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Ratification is the approval by the principal of an act of its agent where the agent lacked authority to legally bind the principal. The term applies to private contract law, international treaties, and constitutional amendments in federations such as the United States and Canada.

Private law

In contract law, the need for ratification can arise in two ways: where the agent attempts to bind the principal despite lacking the authority to do so, and where the principal authorizes the agent to make an agreement, but reserves the right to approve it. An example of the first situation is where an employee not normally responsible for procuring supplies contracts to do so on the employer's behalf. The employor's choice on discovering the contract is to ratify it or to repudiate it.

The other situation is common in trade union collective bargaining agreements. The union authorizes one or more people to negotiate and sign an agreement with management, but the agreement does not become legally until the union members ratify the agreement. If they do not improvement, the agreement is of no effect, and negotiations resume.

Ratification of an international treaty

The ratification of international treaties is accomplished by filing instruments of ratification as provided for in the treaty. In most democracies, the legislature authorizes the government to ratify treaties through standard legislative procedures (i.e., passing a bill).

In the UK, treaty ratification is a Royal Prerogative, exercised by Her Majesty's Government; however, by convention called the Ponsonby Rule, treaties are usually placed before parliament for 21 days before ratification.

In the US, treaty ratification must be advised and consented to by a two-thirds vote in the Senate. While the United States House of Representatives does not vote on it at all, the requirement for Senate advice and consent to ratification makes it considerably more difficult in the US than in other democracies to rally enough political support for international treaties.

The treaty or legislation does not apply until it has been ratified. A multilateral agreement may be provide that it will take effect upon its ratification by less than all of the signatories. Even though such a treaty takes effect, it does not apply to signatories that have not ratified it.

Ratification of the European Constitution

All government leaders of the European Union signed the treaty, however, subject to national ratification. The process for ratifying the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe—a proposed constitutional document for the European Union (EU)—varied from country to country; seven countries were intending to hold binding referendums to determine the outcome, sixteen would decide by parliamentary vote and two countries opted for parliamentary approval advised by an advisory referendum. To take full effect, the constitution should have been ratified by all the member states of the EU as well as the European Parliamentmarker. The constitution was ratified by the European Parliament and sixteen member states (based on the parliaments of fourteen member states, and referendums in two others, Spainmarker and Luxembourgmarker). However, referendums first in Francemarker (on 29 May 2005) and then in the Netherlandsmarker (on 1 June 2005) rejected the constitution. After some minor modifications, such as dropping the label 'constitution' and references to the flag, the text was adopted as the Treaty of Lisbon.

Ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon took place on November 3, 2009 with the signature of the Czech republic. This happened after the constitutional court of the Czech republic found the Lisbon treaty to be compatible with the Czech constitution.

A peculiarity of treaties of the European Union is that all instruments of ratification must be lodged with the Government of Italy in order to complete the ratification process.

Ratification of a constitution

Federations usually require the support of both the federal government and some given percentage of the constituent governments for amendments to the federal constitution to take effect.

Ratification of the United States Constitution

Article Seven of the constitution of the United Statesmarker describes the process by which the entire document was to become effective. It required that conventions of nine of the thirteen original States ratify the constitution. Once word was received that the ninth state had ratified the constitution—New Hampshire, June 21, 1788 - a timetable was set for the start of operations under the Constitution, and on March 4, 1789, the government under the Constitution began operations.


The ratification of the current Constitution of Ireland was achieved by plebiscite in 1937.

See also

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