n Southern African Public Law - Revisiting section 81 of the Constitution :the commencement date of legislation (legislative power) distinguished

Volume 30, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 2219-6412


Section 81 of the Constitution regulates promulgation through publication as part of the legislative process (ie, a procedural norm). The provision further creates a presumption that unless the legislature explicitly determines a commencement date in an Act it enters into force upon promulgation. The commencement date of legislation is thus part of the contents of a statute (ie, a substantive norm), which must be determined by the legislature when adopting the legislation. In a number of judgments, however, the Constitutional Court espoused the idea that the commencement date is part of the legislative process instead of being part of the contents of a statute. Thus it allowed the legislature to delegate its power to determine a commencement date for legislation to the president as head of state in transgression of section 44(1)(a)(iii) of the Constitution: this provision only mandates a delegation of core legislative powers to another legislative body. The confusion is partly due to an initial tendency of the Constitutional Court to interpret constitutional provisions in isolation and partly to the unconsidered re-importation of Westminster constitutional common law. In the Westminster system a delegation of the power to determine a later commencement date for legislation (ie, after promulgation) to the executive and/or head of state was justified in terms of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. Parliamentary sovereignty, however, was abolished in 1994: such a delegation of power is no longer compatible with sections 44(1)(a)(iii), 55(2)(b)(i), 79 and 87 of the Constitution. Lately, the Constitutional Court even ruled that the power to determine a commencement date for legislation is an executive power, which is to be exercised in terms of sections 85 and 101 of the Constitution, although section 81 explicitly confers this power upon the legislature. A reconsideration of the Court's interpretation of section 81 is therefore overdue : it not only compromises legislative power and the separation of powers, but goes to the substance of the rule of law and legal certainty as foundational values of the constitutional state.

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Article metrics loading...


This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error