Northern Ireland legislation

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Northern Ireland legislation is a legal term of art.

UK Legislative law is composed of primary and secondary (or delegated legislation). Generally, primary legislation provides the framework and subordinate legislation contains the details.


Section 24(5) of the Interpretation Act 1978 now reads:

In this section "Northern Ireland legislation" means—

(a) Acts of the Parliament of Ireland;
(b) Acts of the Parliament of Northern Ireland;
(c) Orders in Council under section 1(3) of the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972;
[(d) Measures of the Northern Ireland Assembly established under section 1 of the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973;
(e) Orders in Council under Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974;
(f) Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly; and
(g) Orders in Council under section 85 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.][1]

Paragraphs (d) to (g) were substituted by paragraph 3 of Schedule 13 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

Until 2 December 1999, paragraph 7(2) of Schedule 2 to the Northern Ireland Act 1982 provided that Orders in Council under section 38(1)(b) of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973[2] were Northern Ireland legislation for the purposes of section 24 of the Interpretation Act 1978.

Section 5 of the Interpretation Act 1978 provides that in any Act, unless the contrary intention appears, the expression "Northern Ireland legislation" is to be construed according to Schedule 1 of that Act, which contains the following paragraph:

"Northern Ireland legislation" has the meaning assigned by section 24(5) of this Act. [1 January 1979][3]

The preceding paragraph applies, so far as applicable, to Acts passed on or after 1 January 1979.[4]

Primary legislation[edit]

Primary Legislation is made by the legislative branch of government. In Northern Ireland this includes the Parliament of the United Kingdom (hereafter "Westminster") and the Northern Ireland Assembly ("the Assembly"). Legislation created by the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which operated from 1921 to 1972, is still in effect.

Subject Matter[edit]

Westminster may still legislate on any Northern Ireland matter. In contrast the Assembly cannot legislate on "Excepted" matters nor "Reserved" matters. The Assembly may legislate on devolved ("Transferred") matters and then Westminster plays no part in the enactment of such legislation.

  • Excepted matters remain the remit of Westminster and were those that were of imperial or national concern for example: the armed forces, external trade or weights & measures.
  • Reserved matters were to be the remit of the proposed, but never operational, Council of Ireland, are now the remit of the Privy Council and may be transferred to the Assembly at a later date. Examples include the post office, criminal justice and administration of the courts.


Primary legislation is titled by the Assembly as an "Order" and was titled by the old Northern Ireland Parliament as an "Act". Acts of the Northern Ireland Parliament are distinguished from Westminster Acts by the position of the phrase "Northern Ireland" inside their title.

Parliament Act Title
Northern Ireland (Abolished) The Subject Matter Act (Northern Ireland) 1958
United Kingdom The Subject Matter (Northern Ireland) Act 1958

The Privy Council legislates on Reserved matters through Orders in Council. Technically speaking these are secondary, or delegated legislation, and they are therefore given UK Statutory Instrument numbers. Orders in Council are however used as primary legislation.[5]

Secondary Legislation[edit]

All secondary legislation is derived from primary legislation. Parliament cannot amend secondary legislation, but may reject or approve it. Secondary legislation is drafted by a branch of government:

Secondary Legislation is titled a Statutory Instrument when drafted by a Westminster department and a Statutory Rule when an Assembly department. Previously Statutory Rules were titled Statutory Rules and Orders.

Summary Table[edit]

Date Matters Primary Secondary
1921 – present Excepted UK Statute (Act) Statutory Instruments
Reserved Orders in Council (In Effect) Orders in Council (Technically)
1921–1973 Transferred NI Statute (Act) Statutory Rules & Orders
2002 – 8 May 2007[6] Orders in Council (In Effect) Orders in Council (Technically)
1974 – present NI Statute (Order) Statutory Rules

See also[edit]