The Houses of Parliament

OSCOLA Basics: Acts of Parliament

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In addition to case law, another type of primary source is legislation: statutes, bills, measures, rules and statutory instruments. In this blog post, I’ll take a look at the citation of statutes or acts of parliament enacted in the law of England and Wales. An Act of Parliament is another name for a statute in English Law. An Act is simply a bill that has been passed into law, after debate and approval by both Houses of Parliament and receipt of Royal Assent. There’s a good overview on the Parliament website, and these days it’s easy to find the complete original text of any Act on the website. It holds all the legislation enacted from 1267 to date. When I was studying Law we had to search through Halsbury’s Statutes in the law library (and then pay 10p per sheet if we wanted to copy them!).


A spelling error I often see is to spell statute as ‘statue’. Watch out for this: it’s so easy to miss out that second t if you are typing quickly, and it’s difficult to spot when you are reading through. If you’re concerned, do a ‘find’ to bring up the navigation bar (Ctrl+f) and search for any errant statues in your text.

Note the geographical extent to which the legislation applies. An Act of Parliament may apply to the whole of the United Kingdom, or to any one or more of the jurisdictions within it: England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. This blog posts refers to legislation in England and Wales. I’ll look at the legislation enacted by the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament in another post. Another point to note is the date on which the law comes or came into force, this is called the commencement date, and is noted in the text of the Act.

Acts of Parliament have two titles: a long (often very long) title which describes its purpose and a short title. For OSCOLA citation you just need the short title and the year. Some Acts have a popular name, often named after the person or incident that has prompted the new law; don’t use these colloquial titles, just cite the short title and the year, using capitals for main words. No punctuation! Although the popular names are to be avoided, many Acts have well-known abbreviations; for example, PACE – the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. It’s fine to use this type of abbreviation in your citation, provided you have cited the full short title name once before. In fact, subsequent repetitions in the footnotes should be shorted to the abbreviated style.


According to the website, the three most frequently requested Acts are: the Data Protection Act 1998, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Sale of Goods Act 1979.

Often, you’ll need to refer to a specific location in an Act: part, section, subsection, paragraph, or schedule. This is an area where I often see punctuation creeping in. Many other referencing styles like to put a full stop after abbreviating the word section to s – OSCOLA does not do this. There’s a full list in the 4th edition guidelines (page 24), but the most frequently used are s for section and ss for subsection. Remember, no punctuation! Generally, OSCOLA recommends using the word in full at the beginning of a sentence or if the name of the Act is not mentioned, but otherwise uses the abbreviated letter form. Leave a space between the word or s and the bracketed numbers or letters, but if there are both numbers and letters in brackets, close these up.

EXAMPLE: Sales of Goods Act 1979 section 12 subsection (1) paragraph (b) would be cited: SGA 1979 s 12(1)(b)


The law likes exceptions and OSCOLA itself is no exception to that rule (!). So, whilst I noted above that no punctuation is used in the citation of an act of parliament, there is an exception to this in the case of footnotes where there is a comma plus a space placed after the year but before the section details, but no other punctuation eg Sale of Goods Act, s 13(1)(b).


There are various occasions when you will wish to cite a piece of legislation: in running text, in a Table of Statutes or in the footnotes. A quick overview of the basic rules is as follows:
1) Generally, just cite the short title and the year with no punctuation eg Sale of Goods Act 1979 or the common abbreviation for the title eg SGA 1979
2) If referring to a section or sub-section (or part, paragraph, etc) abbreviate these with no punctuation eg SGA 1979 s 13(1)(b)
3) At the beginning of a sentence or if the name of the Act is not quoted use the words ‘section’ and ‘subsection’ in full eg … section 13(1)(b) states that …
4) In footnotes only, place a comma plus a space after the year if quoting a specific section eg Sales of Goods Act 1979, s 13(1)(b). (And finish the footnote with a full stop.)
I hope this short overview is useful and shows that citing UK legislation in OSCOLA style is quite straightforward. There are a few other types of legislation you may wish to cite, such as bills, measures and statutory instruments, and I’ll take a closer look at these in a future post.

The Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament