Simplifying the statute book: opening the can of worms

Simplifying the statute book: opening the can of worms

By Sally Thomas and Rachel Buchanan

Why we need a simplified statute book

It is estimated that 50 million words make up our national body of laws, collectively and colloquially known as ‘the statute book’. In theory this statute book should allow all citizens to be informed of their rights and obligations but in reality, the legislation and the accompanying commencement information is so confusing that the Good Law initiative has been launched to make laws necessary, clear, coherent, effective and accessible.

Take for example the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which introduced universal credit. There have been 16 commencement orders made under this Act, four of which have themselves been amended. The first 27 sections of it all have five or more different possible commencement ‘scenarios’, none of which give an actual calendar date but are conditional on other events, for example;

“In the case of certain claims, the first day of the period in respect of which the claim is made or treated as made and in the case of certain awards, the first day on which a person is entitled to universal credit under that award”.

Work that one out if you can.

For all 151 sections and 14 schedules, there are more than 20 different commencement dates as well as complicated transitional and savings provisions.

In fact, according to parliament legislation expert David Natzler, 10 to 15 thousand changes are made to existing statute law by new statutes every year. As he put it, laws “are not for the faint hearted”.

Even the government admits it can’t keep up:

“It is extremely difficult to estimate how much legislation is in force at any one time” a Good Law research document states, adding: “The vast number of legislative effects and their complex interconnections mean that currently the database is not currently entirely up-to-date”.

“Even legally qualified users frequently complain about the excessive complexity of legislation and often tend to read the explanatory notes accompanying the Bill, rather than the legislative text.

John Sheridan, head of legislation at t

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