How to Read an Act of the UK Parliament

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Translators and legal professionals often have to deal with original sources and searching for a quote from UK legislation may at first be confusing to the uninitiated. The text of all acts of Parliament are available from two main sources, the “Official home of UK legislation, revised and as enacted 1267-present” at, and the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) at . As an example, let’s look at the primary source of UK company law, the Companies Act 2006 ( to see how it’s organized.

Under the Crown Seal the first thing that appears is the law’s short title, “Companies Act 2006” with its official citation underneath. Here “2006 CHAPTER 46” indicates that this was the 46th act passed by Parliament in 2006. There follows the act’s long title, which is really a description of the purpose of the law:

 An Act to reform company law and restate the greater part of the enactments relating to companies; to make other provision relating to companies and other forms of business organisation; to make provision about directors’ disqualification, business names, auditors and actuaries; to amend Part 9 of the Enterprise Act 2002; and for connected purposes.

The date on the right, underneath the long title is the date of enactment when the act went into force. To the left you can check the geographical extent of the law.* Then comes the enacting formula:

 BE IT ENACTED by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows…

 “Lords Spiritual and Temporal” is obviously a reference to the House of Lords, and the formula basically translates as Queda promulgada por su majestad la Reina la siguiente ley, con la aprobación y la autoridad de la Cámara de los Lores y la Cámara de los Comunes reunidas en el Parlamento. (Spanish laws are also enacted by royal assent –sanción real– in similar terms: Felipe VI, Rey de España, a todos los que la presente vieren y entendieren, Sabed: Que las Cortes Generales han aprobado y Yo vengo en sancionar la siguiente Ley). Older pieces of UK legislation then have a preamble with its “whereas clauses” describing the purpose of the act.

The main body of an act of Parliament is divided into numbered sections with headings summarizing their content. Subsections of sections have numbers in parentheses (called “brackets” in BrE), i.e., (1), (2), etc. Subsections are followed by paragraphs marked (a), (b), etc. Paragraphs may also have subparagraphs designated by small-cap Roman numerals, (i), (ii), (iii), etc. And, finally, an act of Parliament is generally followed by a series of schedules containing definitions, explanations, detailed provisions, amendments and repeals.


*Not all acts of Parliament are applicable throughout the entire UK, as explained here.

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