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Asking out of plain curiosity. I tried googling, but just couldn't find a combination of keywords that didn't bring up irrelevant results.

Laws become law when the congress approves of a "bill" - a document that dictates and explains the terms of the law. I've only heard of laws being represented as text only. But that seems limiting in the modern era and all the things we have to make laws about now. I'm curious if any of these documents used pictures or images in their explanation of the law, and thus if there are any images now part of the legal code.

I'm not interested in seals or letterhead or other decoration. Only an image that is part of the content of the law. Such that when a judge interprets the law they'd need to consider the image.

For example if they passed legislation protecting an endangered species and the bill contained a picture of the animal that would count.

I'm hoping someone can answer this about the US because that's where I'm from. But I'd also be happy to hear of examples from around the world if they exist.

I know it might seem like a silly question, but it's interesting to me. Thanks in advance if you can answer.

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    Not legislation but a governmental document that can be interpreted by a judge - patent diagrams. Dec 23, 2021 at 21:37
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    Note on terminology: in the US, UK and elsewhere, bill refers to the text as it makes its way through the legislature. Once its passage is complete and it has been signed or approved by the head of state (as required), it becomes an act: an Act of Congress in the US, or an Act of Parliament in the UK. Dec 24, 2021 at 9:38
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    How about emojis?
    – Barmar
    Dec 24, 2021 at 14:33
  • I can just imagine the original laws in pictograms. A red circle and diagonal red line over a black icon of a man being hung, meaning "no murder" etc
    – Frank
    Dec 26, 2021 at 12:29
  • @Frank what would a money laundering law look like?
    – Someone
    Aug 27, 2022 at 3:13

8 Answers 8

27

Regulations - Yes, Acts of Parliament - very rarely

In in the diagrams are found in regulations, for example legislation dealing with roadside symbols.

There are two kinds of legislation in the UK: Acts of Parliament and Statutory Instruments (normally called Regulations).

The procedure by which an Act of Parliament is passed is that it has to be approved by both Houses of the legislature and then receive Royal Assent (Royal Assent is a formality). The procedure in each House is that the main debates occur at the Committee Stage when amendments are proposed and voted on. At the next stage (Third Reading) the House votes again on whether to approve the Bill in its amended form.

Statutory Instruments (Regulations) are issued by the government (executive) and are known as delegated legislation because the government only has power to issue a regulation if an Act (called the parent Act) gives it power to do so. As you would expect there are safeguards. First of all the courts can declare invalid (ultra vires) any regulation whose terms go outside the limits of the power delegated by the Parent Act.

Sometime the parent Act will provide that Regulations issued by the government under delegated powers become law without further involvement of Parliament but sometimes an Act will provide for some limited further Parliamentary scrutiny. This can be either by the Positive Resolution (the regulation will not become law until Parliament approve it) or by the Negative Resolution procedure (the regulation will become law unless Parliament passes a resolution annulling it).

A key point, in the context of the question, is that neither the Positive nor the Negative Resolution procedure allows Parliament to amend the regulation - Parliament only has a binary choice to approve or disapprove. Of course if they disapprove then the government can issue a new amended regulation which then goes through the same process but the Positive/Negative resolution procedure does not allow Parliament itself to amend any regulation.

I think this explains why diagrams which are sometimes found in regulations are rarely found in Acts. Constitutional proprieties require any Bill to be amendable and any member of the legislature can propose a amendment. If the Bill included diagrams then there would be huge practical problems because any member who wanted to amend a diagram would have to produce his own amended diagram which he might not be able to do/might not have time to do before parliamentary deadlines. So constitutional proprieties would normally mean that in practice Bills must be solely words.

Regulations however cannot be amended by Parliament (see above) so such considerations do not prevent regulations from containing diagrams.

Having said that normally Bills will only contain words, there is this example of an Act which includes a diagram of a symbol. That symbol, however, is defined in an international convention so in practice no parliamentarian would want to amend it.

I know of no examples in the UK where a Bill (as distinct from regulations) contains an image which a member of the legislature might want to propose an amendment to.

