Byelaws represent some of the oldest laws in the United Kingdom and can cover a variety of different matters. Byelaws are generally laws made by a local authority and as a result are only enforceable in that particular local authority catchment area.
Example of a byelaw
Generally, byelaws would be created for reasons such as banning skateboarding in a particular park. If this was breached then the local authority would be able to fine the individual in breach, usually up to an amount stated on any displayed sign which warned against skateboarding. Byelaws therefore provide a local authority with the necessary power to address the concerns of local residents and to enforce policies aimed at protecting those concerns.
Why do byelaws exist?
Byelaws are necessary for a number of reasons: Firstly, the Government cannot be expected to make every decision and create every law or regulation across the country. It is essential that the Government takes all the major decisions, and is 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 not have the time and it would not be conducive to sound government. Another reason is the fact that local authorities should have the expert knowledge of their area and so are better informed to make decisions in regard to byelaws and how they should be implemented.
Byelaws should not be seen as something controversial; they are introduced by a local authority, which are generally voted in by the general public in some capacity and so have the justifiable power of imposing certain byelaws. There are also substantial checks and balances in place with regard to the introduction of any new byelaws; not only do the local authority have to advertise any proposed new laws, usually through posters, leaflets and the local press, but also each byelaw must be approved by the Secretary of State for the Government.
Breaking a byelaw
The penalty for breaking a byelaw will often depend on what and how serious the offence is. Generally, breaking byelaws will result in a fine, which will usually be imposed by the local magistrates’ court and can range between a maximum of £500 – £2,500. There is an appeals process should you be found guilty of an offence which you believe you did not commit.
It is important to remember that byelaws are generally only used for small-scale matters controlling certain behaviour in local areas and deterring any action with a fine. Byelaws are in no way similar to national laws, which deal with far more serious matters over a national scale and have a large remit to punish any offender. Byelaws should be seen as plugging any gap that has not been filled by the national legislature, and that protects a need of local residents. Byelaws can be seen as a way of protecting local areas from minor offences which would be likely to happen without any interference from local government. Read this article to find out how byelaws are made.