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The short title is the formal name by which a piece of primary legislation may by law be cited in the United Kingdom and other Westminster-influenced jurisdictions (such as Canada or Australia), as well as the United States and the Philippines. 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.
A notable exception is Israel, in which this convention is reversed. The short title sits outside the main body of legislation, and the summary description of the law, which is made optional, is defined by a specific section if existing. For example, the Combating Iran's Nuclear Program Act, which under the usual convention would have begun with the long title "An Act to sanction entities assisting Iran in promoting its nuclear program or obtaining weapons of mass destruction or means of carrying weapons of mass destruction and to limit corporations who have business relations with Iran, for its favor or in its territory, as part of the international struggle against Iran's nuclear program" and whose first section would have read "This Act may be Cited As the 'Combating Iran's Nuclear Program Act, 5772-2012'", actually begins with the short title "Combating Iran's Nuclear Program Act, 5772-2012", and its first section reads "The Purpose of this Act is to sanction entities assisting Iran in promoting its nuclear program or obtaining weapons of mass destruction or means of carrying weapons of mass destruction and to limit corporations who have business relations with Iran, for its favor or in its territory, as part of the international struggle against Iran's nuclear program."
The titles of legislation enacted by the United States Congress, if they include a year, invariably add the preposition "of" between the word "Act" and the year. Compare the Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth), Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (UK), and Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (USA). Even if no year was included in the official short title enacted by Congress, it is traditional always to precede the year with an "of" if it needs to be appended in prose after the short title. This convention is followed by most but not all U.S. states; for example, the Act of the Pennsylvania legislature that consolidated the governments of the city of Philadelphia and Philadelphia County is generally (though not formally) called the Act of Consolidation, 1854. The vast majority of Acts passed by the Parliament of Canada do not include the year of enactment as part of the short title. In the Philippine Congress, titling of legislation primarily follows the U.S. convention.
Since the early 20th century, it has become popular in the United States to include the names of key legislators in the short titles of the most important Acts. This was at first done informally; that is, the names appeared in legal treatises and court opinions but were not part of the statute as enacted. Eventually members of Congress began to formally write their own names into short titles (thereby immortalizing themselves for posterity), as in the Hart–Scott–Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. In some states, like California, some short titles consist only of the names of the key legislators, as in the Lanterman–Petris–Short Act, the statutory basis of the "5150" involuntary psychiatric hold used for detaining Hollywood celebrities.
Draft legislation (bills) also uses short titles, but substitutes the word "Bill" for "Act".
Effect of repeal
An Act may continue to be cited by the short title authorised by any enactment notwithstanding the repeal of that enactment.
Notwithstanding the repeal of an enactment giving a short title to an Act, the Act may, without prejudice to any other mode of citation, continue to be cited by that short title.
Originally short titles had a comma preceding the year. Whether this is retained or not depends on the country involved: it has been dropped in Ireland and the United Kingdom, but retained in Canada.
It is actually not necessary to use the comma as, although normal punctuation is now used by draftsmen, and is included in Queen's Printer's copies of Acts of Parliament, it is not part of an Act of Parliament.
The comma preceding the calendar year in printed copies of Acts is omitted on the authority of a note by Sir Noel Hutton QC, First Parliamentary Counsel, as to which see "The Citation of Statutes" 82 LQR 24-24. The validity of this note is questioned by Halsbury's Laws of England, Fourth Edition, Reissue, Volume 44(1), footnote 10 to paragraph 1268.
In citing an Act by its short title, a comma immediately before a reference to a year and a comma immediately after such a reference that is not required for the purpose of punctuation may be omitted.
In Re Boaler, Buckley LJ said:
The fact that for the purpose of identification only and not of enactment also authority is given to identify the statute by a particular name in which the word "action" occurs is, I think, immaterial. The words "This Act may be cited as the Vexatious Actions Act 1896," effect nothing by way of enactment. They do no more than create a name, and whether it is as matter of description accurate or not is immaterial. In support of this view I refer to that which Lord Haldane said in Vacher & Sons v. London Society of Compositors(2) as regards the title "Trade Disputes Act, 1906," and that which Lord Moulton said in the same case(3), and to that which the latter said further in National Telephone Co. v. Postmaster-General.(4)
- (2)  A. C. at p. 114.
- (3)  A. C. at p. 128.
- (4)  A. C. 546, at p. 560.
Looking at the two statutes, at the nature of the provisions which they both contain, and in particular at the short and long titles of both statutes, it appears to this court that they are clearly in pari materia, ...
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 number 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 were introduced because the titles of statutes (now commonly known as long titles) had become so long that they were no longer a useful means of citation. For example, the title of 19 Geo.2 c.26 (1745) (Attainder of the Earl Kellie and others) ran to 65 lines of King's Printer and to over 400 words.
