A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs a state, city or country. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy. Statutes are laws made by legislative bodies and distinguished from case law which is decided by courts, and regulations issued by government agencies. Statutes are sometimes referred to as legislation or "black letter law." As a source of law, statutes are considered primary authority (as opposed to secondary authority).
Ideally all statutes must be in harmony with constitutional law or the fundamental law of the land.
This word is used in contradistinction to the common law. Statutes acquire their force from the time of their passage, unless otherwise provided. Statutes are of several kinds; namely, Public or private. Declaratory or remedial. Temporary or perpetual. A temporary statute is one which is limited in its duration at the time of its enactment. It continues in force until the time of its limitation has expired, unless sooner repealed. A perpetual statute is one for the continuance of which there is no limited time, although it may not be expressly declared to be so. If, however, a statute which did not itself contain any limitation is to be governed by another which is temporary only, the former will also be temporary and dependent upon the existence of the latter.
Before a statute becomes law in some countries, it must be agreed upon by the highest executive in the government. In virtually all countries, newly enacted statutes are published in some kind of journal, gazette, or chronological compilation, which is then distributed so that everyone can look up the statutory law. A universal problem encountered by lawmakers throughout human history is that such chronological publications have a habit of starting small and growing rapidly over time as new statutes are enacted in response to the exigencies of the moment. Eventually persons trying to find the law are forced to sort through an enormous number of statutes that were enacted at vastly different points in time to determine which portions are still in effect.
The solution to this adopted in many countries was to organize existing statutory law in topical arrangements (or "codified") within publications called codes, such as the United States Code, then ensure that new statutes are consistently drafted so that they add, amend, repeal or move various code sections. In turn, in theory, the code will thenceforth reflect the current cumulative state of the statutory law in that jurisdiction. In many nations statutory law is distinguished from and subordinate to constitutional law.
The term statute is also used to refer to an International treaty that establishes an institution, such as the Statute of the European Central Bank, a protocol to the international courts as well, such as the Statute of the International Court of Justice and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Statute is also another word for law. The term was adapted from England in about the 18th century.
In the Autonomous Communities of Spain, the autonomy statute is a legal document similar to a state constitution in a federated state. The autonomies statutes in Spain have the rank of "Ley Organica", a category of special laws reserved only for the main institutions and issues and mentioned in the Constitution (the highest ranking legal instrument in Spain). Leyes Organicas rank between the Constitution and ordinary laws. The name was chosen, among others, to avoid confusion with the term Constitution (i.e. the Spanish Constitution of 1978).
In biblical terminology, statute (Hebrew chok) refers to a law given without any reason or justification. The classic example is the statute regarding the Red Heifer.
The opposite of a chok is a mishpat, a law given for a specified reason, e.g. the Sabbath laws, which were given because "God created the world in six days, but on the seventh day He rested". (Genesis 2:2-3)
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