Secondary or delegated legislation

The following Public Law practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Secondary or delegated legislation
  • Legislation
  • Advantages and disadvantages of secondary legislation
  • Statutory instruments
  • Church measures
  • Special procedure orders
  • Hybrid instruments
  • Devolution

Secondary or delegated legislation


The English legal system is based upon two primary sources of law:

  1. legislation, and

  2. case law, or common law

All legislation is a primary source of law, but it is itself divided into primary and secondary legislation. Acts of Parliament are primary legislation, often referred to as statute. The primary statute will set out the general framework of the law to which it relates, but it may omit some of the practical or consequential detail, and secondary legislation is used to supplement the detail relating to the original statute.

Thousands of pieces of secondary legislation are passed each year, compared to a handful of Acts of Parliament, and so secondary legislation is the most time-effective method of bringing into force the detail necessary for a statute to be effective. The boundaries of what constitutes secondary legislation is not fixed and is to some degree dependent upon the wording of the parent Act to provide for it.

Advantages and disadvantages of secondary legislation

Delegated or secondary legislation allows the Government to make changes to the law using powers conferred by an Act of Parliament more rapidly than would otherwise be the case if the original Act had to be amended through the Houses of Parliament.

Delegated legislation can be used for a wide variety of purposes, ranging from relatively narrow, technical matters (such as fixing the date

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