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Primary legislation and secondary legislation (the latter also called delegated legislation or subordinate legislation [1]) are two forms of law, created respectively by the legislative and executive branches of governments in representative democracies. Primary legislation generally consists of statutes, also known as 'acts', that set out broad outlines and principles, but delegate specific authority to an executive branch to make more specific laws under the aegis of the principal act. The executive branch can then issue secondary legislation (often by order-in-council in parliamentary systems, or by regulatory agencies in presidential systems), creating legally enforceable regulations and the procedures for implementing them.[2]


In Australian law, primary legislation includes acts of the Commonwealth Parliament and state or territory parliaments. Secondary legislation, formally called legislative instruments, are regulations made according to law by the executive or judiciary or other specified bodies which have the effect of law.[3] Secondary legislation amounts to about half of Commonwealth law by volume.[3] Although it is made by the executive, secondary legislation is still scrutinised by parliament and can be disallowed by a resolution of either house of parliament.[3]


In Canadian law, primary legislation (also called statute law) consists of acts of the Parliament of Canada and the legislatures of the provinces, and of Orders in Council made under the Royal Prerogative. Secondary legislation (also called regulation) includes laws made by federal or provincial Order in Council by virtue of an empowering statute previously made by the parliament or legislature.

Civil law jurisdictions

Civil law systems are almost universal in Europe (with the exceptions of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which are Common Law systems), as well as in Central and South America, much of Africa and Asia.

In all cases, a parliament will issue primary legislation, with lesser bodies granted powers to issue delegated legislation. A judicial review may be provided by a constitutional court.[a]

European Union

Each member state of the European Union (EU) has its own laws, and there is also overall EU law. The founding treaty, the 1957 Treaty of Rome, and all subsequent treaties, such as the Maastricht Treaty, Nice Treaty, and Lisbon Treaty, are the main primary legislation.[5] The Treaty of Rome gives powers to make secondary legislation.[citation needed]

Member states must surrender some national jurisdiction powers to the European Union; these delegated powers are exercised by the Commission, Council and European Parliament acting in concert, having consulted the European Economic and Social Committee and the European Committee of the Regions.[citation needed] The powers are exercised via binding Regulations, Directives, Decisions, and non-binding Recommendations and Opinions.

The Commission may take executive action in pursuance of policy, and may even act quasi-judicially in matters of EU competition law, a power defined in Article 101 and Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Privileged parties, such as Member States, EU Institutions, and those with specific standing, may initiate litigation. For example, the Commission may sue Member States for breaches of EU obligations, and Member States may sue Institutions or other Member States for breach of EU law.

Hong Kong

Main article: Subsidiary legislation in Hong Kong

United Kingdom

Primary legislation

In the United Kingdom, primary legislation can take a number of different forms:

Secondary legislation

Main article: Delegated legislation in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, secondary legislation (also referred to as delegated legislation or subordinate legislation) is law made by an executive authority under powers delegated by an enactment of primary legislation, which grants the executive agency power to implement and administer the requirements of that primary legislation.[7]

Forms of secondary legislation in the United Kingdom include only:

United States

Main article: United States administrative law § Rulemaking

Primary legislation

In the United States, primary legislation is, at the federal level, an Act of Congress, and the statute that delegates authority is called an authorizing statute or delegation of rule making authority.

Regulations "with the force of law"

A law promulgated by an executive branch agency of the US government as the result of an act of Congress is called a regulation or a rule, often with the qualifier that it is a rule given "the force of law" by the authorizing statute. In the United States, legislation is used to refer only to acts of the legislative branch, never the executive or the judicial branches.

The body of law that governs agencies' exercise of rule-making powers is called "administrative law", which derives primarily from the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and decisions interpreting it. In addition to controlling "quasi-legislative" agency action, the APA also controls "quasi-judicial" actions in which an agency acts analogously to a court, rather than a legislature. In a 2013 majority opinion of the US Supreme Court, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia stated:[8]

[Legislative power] is vested exclusively in Congress [and judicial power] in the "one supreme Court" and "such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish" ... Agencies make rules ... and conduct adjudications ... and have done so since the beginning of the Republic. These activities take "legislative" and "judicial" forms, but they are exercises of—indeed, under our constitutional structure they must be exercises of—the "executive Power".

See also


  1. ^ In 2015, Italy's Constitutional Court for the first time involved itself in the core of parliamentary procedure, issuing a judgment (n. 32/2014) protecting the balance of power from the combined effects of maxi-amendments and confidence being asked of it by the government.[clarification needed][4]


  1. ^ "What is subordinate legislation?". Queensland Government. Retrieved 2017-01-24.
  2. ^ What is secondary legislation?
  3. ^ a b c Australian Senate. "15. Delegated legislation, scrutiny and disallowance". Odger's Australian Senate Practice.
  4. ^ Buonomo, Giampiero (2015). "Negoziazione politica e Parlamento... Non solo risate". Avanti Online (in Italian).[dead link]
  5. ^ "Sources of European Union law". Europa (Web portal). 28 August 2010.
  6. ^ a b c European Union (26 October 2012). "Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, PART SIX - INSTITUTIONAL AND FINANCIAL PROVISIONS, TITLE I - INSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS, Chapter 2 - Legal acts of the Union, adoption procedures and other provisions, Section 1 - The legal acts of the Union, Article 288". EUR-Lex. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  7. ^ "Delegated Legislation". Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  8. ^ City of Arlington v. FCC, 569 U.S. 290, 305 n.4 (2013) (emphasis in original).

This article contains OGL licensed text This article incorporates text published under the British Open Government Licence: Parliament of the United Kingdom. "Secondary Legislation". Retrieved 31 October 2015.