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Legislation Act 2001: a bird's eye view

What is the Act about?

The Act deals with 3 main topics:

  • public access to legislation
  • the 'life cycle' of legislation ie its making, commencement, amendment, repeal etc
  • interpretation and other provisions commonly required in legislation.

Public access to legislation

It is a basic principle of our legal system that people are presumed to know the law. This important presumption depends on the law being readily available to people, particularly the authorised text of the law currently in force. Chapter 2 of the Act therefore provides for an authorised, electronic statute book (the ACT legislation register), published on the Internet to provide free public access to authorised versions of ACT legislation and other legislative material. Under the Act, access is not only free, convenient and comprehensive, but also backed by statutory presumptions to support its authoritative status (see chapter 3).

As indicated, access to law also assumes the availability of the law in an up-to-date form. In this regard, the provisions of chapter 11 for republishing the law as presently in force complement the machinery of the ACT legislation register.

But access is not just about having the text of the law. The text should also be easy to read, find and use. The ACT statute book has been created over many years from various sources. Drafting practices, language usage, and printing formats and styles have changed over the years. Maintaining a minimum level of consistency in presentation and cohesion between legislation coming from different sources and enacted at different times can assist improved access to the law. The provisions of chapter 11 for republishing the law also provide for editorial changes to be made when laws are prepared for republication. The editorial changes are designed to provide consistency across the ACT statute book in format, layout and printing style as well as a standard approach in, for example, the use of spelling, punctuation, numbering systems and provision references.

Access also assumes knowledge about when laws have been made, amended, repealed etc. Section 19 (2) therefore requires that the ACT legislation register contain notifications of these legislative events. Section 19 also allows additional useful material such as guides or indexes to be entered on the register.

The 'life cycle' of legislation

The Act contains the provisions about the 'life cycle' of ACT legislation. In the case of Acts, for example, this refers to the processes of numbering and notifying (chapter 4), commencement (chapter 8), amendment and repeal (chapter 9). For regulations and certain kinds of instruments, the relevant processes are the preparation of a regulatory impact statement (chapter 5), making, notification and numbering (chapter 6), presentation and disallowance (chapter 7), commencement (chapter 8) and amendment and repeal (chapter 9). Related topics include the exercise of powers before a law has commenced (section 81).

Interpretation and other provisions commonly required

Chapter 14 provides for purposive interpretation and use of extrinsic materials. Chapter 15 provides various aids to interpretation and should be read in conjunction with the dictionary at the end of the Act. The remainder of the Act deals mainly with other provisions commonly required in legislation. This includes general provisions about courts and other decision-makers (chapter 16), entities and positions (chapter 17), offences (chapter 18), functions (part 19.2), appointments and acting appointments (part 19.3), delegations (part 19.4), service of documents (part 19.5), functions of the Executive and Ministers (part 19.6) and forms and records in computers (part 19.7).