Describe the role of the law commission.

The Law Commission was set up by the Law Commissions Act 1965 and keeps the law under review and considers the need for reform.

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The Law Commission was set up by the Law Commissions Act 1965. The role of the Law Commission is to systematically keep the law under review; to codify and consolidate areas of the law; to receive proposals for law reform for consideration and consult with interested parties in order to make suggestions to government for law reform. It is made up of 5 full time commissioners one of whom is the chairperson (he will be a High Court or an Appeal Court judge) and the other 4 commissioners will have a background as judges, barristers, solicitors or teachers of law. We will look at how the Commission carries out its functions in more detail.


The Commission keeps the law under review and considers the need for reform to ensure, in the words of the Commission, that the law is 'as fair, modern, simple and as cost-effective as possible.' It is an independent body working on a full time and permanent basis, created by Parliament to help them keep the law up to date by making recommendations when this this considered necessary. The Commission is tasked with making the law easier to find and use by both practitioners and members of the public. It does this by codifying the law in certain areas. The intention is to bring together all the relevant statutes on a given topic or area of the law and incorporate them in one modern Act. The result being that the law can be found in one place. The problem that can otherwise arise is that the law develops, over a period of time, through what might be numerous amending Acts, and consequently finding the law and making sense of it can be both tedious and difficult.


The Commission started out with very ambitious plans for embarking upon a programme of codification. They had plans which included family law, the law of evidence and landlord and tenant law. The Commission realised that it had probably bitten off more than it could chew and eventually settled for a more practical 'building-block' approach. This was aimed at codifying much smaller chunks of law.


The Commission has had some success with the consolidation of areas of the law. Consolidation is less rigid than codification and brings together all the law in one place to replace what might otherwise have been covered in a number of Acts. In recent years some progress has been made in the area of sentencing and this has been the subject of numerous amendment Acts. Even so, things do not stand still, and despite this consolidation by the Commission, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 made far reaching changes to the sentencing powers and options of the criminal courts.


At present the Commission has been working with the Charities Commission to consolidate charity legislation and has now produced a Charities Bill for consideration by Parliament. This is another example of a consolidating Bill.


As law students we have all heard stories and accounts of ridiculous statutes which are still on the statute books. Whether these accounts are true or not is difficult to say but in any event the statutes may be repealed and done away with. The public have recently been invited by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, when he launched a Your Freedom website, to nominate unnecessary laws and excessive regulations which they would like to see repealed.

The Law Commission can do away with such out of date and irrelevant provisions with a Statute Law (Repeals) Bill which it can recommend to Parliament from time to time. Such measures prevent the law from falling into disrepute and cluttering up the statute books with redundant legislation which only serves to cause confusion.


As well as keeping the law under review, the Commission may be asked by government to consider and put forward proposals for reform. An example of where this has worked successfully can be found in the law of murder. Due to advances in medicine and technology the government took the view that the old 'year and a day rule', which meant it needed to be proved that the victim died within a year and a day of the incident, should be repealed. The Commission duly reported and produced a draft Bill to revise the law of murder and do away with the old rule.


In undertaking its' role the Commission has embraced the idea that there should be appropriate consultation with interested parties and this has become accepted practice. Consultation is seen as a benefit as it can lead to better practical ideas for reform and therefore better quality legislation which is workable and in many cases welcomed. The Dangerous Dogs Act, introduced in the nineties, is still seen as an example of what can happen if a Bill is prepared quickly and without proper consultation. It is because of the lack of consultation with the appropriate people that we still have dangerous dogs on our streets and read of incidents regarding the harm they have caused. It has left ambiguity and made it difficult to police.


The Law Commission has continued in its work and is widely respected. The commission has had a large number of its proposals accepted by Parliament. In fact, in the first two years of its existence, some twenty proposals were successful in that they later became enacted. Such successes included the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 and the supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. It is noticeable that these successes occurred in the early years after the Commission had been set up. Later the number of proposals to be taken up by Parliament was to drop dramatically. In fact something like 85% of its recommendations were enacted in the early years but this was to fall to 50%. Many argue that this was due to a lack of Parliamentary time and a lack of political will to tackle law reform.


Finally it should be remembered that there have been some failures. The Draft Criminal Code is probably widely accepted as being the clearest example of an area of the law where the Commission did not achieve its' ambitions. The Draft Criminal code was introduced as long ago as 1989 but this, in the commissions own words was, 'in many respects a statement of the existing law or of fairly recent proposals for reform which were open to criticism. Accordingly, we subsequently adopted a policy of reviewing areas of criminal law so that one by one they would be modernised (where appropriate) before being assembled into a code.' The Commission's work is ongoing and has yet to receive the attention of Parliament.


Parliament is under no obligation to adopt the Commission's recommendations. Amongst the measures not taken up by Parliament include the infamous Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Many judges and practitioners would like to see this receive an overhaul not least because of the old fashioned language used in it. The use of such terms as 'actual', 'occasioning' and 'grievous' have, over the years, added to the time taken to deal with such cases, as every one from police officers to the judiciary have all grappled with its wording. The main problem being that the language used is not in use on a day to day basis and badly needs up dating.


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As always the links provided will enable you to do further research and enhance your understanding of law reform.

The Law Commission. - YouTube Neil Powell

Law Commission: Home

Law Commission - Glossary page - UK Parliament