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  • Same in Latvia and likely many other countries. We even have traffic light illustrations.
    – Džuris
    Dec 24, 2021 at 8:42
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    Do you have any additional source on the proposed explanation ?
    – xngtng
    Dec 24, 2021 at 14:55
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    Additionally, although this is perhaps in a way indeed different from other cases, UK primary legislations can include texts (including accompanied images, emblems, or other non-textual symbols) from e.g. international treaties or EU laws. I didn't spend too much time to search other examples, but see e.g. legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2009/6/schedule
    – xngtng
    Dec 24, 2021 at 14:58
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    Even in a primary section in a primary legislation: legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2017/6/section/8
    – xngtng
    Dec 24, 2021 at 15:00
  • This answer explains why diagrams or other images are not usual in acts of parliament, but is there an actual ban? After all, in the case of highly technical wording in legislation, many members may not be capable of drafting proposed amendments. Dec 24, 2021 at 15:59
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There is no legal reason why pictures couldn't be in the text of a bill.

I don't know of any examples in the main text of the US Code. However, it has been pointed out to me that Title 4 of the US Code does contain, in the official notes, an executive order which contains an illustration.

Also, 16 CFR § 1207.5, which is part of the Code of Federal Regulations, contains several diagrams, and it isn't the only official regulation to do so. A judge would certainly need to consider those diagrams when considering whether someone broke the law which says you need to follow those regulations.

44 USC §904 says that maps, diagrams, and illustrations cannot be entered into the Congressional Record without approval from the Joint Committee on Printing. This, of course, implies that such things could go into the Congressional Record if that committee gives its approval.

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    The US Code does have some notes that include images. For instance, Title 4 has a note containing an executive order setting out the flag design, and this note includes an illustration. However, the illustration isn’t found in all editions (probably because most HTML renditions just don’t think about pictures).
    – cpast
    Dec 24, 2021 at 18:26
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    @cpast Those notes are not officially part of the US Code, but it's still interesting to see an executive order with an illustration. And the illustration is indeed part of the executive order: "The positions of the stars in the union of the flag and in the union jack shall be as indicated on the attachment to this order, which is hereby made a part of this order."
    – D M
    Dec 24, 2021 at 22:23
  • @DM those notes absolutely are officially part of the US code. See uscode.house.gov/detailed_guide.xhtml: "In addition to the sections themselves, the Code includes statutory provisions set out as statutory notes, the Constitution, several sets of Federal court rules, and certain Presidential documents, such as Executive orders, determinations, notices, and proclamations, that implement or relate to statutory provisions in the Code." (emphasis added)
    – phoog
    Dec 26, 2021 at 21:48
  • Oh wow, you're right, and this whole thing is more complicated than I thought. "It is important to understand that whether or not a provision is classified to the Code, and if classified, whether or not it is set out as a section or a statutory note, does not in any way affect the provision's meaning or validity."
    – D M
    Dec 26, 2021 at 23:50
  • @phoog OK, I'm convinced; I'm including that in the answer.
    – D M
    Dec 27, 2021 at 0:09
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While it isn't expressly forbidden, it is very rare to see this in legislature adopted statutes, which usually incorporate some other source by reference when there is an intent to do so.

In contrast, diagrams and images are rare but far more common in municipal ordinances (especially building codes and zoning codes), regulations and case law. Many real property cases, for example, include images.

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Bills and laws do not usually contain pictures or other images. However I know of no rule against including relevant images. Most often, a description in words is used instead of any image.

For example, a law protecting a species as endangered would normally specify its common and Latin names, and perhaps quote or reference a formal scientific description of the species. For one thing, if a picture was included in the law, it might raise the question of whether members of the species that did not closely resemble the pictured individual were included in the protection.

Diagrams could be included, probably by reference, when defining official seals or flags or the like, but US Federal laws do not seem to do so in practice, relying on written descriptions instead.

Similarly, technical diagrams could be included, but this seems to be quite rare if it ever occurs -- I have not been able to find an actual case. If it does occur, it might well be done by reference, that is with the law naming a document that includes a diagram.

Update I have seen local ordinances with extensive diagrams: road plans and maps for development district ordinances. Local building codes may well include extensive diagrams. These may be included by reference but need not be. Subdivisions are also done by ordinance in the US and typically include maps.

