How To Draft A Bill



This site will almost exclusively feature Amendment or Repeal bills, which makes our titles very straightforward to write. Firstly, determine which is the main Act you wish to modify, then determine whether you're just deleting content, (repealing) or if you're replacing or adding content (amending). Unless you're repealing the entire principal Act, your Bill is generally an amendment.

Then we construct the title. Say I want to legalise polygamous marriage1- I'd want to change the Marriage Act 1955, and I would almost definitely need to add new language to describe multi-partner marriages, so I would end up calling my bill the Marriage Amendment Bill 2009. Just to be extra clear, Member's Bills often contain a brief description of their intent in their name, in case Bills amending the same Act are drawn, or in case there are Government Bills that year that also modify the same principal Act. If you are repealing only part of the principal Act, the convention is to mention that in this short description. (For instance, you might draft an imaginary Bill called the Administrative (Paperclip Procurement Repeal) Amendment Bill)

Finally, because a Bill is preparing a final document for when a law is passed, it must refer to itself internally as an Act instead of a Bill.

So the final title would most likely be the Marriage (Legalisation of Polygamy) Amendment Act. This follows a general formula:

<Name of principal Act> <(Brief Description)> <Amendment> Act <(Year)>

The title should be the first line of a bill.

Enacting clause

The second line of a bill should contain the "enacting clause":

The Parliament of New Zealand enacts as follows:

Without this, its not an act or law.

The enacting clause doesn't have a number.

A note on numbering

Sections in a bill are numbered, from 1 to whatever. Subsections within a section are likewise numbered, as (1) to (whatever). If you need to go deeper, then it goes to letters ((a) .. (z), with additional ones being (za), (zb) etc), then within those you can have roman lnumbers (i), (ii), (iii), and so forth.

If you need to insert a new section into a bill, say after section 5, then standard practice is to call it section 5A.

Title clause

The first clause following the enacting clause is the 'title clause", which states the title of your Act once it is law. This includes the year, like so:

**1. Title**
This Act is the Marriage (Legalisation of Polygamy) Amendment Act 2009


Most bills commence (take effect) the day after they are signed by the governor general. If that is appropriate for your Bill, simply add the following section:

**2. Commencement**
This Act comes into force on the day after the date on which it receives the Royal assent.

Otherwise, simply replace everything after "on" with the desired date as appropriate.


Good bills should set out their purpose clearly so they are more easily interpreted by lawyers and judges. Be as clear and concise as possible. For our example bill:

**3. Purpose**
The purpose of this Act is to legalise polygamous marriage.

The Principal Act

The principal Act is the original act you are amending, and generally gets its own clause. In a simple amendment, you can just mention the principal Act:

**4. Principal Act Amended**
This Act amends the Marriage Act 1955.

In more complicated amendments that amend multiple laws, you may want to list the actual amendments in sections under this clause.

Sections Amended, Sections Repealed

If you're changing many different parts of an Act, or repealing and amending sections of the same Act at once, adding a seperate section may be tidier.

Previous offenses and Transitional Provisions

If you're repealing parts of an act that legalise or criminalise certain actions, you may want to establish any special rules regarding previous offences that might offer a smooth transition. Similarly if you're altering the legal framework for something, you may want to ensure that stuff done over the old framework is carried over or somehow dealt with.


Many ideas just can't be expressed in a simple rule, so if you need to list a few exemptions, you may want to give them their own clause for tidiness.

More useful advice

  • Legislation Advisory Committee guidelines: The LAC gives government bills a once-over before they are introduced to the House. Their guidelines codify "good practice" and things to watch out for - both in terms of drafting, and what a law should do.
  • New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990: all bills are checked for consistency with the BORA, and the Attorney-General is required to report to Parliament if there is any inconsistency. Breaching it is not very progressive, and the sort of thing we want to avoid.
  • Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, 2008 - have the rules for legislation, plus a bunch of other stuff.
  • Section 268 of the Electoral Act 1993: our only "entrenching provision", which protects some of the basic rules of our democracy. Mucking around with any of these requires a supermajority or a referendum, so better not to bother.
  •, so you know what you're amending.
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