Is there any difference between "act", "law", and "regulation"? Are they interchangeable?

Is "law draft" acceptable to use to refer to a "bill"? Is that legalese and common to use in legal documents?

  • 1
    A "bill" is sometimes called a "draft law", but never a "law draft" which would mean a check or money order written by an official at the department of law.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 21, 2018 at 22:37
  • Can I have some links about "law draft"? Have googled it but only found term "draft" (A written order by the first party, called the drawer, instructing a second party, called the drawee (such as a bank), to pay money to a third party, called the payee. An order to pay a sum certain in money, signed by a drawer, payable on demand or at a definite time, to order or bearer.) I'm trying to find the equivalent term in Indonesian language. Sep 6, 2018 at 12:11
  • This follows from English grammar regarding word order not legal doctrine. If you say "draft law", law is a noun and "draft" is an adjective describing the noun. If you say "law draft", draft is a noun (which means something similar to "check" as you note) and 'law" is an adjective modifying the noun.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 6, 2018 at 17:26

4 Answers 4


I would say @ErikF's assesment of Canada Law is similar to the United States (as well as Common Law Jurisdictions the world over).

The law is the collected legal body of laws as determined by the Legislature and Interpreted by the Courts and enforced by the Executive here too.

An Act is a change to the law either by addition, deletion, or other modification that has been passed by the Legislature and was not vetoed. In Common Law Systems, a law need not pass in order for it to be a law. For example, in a few jurisdictions in the U.K. and the United State, no legislature ever passed a law that made murder illegal. This is because Common Law uses Precedence (Also known as Case Law). In this system, if a court decides something is illegal, then all cases that are similar in nature are also illegal (if it's legal, all similar cases are also legal). This covers every court beneath the ruling court's decision making power (An applent court can over turn a ruling, and all cases are overturned for every court that appeals to it). They can also look to see what other common law jurisdictions have done (with exception... some laws do not port for any number of reasons). In these jurisdictions, they did not have "Statutory Murder" which is basically a bunch of guys getting together and making a law saying "Murder is bad and should be punished." Instead, they have Common Law Murder, which is a bunch of guys coming to a judge and saying "Bob killed someone. When Alice Killed someone, we punished her. Punish Bob the same way."

A regulation is a specific Act that says if you want to do X thing, you must follow these rules or be punished. (i.e. You must pay a fee from the sale of all alcoholic beverages above the sales tax. Your building must include these safety features. You must server tap water and ice without charge...). Here the idea is that we are ensuring that no one is cutting costs on certain elements to offer a better deal to the customer... you must equally follow these rules or you cannot participate in the action.

  • Your explanation of regulation contradicts your definition of Act (1st line of 3rd paragraph vs. 1st line of 4th paragraph). Acts are specifically written and passed by Legislatures, as you stated in the 3rd paragraph. However, a regulation is not a specific act. Rather, a regulation is created by an administrative agency (in executive branch) and has its own procedures for enactment that have nothing to do with representative democracy. Often, regulations are necesssary to effectuate laws, e.g. SEC issuing its own regulations on how to enforce federal securities laws.
    – A.fm.
    Feb 23, 2018 at 3:32
  • @A.fm.: From Wikipedia: in government, typically a regulation specifically means a piece of the delegated legislation drafted by subject matter experts to enforce a statutory instrument (primary legislation) in business, industry self-regulation occurs through self-regulatory organizations and trade associations which allow industries to set rules with less government involvement The Act that authorizes the Agency would thus be the Legislative creation of Administrative Law (they give authority to enact the regulations as they see fit AND can further clarify through oversight power.)
    – hszmv
    Feb 23, 2018 at 14:34
  • Exactly. Your Wikipedia bit here supports what I said, which is that your explanation of regulation contradicts your definition of Act and that regulations are not specific Acts. Your definition of regulation in your answer is not the definition of regulation, but rather a statement of anything that contains instructions. Akin to saying oxygen is air.
    – A.fm.
    Feb 23, 2018 at 15:31
  • What then was the original state of *law * before the passage of the earliest traceable *act * that remains in force?
    – Joseph P.
    Apr 5 at 16:57

In the US, Congress may pass an act, and this creates one kind of law (if it is promulgated: signed, ignored, or re-passed with a super-majority). Some of those acts direct the executive branch to do things, and pursuant to that act, a regulation is promulgated. Together with case law, the whole thing is "law". A bill (in the House, or the Senate) may result in an act being passed by both houses. It may go through a number of drafts between the point when it is first introduced and the time it becomes an act.


