How laws are made

How laws are made

In Australia, laws are made:

  • by politicians in Parliament
  • by judges making decisions about court cases.

Parliament-made law overrules judge-made law if both apply to a case.

Acts of Parliament

Laws made by Parliament are called Acts, statutes or legislation. To create new laws a Bill (a draft Act) is debated in Parliament. If it is passed by a majority in both houses of Parliament it becomes an Act.

Victorian Acts apply to people living in Victoria and to courts and judges in Victoria. Commonwealth Acts apply to the whole of Australia and to federal courts and judges.

Some Acts may outline broad guidelines or principles but leave the detail to be defined in regulations, rules or local laws. This is known as ‘delegated legislation’ and may be made by local councils, public authorities (like VicRoads) or authorised public servants.

See the Parliament of Victoria website for detailed information about how Parliament makes laws.

The Parliamentary Education Office has fact sheets about how Commonwealth Acts and Bills are made.

Judge-made law

Judge-made law – known as common law – is law that has developed from judgments handed down in court. It is most often used to make decisions about areas that are not included in Acts of Parliament.

When using common law judges decide cases along the lines of earlier decisions made in similar cases (‘precedents’).

Judges are also required to interpret legislation if there is a dispute about the meaning or how to apply an Act in a case. These interpretations then become part of the common law.

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