What is a Legislative Order?

Jason C. Chavis

A legislative order is a form of action initiated by the legislature of a government that mandates a certain action be undertaken. This may or may not involve the executive power of a political system. In particular, these actions usually take the place of mandates issued by the executive ruling body and can require action by this section of the government or circumvent it in an effort to maintain control through the legislative body. Many countries do not allow this procedure according to their constitutions, but some warrant its use in events of crisis such as the death of a president.

In World War II, after Belgium was overrun by Germany, legislative orders helped the Belgian people during the Nazi occupation.
In World War II, after Belgium was overrun by Germany, legislative orders helped the Belgian people during the Nazi occupation.

The most common use of a legislative order takes place in countries operating with a parliament, such as the United Kingdom. Due to the strong power of the representatives under this system, it places additional powers in the hands of the body. This means that they can issue legislative orders which the Prime Minister or monarchy must follow. In countries like the United States, with a strong executive branch, a legislative order usually simply involves calling on witnesses to testify or deciding when to adjourn.

One of the most prevalent eras in which a legislative order was used to require action by an executive was during the French Revolution. Due to the anti-authoritarian approach of much of the political upheaval, a strong central leader was lacking during most of the late 1700s until the coup d'etat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799. The French Revolution set up a variety of different legislative bodies during the years following the meeting of the Estates-General in 1789. In order to maintain order and stave off military forces at the proverbial gates of the nation, organizations such as the National Constituent Assembly and the National Convention issued legislative orders over the years, which were enforced by various committees that operated as the executive power. A famous example was the levee en masse, a legislative order issued in 1793 which required all citizens in France to work towards the war effort as soldiers or workers.

Another prime example from history took place during World War II. When Belgium was overrun by Nazi Germany, the Belgian Parliament was forced to disband. Most representatives went into exile, while the King of Belgium remained as a German prisoner. In order to continue the war effort with soldiers and military groups still in action, the Parliament met abroad and issued mandates. Each of these legislative orders helped guide the Belgian people and military in their actions during the long occupation.

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