In Canada, the three are not interchangeable. Law is the entire collection of rules and decisions of the land, an Act (or Statute) is the part of law that has been passed by either the federal, provincial or territorial governments, and regulations are rules that have been made as delegated instruments (i.e. an Act has authorized someone to make them.)

As an example, this is part of the text of the Residential Tenancies Act SA 2004 c. R-17.1:

HER MAJESTY, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, enacts as follows:


70(1) The Minister may make regulations

(a) establishing forms that may be used by landlords and tenants for leases, inspection reports, notices of default and other documents under this Act;

(a.1) prescribing the maximum period of time after a default within which a landlord may serve a tenant with a notice of default and the minimum period of notice that must be provided in the notice of default within which the tenant must vacate the residential premises;

(b) prescribing the reasons for which a landlord may terminate a periodic tenancy under Part 1;

(c) prescribing the minimum amount of time between increases in rent for periodic tenancies and for fixed term tenancies;

(c.1) modifying any period of notice required by section 7, 8, 9, 11, 12 or 14; [...]

Legislation being considered is not an Act but is instead a Bill until it gets royal assent. Legislation that hasn't even gotten to Parliament or a legislature is generally just called draft legislation.

A regulation would look like the following (Residential Tenancies Exemption Regulation Alta Reg 189/2004):


1 The following are exempt from the application of the Residential Tenancies Act:

(a) an approved hospital as defined in the Hospitals Act;

(b) a provincial cancer hospital operated by the Provincial Cancer Hospitals Board under the Cancer Programs Act.

Refusal of assignment/sublease

2 The Banff Housing Corporation may refuse to give its consent to the assignment or sublease of a residential tenancy agreement under section 22(3) of the Act if

(a) the assignment or sublease is to a person who does not qualify as a bona fide resident under the terms of that agreement,

(b) the assignment or sublease is to a person who does not meet the eligible resident requirements defined in the National Parks of Canada Lease and Licence of Occupation Regulations SOR/2002-237 under the Canada National Parks Act (Canada),

(c) the tenant has not obtained the consent in writing of the Minister of Environment of the Government of Canada, or

(d) the Banff Housing Corporation has reasonable grounds to believe that the assignment or sublease is to a person who does not meet the Corporation’s qualification requirements to acquire an interest in a residential tenancy agreement.


3 The Residential Tenancies Exemption Regulation (AR 227/92) is repealed.


4 For the purpose of ensuring that this Regulation is reviewed for ongoing relevancy and necessity, with the option that it may be repassed in its present or an amended form following a review, this Regulation expires on July 31, 2018.

AR 189/2004 s4;142/2014;117/2016

Coming into force

5 This Regulation comes into force on November 1, 2004.

This regulation, by itself, has no force of law; it only has any legal force because an Act (the Residential Tenancies Act here) authorized it.


The word "law" refers to, in order of their authority:

The Constitution, statutes (laws passed by elected lawmakers), treaties, case law, agency regulations, and executive orders.

  • Not accurate in the U.S. (statutes and treaties have identical legal force in order of enactment), or in most other countries (most countries give treaties more force than statutes). The means of adoption would differ as well and provide the main difference.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 22, 2018 at 17:10
  • Tell that to SCOTUS & Congress. Certainly accurate. Congress may override a treaty or Congressional-Executive agreement (one approved w/a majority in both houses as opposed to 2/3). This is rare, because doing so would put the US in contravention of an int'l obligation. Courts then maneuver to interpret the Congressional act and/or treaty in a way that reconciles the two. Courts give treaties effect only if implemented by an act or if self-executing. Only self-executing treaties are at same level as federal law. The fact that courts avoid interpreting them against fed law, doesn't empower them
    – A.fm.
    Feb 22, 2018 at 17:31
  • @A.fn. The United State is one of the few nations in the world where Congress is allowed to unilaterally violate a treaty, by passing a contrary statute. See, e.g., Whitney v Robertson, 124 U.S. 190 (1888). And the reverse is also possible. Examples here: saylordotorg.github.io/… and ctf.ca/ctfweb/Documents/PDF/1996ctj/1996CTJ5_Oliva.pdf
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 22, 2018 at 22:42
  • That's what I said in my answer. Statutes above treaties. Because only self-executing statutes and Congressional-Executive agreements stand on the same plane as federal law, but if Congress passed a statute that was counter to a treaty, the federal law would prevail.
    – A.fm.
    Feb 22, 2018 at 22:46
  • But, treaties can be and not infrequently are self-executing and override statutes as well. Quite a number of trade treaties do exactly that.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 22, 2018 at 23:42

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