What is the meaning of subordinate legislation?

Written by chris mcgann
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What is the meaning of subordinate legislation?
Parlimentary governments like the United Kingdom's often use subordinate legislation to enforce the letter and spirit of acts of parliment. (the houses of parliament image by Aleksey Trefilov from Fotolia.com)

Subordinate legislation, also known as delegated or secondary legislation, refers to a government regulation authorised by an empowering act. Democracies ruled by parliaments often use subordinate legislation to supplement and enforce acts of parliament. The United States, the individual states and other congressional democracies use executive branch regulations to achieve the same effect.

Subordinate Legislation

Parliaments often pass broadly worded empowering legislation to address public problems. However, members of parliament often lack the technical expertise to adequately solve problems related to issues like the environment, public health and safety and trade. Empowering legislation allows government ministers to write and revise technical regulations to achieve the intent of the law.


The process for drafting and implementing subordinate legislation differs by country, but generally the government ministry with jurisdiction over a public policy issue creates the subordinate legislation. India's upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha, has a committee to review all subordinate legislation. Ireland's ministries pass about 500 pieces of subordinate legislation per year. In the United Kingdom, the most common subordinate legislation is a statutory instrument.

The U.S. System

Executive branch rulemaking is the equivalent to subordinate legislation in the United States. Federal and state laws often direct an agency to write regulations. After the agency drafts a set of regulations, they often accept public comment before a rule-making committee and usually the department head authorises a final rule.

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