Acts Structure

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Acts Structure

Acts regular structure in former British Colonies

Legislation in the United Kingdom is similar in many ways to the legislation of the UK and most other jurisdictions that are former British colonies, including “Australian jurisdictions, Canada and its provinces, and the United States. All Acts are divided into numbered sections (subordinate legislation variously calls these rules, regulations or clauses but the concept is the same). In larger Acts, these sections are grouped into numbered Chapters, Parts, Divisions, and Subdivisions. Each of these components has a heading, headnote or sidenote. Sections are further broken down into subsections, definitions, paragraphs, subparagraphs and other more specialized components.

In traditional paper publications, this structure is represented by typographic conventions. The headings of higher level components are in larger fonts and a mixture of bold and italic. Section headnotes are typically bold. Lower level elements are distinguished by a combination of multiple levels of indentation, and numbering conventions. Section numbers are typically in Arabic, subsection numbers in bracketed Arabic, paragraph delimiters in bracketed lower-case alphabetic, and subparagraph delimiters in bracketed lower-case Roman. Electronic delivery tools such as older subscriber dial-in services and even newer Web services have not been particularly faithful in reproducing this typographic information to the user, thereby obfuscating the structure present and devaluing the status of these electronic services. For widespread acceptance in the legal community, this structure must be supported.

Each of these sections is a logical unit that stands on its own but is related to other parts of the Act. There are extensive networks of cross-references between sections within an Act and also to components in other Acts. These can either be explicit text like ‘section 35(2) of this Act’ or be more implicit like an occurrence of a defined term.” (1)

Individual documents can contain as few as four sections or more than a thousand. This means that whole documents can be very large. The Stamp Duties Act 1931(Tas) is almost 1Mb of text, and the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (Cth) is almost 50Mb of text. For on-line viewing, these large documents must be broken down into manageable units without sacrificing the important context information of the surrounding text. Since all Acts contain sections, this provides a logical unit at which to fragment large documents. By displaying a table of contents along with the fragment, important context information remains available to a user. While this fragmentation approach contrasts the traditional delivery by the government printer of whole Acts, users of an electronic delivery system may also wish to print the whole Act rather than one fragment at a time.” (2)

Notes and References

1.Connected to the Law: Tasmanian Legislation Using EnAct, Timothy Arnold-Moore, Journal of Information Law & Technology, Warwick)
2. Idem

See Also

The Internal Structure of the Criminal Law
Online Citation
Preparation of Legislation
Conservation of Legislation

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