I'm writing software that needs to have the following categories of law for a non-English speaking country:

(a) all laws

(b) primary country-wide legislation (passed by parliament)

(c) secondary country-wide legislation (issued by the executive on authorization from primary legislation)

(d) non-binding statements of parliament

(e) local legislation

(f) court verdicts

I normally use English when writing code, so would like to give these things generic English names, not specific to any country like US or UK.

Is this the best hierarchy for these:

(a) laws: all laws

(b) statutes: primary country-wide legislation (passed by parliament)

(c) ordinances: secondary country-wide legislation (issued by the executive on authorization from primary legislation)

(d) resolutions: non-binding statements of parliament

(e) local laws: local legislation

(f) verdicts: court verdicts

The bits I wonder about in particular are:

  1. Should I use acts instead of statutes? My feeling is that acts is less specific, i.e. there's more risk that someone may hear acts and think of secondary legislation too.
  2. Should I use acts for all laws?
  3. Should I use one of: judgements, decrees, sentences instead of verdicts?

I understand there's no clear-cut and standardized divisions here, but am curious whether my general sense of this seems right.

closed as primarily opinion-based by AmE speaker, Mitch, JMP, AndyT, Rory Alsop Aug 24 '18 at 7:46

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • You may like to consider 'by-laws' for 'local laws' and my own preference would be for 'judgements' rather than verdicts. – Nigel J May 30 '18 at 18:19
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    If it's a common law legal system, you would use "case law" for court verdicts. I don't think that's as standard for other legal systems, though. Also, if I'm understanding you correctly, I think in the US we would use "regulations" where you have "ordinances" (these are typically rules established by agencies which have been given the right to make and enforce such rules by the legislature). "Ordinances" tends to be used more for local laws, as in "there's no smoking on the subway by city ordinance". – 1006a May 30 '18 at 19:23
  • Related question: english.stackexchange.com/q/410762/71848 – JJJ May 31 '18 at 5:32
  • Shouldn't you be having a lawyer do this for you? While we can discuss synonyms of 'law' informally, these are all terms of art specific to particular legal language that only a technician of law would be able to answer authoritatively. – Mitch Aug 21 '18 at 13:37
  • @Mitch, technical legal terminology should indeed be off-topic here, but the terms that the OP is asking about are not technical; they are a part of the vocabulary routinely used in the newspapers aimed at the general public. – jsw29 Aug 24 '18 at 16:32

Here are the terms for the six items listed in the question, that are the least likely to be misunderstood by a generic English-speaking audience.

(a) The law (of this country) encompasses everything that is under discussion here. Note that in this use, the law is a mass noun. The countable noun laws is more likely to be understood to refer to statutes.

(b) The enactments with country-wide application, passed by a parliament or a similar legislature, are indeed the statutes. Using acts for that purpose is OK too, provided that the context makes clear that it is the acts of the parliament that are referred to. Using statutes as the general term is compatible with using act to refer to a particular item of legislation; one can, for example, say ‘Among the statutes enacted last year was the Act on XYZ’.

(c) On the basis of the statutes, the departments of the executive branch may issue regulations.

(d) The non-binding proclamations passed by a legislature are indeed resolutions.

(e) The governing bodies of cities, towns, counties, etc. may issue various ordinances for their territories. (This assumes that we are talking about administrative units, and not about the components of a federation, such as the states in the U.S.; the latter have legislatures that pass statutes.)

(f) A verdict, by itself, simply says which party has won a particular legal dispute, and no more. A sentence similarly specifies only what will happen to a particular criminal defendant. In the course of litigation, however, various judicial opinions may be issued, and these may provide precedents for future litigation. A country’s body of judicial opinions, taken collectively, is the caselaw of that country. It should be noted that the role of judicial opinions varies from one legal system to another: the caselaw is a very important (perhaps the most important) element of the law in the countries of the common-law tradition, much less so elsewhere.

To avoid possible misunderstandings, it may be worthwhile to repeat that this answer is about the default generic terminology, i.e. the terminology that that one should use when one doesn't know what country one's audience is from, and one is writing either about the law in general or about the law of a country that is not itself English-speaking. If one is writing about a particular country in which English is an official language, and/or one knows what terminology one's audience is used to, one should choose one's terms accordingly.

  • For clarity for non-US / non-UK people: The above hierarchy indeed seems best. It's worth knowing though that it most closely reflects the US system (see note (2) below). Some notes: (1) both in the US and UK, the executive may issue "orders" in addition to "regulations", (2) UK city councils issue "byelaws" / "bylaws" instead of "ordinances", (3) I couldn't find what UK counties issue, but certainly not "ordinances", (4) some major non-English speaking countries officially translate executive (ministerial) country-wide legislation as "ordinances" - e.g. Japan. – Jan Żankowski Aug 20 '18 at 9:38
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    Bylaw is indeed a possible alternative to ordinance, and is used as the official term in many jurisdictions. The reason for preferring ordinance as the default generic term is that bylaw is also used for the rules of various private organizations (which are not a part of the law). – jsw29 Aug 21 '18 at 0:28

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