5

I cannot think of any primary legislation (acts of Parliament) that has illustrations but there is no reason they couldn’t.

It’s not common but some subordinate legislation (regulations, codes etc) is heavily illustrated including:

  • the Road Rules
  • items adopted by reference in the Environmental Planning & Assessment Regulation such as the Building Code of Australia. Worth noting that state and local governments plans prepared under this regulation are themselves regulations and often (always) include maps.
4

There is no general rules against including images or other non-textual symbols in legislations, including statutes (Acts), regulations and other orders under royal or other authorities.

The Parliament can decide to include whatever it wants in its Acts. Of course, constitutional principles require laws to be sufficiently clear and precise and they can be declared invalid and unenforceable if vague laws deprive a person their "right to life, liberty and security of the person". But non-textual things are not automatically not clear.

For example, the Olympic (1976) Act declares as protected trademarks the beaver representations and the symbol used by the 1976 Olympics organizing committee and include their pictorial representations in the schedules. The National Anthem Act includes the music score of O Canada. The Canada Elections Act specifies the forms of the ballot and other elections-related documents.

Regulations utilizing non-textual representations (labels, maps, zoning charts, other diagrams) are even more numerous.

3

Diagrams, maps, and at least one photograph have appeared within many pieces of primary legislation, generally included as a schedule to the Act (which is part of the legislation as passed) and referenced from one or more clauses, rather than inline. For example, see:

They have become more common recently, and as seen above often when the law identifies areas of ocean. In general, text of the laws explicitly takes precedence if the diagram is inconsistent with a corresponding description, but some of these examples use the images as a definitive reference.

It is still more common for them to appear in regulations or secondary legislation created under an Act, where they have appeared across many decades (e.g. COVID-19 Public Health Response (Alert Level Requirements) Order (No 5) 2021, Police Regulations 1992, New Zealand White Ensign Regulations 1968). They are often used to depict parks or reserves, or incorporated by reference from other agreements of the Crown (such as treaty settlements or international agreements).

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    Is there ever a case where the words do not completely define the area concerned? I.E. does the diagram add information or does it simply show the information in the words in pictorial form?
    – Nemo
    Dec 25, 2021 at 9:51
  • @Nemo Some of the Fiordland act's amendments use the maps definitively to identify locations (though those are amendments to other written policies made by primary legislation), but I've also added another law whose area of application is defined explicitly by the map it includes. In many of the other cases the words were intended to define the area fully, but if something sneaked through then the map would be substantive where the text was silent; I'm not aware of any case where that has come up so far. Dec 25, 2021 at 19:43
  • I'm assuming that New Zealand has a similar parliamentary system to Westminster where any member of the legislature can propose amendments. In those cases where the maps actually define the locations (and not simply illustrate a verbal definition) how would a member of the legislature propose an amendment to a map? Would they have to produce their own amended map on their own computer, for example? .
    – Nemo
    Dec 25, 2021 at 20:01
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    @Nemo I don't see any reason that an amendment couldn't be put in the usual way. It's not like they're set orally. The Parliamentary Counsel Office assists with preparing SOPs for amendments and in this sort of situation could reasonably arrange for an adjusted map. In any case, in the bills where the text is primary a substantive amendment to the defining text would require amending the map to match anyway, so there is no difference in process either way. Dec 25, 2021 at 20:53
  • From 1st cite: “The catchment area and coastal marine area of the Hauraki Gulf are indicated in general terms only on the map in Schedule 3, and do not affect the definitions of the terms coastal marine area, catchment, or Hauraki Gulf in section 4, or any other provision of this Act.” Dec 26, 2021 at 10:07
2

The law about the state stamp and the state flag of Republic of Bulgaria pretty much contains depictions of the state stamp and the state flag, as well as mechanical drawings (with dimensions) of the flagpole finial.

(the images in the linked webpage are actual scans of the relevant images in the State Gazette)

Of course, the Road Traffic Law contains the images of the road signs.

Different specific legislation (e.g. food safety, technical oversight, etc...) contain images as well.

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