.
Acts of Parliament can be regularly amended and are , therefore, constantly changing; you need to make sure you are looking at the correct version of the Act for any research you are conducting. Before searching the electronic resources consider if you are looking for up-to-date law (consolidated), historical law (as originally enacted) or the law at a certain point in time. The version of the law you are looking for will influence your decision on which database to select for your research.
Secondary legislation is enacted under the authority of an enabling Act of Parliament and is also known as delegated or subordinate legislation. The most common type of secondary legislation is the statutory instrument (SI). Around 3,000 SIs are enacted by Parliament each year and you will see them cited with a year and then a sequential number, eg SI (2004/739). Statutory Instruments add detail to the enabling Act, and are often used when a speedy change in the law is required.
Understanding legislation is a key skill. Every legal topic that you study will generally involve a mixture of legislation and case law.
Statutory Interpretation is based on common law rules of interpretation, rules of law developed by the courts. There are also Interpretation Acts such as the Interpretation Act 1978. The most authoritative treatise on statutory interpretation Bennion on Statutory Interpretation. It is available in Lexis. Search under the Commentary tab and "Browse" all content.
You need to ensure that the primary materials you are citing are 'good law'. Legislation can be amended by SIs and cases can subsequently receive positive or negative judicial treatment.
Subscription databases will often provide information on the status of the legislation or the case so that you can check that it is still considered to be 'good law'.