THE JOURNAL OF LEGISLATIVE STUDIES Edited by Philip Norton Frank Cass, quarterly, Pounds 38.00 (individuals), Pounds 100.00 (institutions) ISSN 1357 2334
The study of legislation, legislatures and the legislative process is not novel. But in Britain at least it has been undervalued in the disciplines of politics and law. In politics, less emphasis has been placed on the process itself, and more on electoral systems, party organisation and the study of the actors, such as the civil service, cabinet or pressure groups. The legislative process has been seen as a black box which need not be dismantled. However, as the editor of this new journal, Philip Norton, points out, we are at a stage where academic interests are changing. Citing the rapid political and institutional change that is taking place, particularly in the states of Central and Eastern Europe, he concludes that new importance has been given to legislative studies. While much of this has been country-specific, he discerns a growing body of comparative literature.
In law degrees legislation has all too often been taken simply as a given. Its treatment has been notoriously superficial in most courses. Students soon learnt that legislation was very much a second-class subject in comparison with the wonders of judicial lawmaking and the common law. This is now changing. The larger City firms have recognised that they must not only monitor, but also be participants in the legislative process if they are to serve the interests of their clients. The lesson that the legislative ignorance of most newly qualified lawyers is not acceptable is eventually reaching the law schools. In addition, lawyers now accept that the mysteries of parliamentary procedure cannot be ignored. The shortage of qualified staff able to draft increasing amounts of legislation has also resulted in lawyers reopening the debates over the most appropriate techniques of preparation, drafting and scrutiny of legislation.
While there have always been those who have worked in the area, this journal aims to help the rediscovery by bringing together insights from different disciplines and countries. As the introductory editorial proclaims, it is intended to be "global in scope and eclectic in approach I and serve as a means of communication between scholars and practitioners". This wide remit is the main strategy of the journal. The subject itself, legislative studies, "is interpreted in its broadest sense", and there is neither a disciplinary bias, with submissions sought from law and politics, nor a geographical one.
Four issues a year consist of articles and reviews, the articles being a mixture of scholarly and practitioner contributions, with pieces by major public figures. One issue a year will be devoted to a special theme, the first being devoted to a useful examination of national parliaments and the European Union.
A short review can only highlight some contributions. The relationship between the two main disciplines of law and politics is examined in a characteristically robust piece by J. A. G. Griffith; major public figures are represented in worthwhile contributions by Sir Leon Brittan, Peter Riddell and William Waldegrave; the European institutions have three articles in addition to the special issue; theory is represented by an examination of rational-choice theory in legislative studies; comparative works examine the role of parliaments in treatymaking and the laws relating to parties; and a more legal contribution is seen in a short examination of the "reasonable man" standards in continental law.
While having aspirations to internationalism, the journal has escaped the danger of being esoteric by balancing this with British contributions. Studies of the poll tax, a bill of rights, the House of Lords under Labour governments, Northern Ireland's MPs at Westminster, Conservative MPs in standing committees, and Scottish MPs and interparty behaviour mean that the journal cannot be ignored in terms of contributions on the domestic front.
The journal's high quality should ensure that it will be purchased and recommended to students. Whether it will be able to sustain its excellent start is more doubtful. For lawyers, it will not replace the Statute Law Review as the main journal in the field, although it is a welcome source of a wider perspective. If there are few legal contributions then the journal will be competing more directly with the established political journals, particularly Parliamentary Affairs, and here its wide approach is both a strength and a weakness. The width allows all contributions of high quality to be included; it also means that it is less likely to develop a distinct identity to attract prospective contributors. It deserves to succeed but, like most legislation, it is not the intention but the implementation that matters most.
Colin Crawford is a senior lecturer in law, University of Birmingham.