Have We Access To Free Statutes Yet?
A review of Legislation.gov.uk
Working in the legal environment you will understand the importance of access to up-to-date legislation. However, this can involve costly subscriptions and tedious administration. Legislation.gov.uk (LGUK) was launched by the National Archives in the summer of 2010 in order to provide open access to UK Legislation and their accompanying explanatory documents for everyone not just legal specialists. It replaced the OPSI website which had limited legislation dating from the late 1980s onwards. Is www.legislation.gov.uk worth using?
One of the biggest differences between the LGUK database and OPSI is that it contains amended, historical and original versions of the legislation. OPSI only held the original versions. This makes the database much more comparable with its commercial rivals such as Westlaw or LexisLibrary. It contains a lot more legislation dating back much further than OPSI ever did.
However, this new database is described by the National Archives as a ‘work in progress’ and so, unlike its commercial rivals, not everything is available.
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Although it contains all legislation from 1988 and most pre-1988 primary legislation, in some cases there is only the original published (as enacted) version and no revised version. This occurs if the legislation was wholly repealed before 1991 and, therefore, was not included in the revised data set when it was extracted from Statutes in Force. In other cases there may only be a revised version if the original (as enacted) version is not available in a web-publishable format.
As for secondary legislation, the National Archives are currently in the process of uploading to LGUK a large selection from 1948 onwards where this legislation is still in force.
So although there is a lot more legislation freely available than there used to be the only reliable record of the law of the land for now is still through expensive private services. This will change.
The ever-changing legal landscape means it has never been possible to offer completely up-to-date views of legislation, largely because of the editorial effort and costs involved.
Despite its budget constraints the National Archives’ aim is to publish legislation on LGUK simultaneously or at least within 24 hours, of its publication in printed form. Any document which is especially complex in terms of its size or its typography may take longer to prepare and so a PDF version will be published first.
The “Changes to Legislation” form provides access to lists detailing changes made by all legislation enacted from 2002 – present to the revised legislation held on the website. Although the aim is to update these as soon as possible (within 2 weeks) there is still sometimes a delay.
To improve the situation the National Archives have launched an initiative called the Expert Participation Programme. This has seen them team up with trained editors from the private and voluntary sectors to help their in-house editorial team revise the legislation. The aim is to bring the database completely up-to-date by 2015. This is necessary because, although the in-house editorial team currently apply up to 10,000 legislative changes (called “effects”) to the database each year, the UK Parliaments and Assemblies continue to create new ones – about 15,000 effects annually!
Another strategy implemented by the National Archives is the development of improved editorial tools and processes, with greater use of electronic capture of legislation information. The new systems will make the revision of legislation faster and more flexible and enable editors to contribute remotely.
The database provides simple, direct and user friendly browsing access to legislation by type, year and number with both simple and advanced search functions. However, it is not currently possible to search all primary legislation on this site by subject even though you can browse secondary legislation in this way. Much less primary legislation is published each year than secondary legislation so this is not a major problem.
The search functionality is intuitive making it easy to find the legislation required. The only downside is that there are gaps in its content. For example, a few Acts such as the Taxation of Chargeable Gains Act 1992 is not available in its revised form. This means that it is sometimes necessary to consult their ‘Help’ section or ‘Guide’ to find out exactly what should be there and what shouldn’t.
Another point to bear in mind is that when accessing an item of primary legislation that has outstanding changes to be applied a warning notice appears at the top of the content to that effect. You can then open up a window to view the outstanding changes.
To help there are feeds which can be used to keep you-up-to-date and to follow draft legislation. This enables you to see when the website has added new content. By using the legislation feeds you can get details of the latest legislation as soon as it is published without having to check the new legislation page each day.
The biggest advantage of this database is that it is free to use!
The aim of this website is to provide free access to the UK’s legislation in an easy to use and timely manner. It does not yet replace its commercial rivals but it is an extremely useful tool. It is ideal for the less frequent researcher who is unable or unwilling to go to the expense of purchasing a subscription based product. In time it will be a real challenger to paid for services when it holds all the legislation on the statute book, contains fuller records and when its updates are added more quickly. There’s not long to wait!
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