Practically all EU non-treaty legislation and regulations have pretty long "whereas" clauses, often pages long, introducing the context and often the motivation of the legislation/regulations.

From which country's (if any) legal or legislative tradition are these detailed "whereas" clauses inherited?

1 Answer 1


These clauses are called recitals. Taken together, they are a form of preamble.

The tradition of preambles is quite ancient. The Code of Hammurabi, for example, has a preamble. This preamble serves to establish the authority of the one enacting the laws, however, rather than his motivation.

United Nations instruments typically use a series of participial phrases as preambular paragraphs (pdf) rather than subordinate clauses, but they have the same function of establishing context and motivation.

I have not been able to locate the origin of this particular form of preamble, however. It seems to have evolved gradually from freely constructed preambles. I could not identify when this form became fixed.

  • 1
    I suspect that might have an origin in some continental practice (French, German etc.) On the other hand, the UN document allows for "Taking into account" which is basically just a more wordy equivalent of "whereas" Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 14:56
  • @Fizz I don't think it's exclusively continental, though. Look at the Act of Union 1707, the US Bill of Rights, and the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the first word of which is "whereas."
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 15:07
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    They are common in deeds and contracts as well
    – Dale M
    Commented Apr 25, 2019 at 0:39

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