Report No. 60
4.2. Position in England.-
In England, before 1793, by a legal fiction an Act of Parliament took effect from the first day of the session. But, in order to abolish a fiction "so flatly absurd and unjust",1 the Acts of Parliament (Commencement) Act, 1793 (c. 13), enacted that the Clerk of Parliament should endorse, on every Act, immediately after its title, the date of its passing and receiving the Royal assent. This endorsement is part of the Act, and is the date of its commencement, when on other time is provided.2
Before the Act of 1793, the rule was this: When no date was fixed, an Act came into force on the first day of the session in which it was passed, and consequently, all Acts passed in the same session were considered to have received the royal assent on the same day. This was based upon a legal fiction, according to which the whole of a session of Parliament was regarded as having been held on its first day. This meant that if a statute passed on the last day of the session made a previously innocent act criminal or even capital, all persons who had been doing it during the session, while the act was still innocent, would be liable to suffer the punishment imposed.3
This rule was obviously inconvenient by reason of its retrospective operation, and was often found to work injustice; where two Acts passed in the same session were repugnant, it was, as Lord Tenterden pointed out,4 impossible to know which of the two ought to be held to repeal the other. This rule was abolished by the Acts of Parliament (Commencement) Act, 1793, as already stated. In England, unless a contrary intention clearly appears, the expression "the passing of this Act," in a statute, means the date of royal assent, and not the date fixed by the Act at which all or certain parts of it are to come into operation5
1. 1 BI Comm 70 n.
2. Tomlinson v. Bullock, (1879) 4 QBD 230 (232) (Lush and Mellor JJ.).
3. See the case of Attorney-General v. Panter, (1772) 6 Bro PC 486.
4. R. v. Middlesex, (1831) 2 B&Ad 818 (821): 36 RR 758.
5. See Ex D. Rasbleigh, Dalzell (in re:), (1875) 2 Ch D 9, followed in R. v. Smith, (1910) 1 KB 1725.