The Legislative Branch of Government: Its powers and Functions

The legislative arm of government can also be called legislative organ of government or legislative branch of government. They are all the same. Also note that another name for legislature is parliament. 

In this article, I will fully explain the legislative arm including it’s powers and functions. Let’s get started!

The legislative arm is an organ of government which is responsible for the making of laws.

Most legislatures are made up of two houses which include the upper and the lower houses. In Nigeria, the upper house is called the Senate House while the lower house is called the House of Representatives. America also consists of the same two houses like Nigeria – Senate and House of Representatives.

In the British parliament, the upper house is the House of Lord’s while the lower house is the House of Commons.

Any legislative house with both the upper and lower houses is said to be Bicameral (meaning two houses). On the other hand, any single legislative body is said to be unicameral (meaning one). I will explain these two terms (Unicameral and Bicameral) as we proceed.

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Functions of the legislative organ

These are the roles which the legislative arm plays in a country.

Making of laws

The most important function of the parliament (legislature) is to make laws. Laws are rules which guide the principles of a country or state for the peace and progress of such state.

Law making is the major function of the legislative organ. It’s exclusively given to it by the Constitution. In addition, it is also a legislative function to repeal or amend existing laws to suit the circumstantial changes in the country.

It is also their function to state the punishments given to any law offenders. As they make the laws, they attach proper punishments which shall accrue to any one who defaults it.

Control of Government Revenue

At the beginning of each financial year, the Executive presents budgets for the year to the legislature for approval. Before such budget will become operative, the legislature must approve it.

In a case where the Executive may need extra money outside the budget for expenditure, the legislature would also have to approve it. In all, the legislature controls both the expenditure and revenue of the country.

See Also: What are the Major Functions of the Constitution in a Country?

It has control over the executive

The legislature can control the executive in several ways. One of the ways is that, it can remove the president. However, it does not remove him at its own will. It is only at the will of the law.

The legislature can remove the president only when he is guilty of any allegation laid against him which is capable of making him lose his office. The legislative house has to go through some processes before they can remove him.

Legislative arm of government can also call the ministers up to the floor of the house to explain and defend their actions.

Approval of appointments | Legislative organ of government

The executive is vested with the powers to make appointments of ministers, Justices, Judges and so on. But his appointments are subject to approval by the parliament. This is obtainable in countries like Nigeria, USA, etc.

Approval of International Treaties

Before the president enters into any valid treaty with another country or any external body, it must be approved by the Senate. If the Senate doesn’t approve it, then, it won’t be valid.

Semi-Judicial Functions

The parliament performs judicial-like functions in some countries. For instance, the House of Lord in Britain, through its Privy Council, serves as the last Court of Appeal in the country.

Now we have seen the different functions of the legislative branch of government. Let’s now look at the types of legislature that we have.

Types of Legislature

There are two types of legislature which include the Unicameral legislature and Bicameral legislature.

Unicameral legislature

Unicameral legislature is a type of legislative arm which consists of only one legislative body. It is mostly commom in small countries which do not have wide lingual and cultural differences.

During the time of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana had a unicameral legislature. It is a best form of legislature only when such country is not complex in both culture and language.

Advantages of unicameral legislature

1. It saves money.

The money used in running a Bicameral legislature is so huge that a country may not afford it at a stage. But, running a single legislative body is less cost.

2. Laws are passed easily.

Laws in a Unicameral legislature is very easy to enact as it will not go through much debating and voting. While in Bicameral legislature, both houses will debate and vote. In some cases, the bill does not succeed.

Disadvantages of Unicameral legislature

1. Hasty passing of laws.

Laws are passed without proper debating. The house only consists of few persons who may not consider all the aspects of citizens’ lives before enacting a law.

2. Enactment of inconsistent laws.

Sometimes, they end up enacting laws which are not favorable to the citizens. In a case where the members of the house are tyrants, then any kind of law goes.

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Bicameral legislature | Legislative organ of government

This is a type of legislature which has two legislative bodies. These bodies include the Senate and House of Representatives. The Senate House is the upper house. It’s head is the Senate President while the head of House of Representatives is the Speaker.

Advantages of Bicameral legislature

1. It enacts well debated laws

Before a bill succeeds and becomes a law in a bicameral legislature, it must have gone through many stages. It goes from the first reading > second reading > committee stage > report stage > third reading > President’s assent.¬†

Since it passes through these stages, possible faults and goodness of a bill to the country are properly considered.

2. It observes the minority

The bicameral legislature to takes note of the minority in the country. In fact, it enacts laws in favor of every citizen.

Disadvantages of Bicameral legislature

1. It is expensive

It is very costly to maintain dual legislative house. The salary and allowances of members of both houses are very high.

Delay in passage of law

Sometimes, a country may need an urgent change or amendment of the Constitution to get moving but due to the bicameral legislative system, such amendment will delay. In some cases, it won’t hold.

Legislative Arm of government in Nigeria

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Let’s quickly take a look at the legislature in Nigeria.

Nigeria has both the Senate House and House of Representatives in all levels of government. The legislative arm of government is called the National Assembly at the federal level. In the state level, it called State House of Assembly. The State House of Assembly makes laws for the local government.

The Senate House consists of 109 members while the House of Representatives consists of 360 members.


Sometimes, the legislature appears to be the most powerful organ of government. However, its powers and functions of the legislature are also curtailed through different means.

The principle of checks and balances is a crucial tool which does not all it over exercise it’s powers. In other words, other arms of government check powers.

The judiciary declares the actions of the legislative arm null and void whenever it acts against the Constitution.

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