What is retrospective legislation?

Retrospective legislation is generally defined as legislation which ‘takes  away  or  impairs  any vested right acquired under existing laws, or creates  a new obligation, or imposes a new duty, or Picture-clipping-16attaches a new disability in respect to transactions or considerations  already  past’.1 According to the Oxford Dictionary of Law, retrospective (or retroactive) legislation is: Legislation that  operates  on matters  taking place before its enactment, e.g. by penalizing conduct that was lawful when it occurred. There is a presumption that statutes are not intended to have retroactive effect unless they merely change legal procedure.2 Under its entry for ‘retrospective’ Stroud’s Judicial Dictionary of Words and Phrases outlines the principle: …‘nova constitutio futuris formam imponere debet, non prœteritis’, that is unless there be clear words to the contrary statutes ‘do not apply to a past, but to a future, state or circumstance’.3 The previous  Government’s position on introducing retrospective legislation was set out by Harriet Harman, the Solicitor General, in answer to a question from Jonathan Sayeed: Mr. Sayeed: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor’s Department if he will make a  statement  on  the Government’s  policy on the introduction of retrospective legislation. The Solicitor-General: I have been asked to reply. The Government’s policy before introducing a legislative provision having retrospective effect is to balance the conflicting public interests and to consider whether the general public interest in the law not being changed retrospectively may be outweighed by any competing public interest. In making this assessment the Government will have regard to relevant international standards including those of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which was incorporated into United Kingdom law by the Human Rights Act 1998.4 2 Examples of retrospective legislation However, there are examples of legislation which has been applied retrospectively, for example to validate activities which have no statutory basis, or to correct practices which have been found to be illegal.

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