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The Library: Law

Criminal Law comes from Parliament legislation (Acts or Statutes). Use the resources below to find legislation at every stage of its enforcement.

Key databases

Erskine May

Finding early stages of legislation

1. Consultation - policy stage

  • Green papers = consultation papers (1st stage) - aim is to allow people both inside and outside Parliament to give the department feedback on its policy or legislative proposals. Not all published but look on Parliament website and Government Web Archive.
  • White papers = draft legislation (after consultation but before a Bill) - policy documents produced by the Government that set out their proposals for future legislation. Often published as Command Papers and may include a draft version of a Bill that is being planned. All are published on Government Official Documents page.

2. Parliament - draft legislation and scrutiny

  • Bills, Debates, Committees, Reports
  • All legislation has to go through these stages in both Houses and then agreed (HoC can veto HoL if they’re not in agreement but this is quite rare):
    First reading > Second reading > Committee stage > Report stage > Third reading
  • You can see what stage a proposed legislation is on UK Parliament website (2004-) – gives overview and current status, published readings (Hansard debates), Bills, evidence, reports.
  • Main two documents (Parliamentary Papers) you’d need are:
    Bills - draft legislation (proposals). A Bill’s number may change as it goes through the stages and gets amended. The number refers to which house the Bill is being read – e.g. HC Bill 45, HL Bill 80.
    Hansard - parliamentary debates.
  • Westlaw UK also has a Bills tracker (can browse by session or title or search by title).
  • Research briefings website is a useful source as it gives impartial analysis and research on a variety of topics. Unbiased and designed to brief MPs/Peers so useful for general public as well.

3. Royal Assent

  • This is essentially a formality and is when the King formally agrees to make the bill into an Act of Parliament (law).

Finding legislation by topic

Using the legal databases, search for a word and then if there’s a relevant piece of legislation it will be cross-linked:

Finding an Act

  • All Acts have a chapter number (abbreviated to c) which refers to when they were published in print – when you see this it’s not just a section, it’s the full Act (e.g. Digital Economy Act 2017 c30).
  • At the end of Acts are Explanatory Notes – these explain the legislation in layman’s terms and are a useful aid to interpretation.

You can find the full text of all Acts from 1267 to present, enacted and revised, on the following resources:

Legislation website

  • Official home of UK legislation from The National Archives
  • Also includes accompanying explanatory documents

Lexis+ Library

  • A Stop Press icon on an enactment indicates that recently published amendments are pending and provides a link to the amending enactment
  • Legislation that has been recently enacted but is not yet in force is also included
  • Also links to: Halsbury’s Annotations (where you can see each Stage of the Act and its corresponding papers); explanatory notes; Status Snapshot (when parts of the legislation come/came into force)
  • Can cross-link to key cases that have cited this legislation, and relevant books and journals

Westlaw UK

  • Inlcudes historical and future versions
  • Also includes status, commencement, extent, commentary (e.g. journal articles)


Finding SIs: Statutory Instruments

  • Made directly or indirectly under the authority of an Act of Parliament
  • Don’t have the same consultation/scrutiny as the Act
  • Drafted by the legal office of the government department responsible for the legislation
  • Available on Lexis+ Library, Westlaw UK and the Government website – search either by Title or by Year & Number, e.g. Electronic Communications Code or SI 2017/1008

Finding commentary on Acts

Other useful places to look are:

  • Social media and blogs: from legal commentators.
  • Newspapers: in legal newspapers or general newspapers. You can find newspapers on our News Resources page.
  • Journal articles: in professional and academic journals. See the Books & Journals page.
  • Encyclopaedia articles: from legal reference works. See the Books & Journals page.
  • Books: from student textbooks to practitioner works. See the Books & Journals page.

Finding UK official publications