* Rouse Ball Professor of English Law, University of Cambridge and Fellow of Downing College, Cambridge. I am grateful for comments on the ideas developed here to Sir Philip Sales, Professor Simon Deakin, Dr Philip Murray, and participants at a seminar for the Law Discussion Group of St John’s College, Cambridge on 16 February 2015 and a Statute Law Society lecture on 16 March 2015. Errors and eccentricities are mine.
In the United Kingdom, examples of statutory provisions which do not contain the sort of content which would normally be regarded as legally cognizable norms are multiplying. The phenomenon of ‘non-law-bearing’ statutory provisions challenges the notion of legislation and endangers the psychological influence on which the success of legislation usually depends. The article surveys a number of types of ‘non-law-bearing’ statutory provisions, particularly those it labels promissory, declaratory, aspirational, and politically rhetorical. It argues that such provisions are justifiable when they articulate matters which are constitutionally too important to be put in the transient form of normal legislation, but that their use in other circumstances risks demeaning Acts of Parliament.