Drafting Matters!: guidance

Guidance on the drafting of primary legislation.

Why drafting matters by Andy Beattie, Chief Parliamentary Counsel

Andy Beattie
Chief Parliamentary Counsel

If you don't think drafting matters, think again!

A robust, cohesive, principled and well drafted statute book is an essential element of a civilised, well-governed society. The Parliamentary Counsel Office has been drafting Acts of the Scottish Parliament for over 15 years and we always strive to draft clear, effective, accessible law which can be easily understood by everyone affected by it.

As we go about drafting the Scottish Government's Bills, we are inspired by the Gaelic proverb adorning the walls of our office, which, says 'abair ach beagan is abair gu math e'. Translating as 'say but little and say it well', this is an excellent rule of thumb for anyone seeking to make good law.

It is now easier than ever to access legislation, with statutes most commonly searched for and read online. There has been an explosion in the numbers and types of people seeking out the law in its raw state and a corresponding onus on drafters to make it easier to navigate and read.

We try to create legislation that is direct and straightforward and which delivers its message to its intended readers without fuss. Clear and effective writing doesn't happen by accident and involves much more than simply using intelligible words and expressions. Good grammar is needed for any written text to be readily understood. Organising material logically and designing a simple physical layout allows information to be absorbed more easily, something which becomes more and more important with legislation increasingly being read electronically on mobile devices.

Parliamentary counsel have accumulated a wealth of legislative experience and expertise and we have begun capturing and sharing our knowledge both among the members of the drafting office and with others who are engaged or interested in the drafting of Scottish legislation. We have now drawn this material together in the form of a drafting manual.

The manual is not a guide on how to draft a Bill or on how to interpret statutes. It is a collection of the internal guidance which parliamentary counsel use when drafting Bills for the Scottish Government. Its main purpose is to allow drafters to inject a degree of cohesion and consistency into the overall Scottish statute book, with a view to helping users of legislation to understand it better.

Legislative drafting is a highly creative activity and parliamentary counsel need to be free to evolve and adjust drafting practice to ensure that modern legislation continues to improve and adapt to the needs of those who use it. Each topic covered is no more than a snapshot of our guidance as at the date of publication. All the material is kept under constant review and we hope to engage and involve others to help us to develop new ways of making law more accessible.

It is a great privilege to be responsible for helping shape the law of Scotland. We hope that sharing this drafting manual will give some insight into how a Bill is prepared and will encourage comments on our approach to drafting legislation and suggestions for how we should continue to improve the quality of Scotland's law.

Andy Beattie
Chief Parliamentary Counsel

Parliamentary Counsel Office
Victoria Quay


Email: Jonathan Brown

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