Sunset Clauses and Counterterrorism Legislation

[2013] Public Law 74

26 Pages Posted: 30 May 2011 Last revised: 20 Feb 2013

See all articles by John Ip

John Ip

University of Auckland - Faculty of Law

Date Written: March 30, 2012


This article examines “sunset clauses”, legal provisions that provide for the expiry of a law or part of a law at a later date. Sunset clauses have often featured in post-9/11 counterterrorism legislation, and are commonly considered to be a safeguard against panicked and ill-conceived legislation. The purpose of this article is to evaluate whether this claim is borne out by experience.

The article sketches a brief history of the use of sunset clauses in general and in the specific context of the counterterrorism legislation of the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. It then considers whether sunset clauses are substantively or procedurally effective by looking at whether they actually led to the expiry of certain legislative provisions or meaningful legislative reconsideration of those provisions. The article contends that the record of sunset clauses is mixed, but that sunset clauses, if appropriately drafted and tied to other accountability mechanisms, still have value.

Keywords: Sunset Clause, Counterterrorism Legislation, National Security, Terrorism, Comparative law

Suggested Citation

Ip, John, Sunset Clauses and Counterterrorism Legislation (March 30, 2012). [2013] Public Law 74, Available at SSRN: or

John Ip (Contact Author)

University of Auckland - Faculty of Law ( email )

Private Bag 92019
Auckland Mail Centre
Auckland, 1142
New Zealand

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