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Bylaw (sometimes also spelled by-law or byelaw) can refer to a law of local or limited application, passed under the authority of a higher law specifying what things may be regulated by the bylaw, or it can refer to the internal rules of a company or organization.

In the context of local laws, “bylaw” is more frequently used in this context in Canadamarker, the United Kingdommarker and some Commonwealth countries, whereas in the United Statesmarker, the words code, ordinance or regulation are more frequent. Accordingly, a Bylaw enforcement officer is the Canadian equivalent of the American Code Enforcement Officer or Municipal Regulations Enforcement Officer.


Contrary to popular etymology the element by has nothing to do with the preposition by. The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that the origin of the current modern use of the word is not clear. One possibility is the earliest use of the term, which originates from the Viking town law in the Danelawmarker, wherein by is the Old Norse word for a larger settlement as in Whitbymarker and Derbymarker (compare with the modern Danish-Norwegian word by meaning town, or the modern Swedish word by, meaning village). However, it is also possible that this usage was forgotten and the word was "reinvented" in modern times through the use of the adverbial prefix by- giving the meaning of subsidiary law or side-law (as in byway). In either case, it is incorrect to claim that the origin of the word is simply the prepositional phrase "by law".

Municipal bylaws

Municipal bylaws are public regulatory laws which apply in a certain area. The main difference between a bylaw and a law passed by a national/federal or regional/state body is that a bylaw is a made by a non-sovereign body, which derives its authority from another governing body, and can only be made on a limited range of matters. A local council or municipal government gets its power to pass laws through a law of the national or regional government which specifies what things the town or city may regulate through bylaws. It is therefore a form of delegated legislation.

Within its jurisdiction and specific to those areas mandated by the higher body, a municipal bylaw is no different than any other law of the land, and can be enforced with penalties, challenged in court and must comply with other laws of the land, such as the country's constitution. Municipal bylaws are often enforcable through the public justice system, and offenders can be charged with a criminal offence for breach of a bylaw. Common bylaws include vehicle parking and stopping regulations, animal control, building and construction, licensing, noise, zoning and business regulation, and management of public recreation areas.

United Kingdom

Corporate bylaws

Corporate and organizational bylaws regulate only the organisation to which they apply and are generally concerned with the operation of the organisation, setting out the form, manner or procedure in which a company or organisation should be run. Corporate bylaws are drafted by a corporation's founders or directors under the authority of its Charter or Articles of Incorporation.

Bylaws widely vary from organisation to organisation, but generally cover topics such as how directors are elected, how meetings of directors (and in the case of a business, shareholders) are conducted, and what officers the organization will have and a description of their duties. A common mnemonic device for remembering the typical articles in bylaws is NOMOMECPA, pronounced "No mommy, see pa!" It stands for Name, Object, Members, Officers, Meetings, Executive board, Committees, Parliamentary authority, Amendment.

Bylaws generally cannot be amended by an organization's Board of Directors; a super-majority vote of the membership, such as two-thirds present and voting or a majority of all the members, is usually required to amend bylaws.

In parliamentary procedure, particularly Robert's Rules of Order, the bylaws are generally the supreme governing document of an organization, superseded only by the charter of an incorporated society. The bylaws contain the most fundamental principles and rules regarding the nature of the organization. It was once common practice for organizations to have two separate governing documents, a constitution and bylaws, but this has fallen out of favour because of the ease of use, increased clarity, and reduced chance of conflict inherent in a single, unified document. This single document, while properly referred to as the bylaws, is often referred to as a constitution or a constitution and bylaws. Unless otherwise provided by law, the organisation does not formally exist until bylaws have been adopted.

Union bylaws

In some countries, Trade unions generally have constitutions, which govern activities of the international office of the union as well as how it interfaces with its locals. The locals themselves can set up their own bylaws to set out internal rules for how to conduct activities.

In other countries, such as the United Kingdommarker, union bylaws are sometimes a subset of the Union’s constitution or implement the union's rules in more detail.

See also


  1. Oxford English Dictionary online entry for "bylaw"
  2. entry for topic, "Bylaw Etymology"
  3. GMB Union rulebook – see rule 11.8 as an example

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