Short titles were first introduced for Acts of Parliament in the 1840s. Amending Acts also began to take the opportunity to create short titles for earlier Acts as well as for themselves. Eventually the Short Titles Act 1892 (55 & 56 Vict. c.10) was passed to create short titles for almost all[quantify] remaining legislation. This statute was repealed and replaced by the Short Titles Act 1896, which conferred short titles on about 2,000 Acts. The Short Titles Act (Northern Ireland) 1951 conferred short titles on 179 Acts applying to Northern Ireland. The Statute Law Revision (Scotland) Act 1964 conferred short titles on 164 pre-union Acts of the Parliament of Scotland. Further short titles were given by the Statute Law Revision Act 1948, the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1977 and the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1978.
In Ireland, ex post facto short titles have been conferred by the Short Titles Act 1962, the Statute Law Revision Act 2007, the Statute Law Revision Act 2009 and the Statute Law Revision Act 2012. In the Australian Capital Territory, certain Acts were renamed by Schedule 1 to the Legislation Act 2001.
In a few 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. For example, when the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 created a new court called the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, it renamed the previous (still existing and unrelated) Supreme Court of Judicature to the Senior Courts of England and Wales; consequently, it also renamed the Supreme Court Act 1981, whose subject was the prior "Supreme Court", to the Senior Courts Act 1981.
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, but is still known as the British North America Act 1867 in British law; note also the differing comma convention. Similarly, the Act "21 & 22 George III c.48" of the Parliament of Ireland is "Yelverton's Act (Ireland) 1781 [I]" in Northern Ireland and "Calendar Act, 1781" in the Republic of Ireland; the short titles were assigned respectively by Acts of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the Oireachtas.
Most short titles include a descriptive phrase followed by the type of legislation and the year of enactment; for example, the Human Rights Act 1998 is an Act of Parliament relating to human rights that received Royal Assent in 1998. Some exceptions exist, such as the Bill of Rights 1689, whose formal short title in the UK (as given by the Short Titles Act 1896) is simply "Bill of Rights", without a year, although it is not a Bill but an Act.
More narrowly focused legislation may have a secondary phrase in parentheses, such as the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) Regulations 2002 (a Statutory Instrument).
Laws that relate primarily to other laws, such as amendments, contain the short titles of those laws in their own short titles, for example the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Act 2010. Subsequent enactments can lead to particularly lengthy short titles; for example, the Artizans' and Labourers' Dwellings Act 1868, amended by the Artizans' and Labourers' Dwellings Act 1868 (Amendment) Act 1869, and itself amended by the Artizans' and Labourers' Dwellings Act 1868 (Amendment) Act 1879 (Amendment) Act 1880.
If a law is passed with the same title as another law passed in the same year, an ordinal number will be added to distinguish it from the others; this is particularly common for Finance Acts (Finance (No. 3) Act 2010) and commencement orders that bring parts of an Act into force (Environment Act 1995 (Commencement No.13) (Scotland) Order 1998).
- Halsbury's Laws of England. Fourth Edition. Reissue. 1995. Volume 44(1). Statutes para. 1253, 1268.
- The Digest: Annotated British, Commonwealth and European Cases. 1997 2nd Reissue. Butterworth & Co (Publishers) Ltd. London. 1997. ISBN 0 406 02500 2 (for the complete set of volumes). Volume 45. ISBN 0 406 999 023 (for this volume). Title: "Statutes". Pages 411 to 414.
- Tobias A Dorsey. Legislative Drafter's Deskbook: A Practical Guide. The Capitol.Net Inc. 2006. ISBN 9781587330155. Pages 224 to 227. Google Books.
- The Interpretation Act 2005, section 14(1)
- The Interpretation Act 1978, section 19(2)
- The Short Titles Act 1896, section 3
- Duke of Devonshire v. O'Connor (1890) 24 Q.B.D. 468 at p. 478, per Lord Esher, M.R.
- Glanville Williams. Learning the Law. Eleventh Edition. Stevens. 1982. Page 44.
- The Interpretation Act 2005, section 14(3)(a)
- Australian Guide to Legal Citation. Third Edition. 2010. Paragraph 23.2.1 at page 243.
- Re Boaler  1 KB 21 at 27, CA
- R v Wheatley  1 WLR 144 at 147,  1 All ER 954 at 957, CA
- The Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission, Statute Law Revision: Fifteenth Report, Draft Statute Law Repeals Bill, Law Com 233, Scot Law Com 150, Part IV, para. 4.2, p. 76, footnote 2 BAILII Scottish Law Commission
- The Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission, Statute Law Revision: Fifteenth Report, Draft Statute Law Repeals Bill, Law Com 233, Scot Law Com 150, Part IV, para. 4.2, p. 76
- Copies of the Legislation Act 2001
- "Yelverton's Act (Ireland) 1781 [I]". legislation.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 21 December 2010. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
- "Short Titles Act, 1962, Schedule 1". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
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