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What is a byelaw?

Byelaws represent some of the oldest laws in the United Kingdom and can covera variety of different matters. Byelaws are generally laws made by a localauthority and as a result are only enforceable in that particular localauthority catchment area.

Example of a byelaw

Generally, byelaws would be created for reasons such as banning skateboardingin a particular park. If this was breached then the local authority would beable to fine the individual in breach, usually up to an amount stated on anydisplayed sign which warned against skateboarding. Byelaws therefore provide alocal authority with the necessary power to address the concerns of localresidents and to enforce policies aimed at protecting those concerns.

Why do byelaws exist?

Byelaws are necessary for a number of reasons: Firstly, the Government cannotbe expected to make every decision and create every law or regulation across thecountry. It is essential that the Government takes all the major decisions, andis heavily involved in the legislative process across the country. They cannot,however, be expected to make every law at every level as they would simply nothave the time and it would not be conducive to sound government. Another reasonis the fact that local authorities should have the expert knowledge of theirarea and so are better informed to make decisions in regard to byelaws and howthey should be implemented.

Byelaws should not be seen as something controversial; they are introduced bya local authority, which are generally voted in by the general public in somecapacity and so have the justifiable power of imposing certain byelaws. Thereare also substantial checks and balances in place with regard to theintroduction of any new byelaws; not only do the local authority have toadvertise any proposed new laws, usually through posters, leaflets and the localpress, but also each byelaw must be approved by the Secretary of State for theGovernment.

Breaking a byelaw

The penalty for breaking a byelaw will often depend on what and how seriousthe offence is. Generally, breaking byelaws will result in a fine, which willusually be imposed by the local magistrates’ court and can range between amaximum of £500 - £2,500. There is an appeals process should you be found guiltyof an offence which you believe you did not commit.

It is important to remember that byelaws are generally only used forsmall-scale matters controlling certain behaviour in local areas and deterringany action with a fine. Byelaws are in no way similar to national laws, whichdeal with far more serious matters over a national scale and have a large remitto punish any offender. Byelaws should be seen as plugging any gap that has notbeen filled by the national legislature, and that protects a need of localresidents. Byelaws can be seen as a way of protecting local areas from minoroffences which would be likely to happen without any interference from localgovernment. Read this article to find out how byelaws are made.

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