Short title

Short title

The short title is the formal name by which a piece of primary legislation is usually referred to in the United Kingdom and other Westminster-influenced jurisdictions (such as Canada or Australia). It contrasts with the long title which, while usually being more fully descriptive of the legislation's purpose and effects, is generally too unwieldy for most uses. For example, the short title "House of Lords Act 1999" contrasts with the long title "An Act to restrict membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage; to make related provision about disqualifications for voting at elections to, and for membership of, the House of Commons; and for connected purposes".

Unlike the long title, which precedes the preamble and enacting formula, and thus sits outside the main body of text, the short title for modern legislation is explicitly defined by a specific section, typically at the very end or very beginning of the main text. As with the above example, short titles are generally made up of just a few words that describe in broad terms the area of law being changed or the thing affected, followed by the word "Act" and then the year in which the legislation is formally enacted. Originally all short titles had a comma preceding the year; whether this is retained or not depends on the country involved.

Draft legislation (bills) also uses short titles, but substitutes the word "Bill" for "Act".

Since the second half of the nineteenth century, short titles have become the usual method of referencing earlier statute law within legislation itself. In the UK this replaced the earlier method of citing the long title together with the chapter no. and the regnal year(s) of the parliamentary session in which it received Royal Assent. For example, modern legislation would simply refer to "the Evidence Act 1845", whereas in the past it would have been necessary to use wording such as "the Act passed in the eighth and ninth year of Her Majesty's reign chapter one hundred and thirteen intituled "An Act to facilitate the Admission in Evidence of certain official and other Documents".

Short titles began to be introduced for Acts of Parliament in the mid-nineteenth century, and amending Acts also began to take the opportunity to create short titles for earlier Acts as well as for themselves. Eventually the UK's Parliament passed the Short Titles Act 1896 to create short titles for almost all remaining legislation, and similar Acts have been passed in other jurisdictions.

In a small number of cases, particular Acts have had more than one short title given to them, for example because subsequent amendments to their contents have rendered the earlier name inaccurate. Likewise, the Supreme Court Act 1981, has been renamed the "Senior Courts Act 1981" by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, because the Supreme Court of Judicature, the subject of the 1981 Act, is being renamed because of the creation of a new, unrelated court called (perhaps confusingly) the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

British (and English) legislation that has been "inherited" by the legal systems of other countries has also sometimes ended up with a short title in one jurisdiction that differs from that used in another; for example, the Act of Parliament that created Canada in 1867 is formally known in Canada as the Constitution Act, 1867, whereas it is still known as the British North America Act 1867 in British law.

An example of a particularly lengthy short title is the "Artisans and Labourers Dwellings Act (1868) Amendment Act (1879) Amendment Act 1880".


*"Halsbury's Laws", "Statutes", para. 1253, 1268

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