Since July 2010 we have had a world class official home of UK legislation at legislation.gov.uk delivered by The National Archives (TNA). The sophisticated service provides simple and direct browse access to legislation by type, year and number and simple or advanced searches. Any piece of primary legislation or legislation fragment may be viewed as enacted, as revised (current) or as it stood at any point in time. Any piece of legislation or legislation fragment can be addressed reliably and simply via a permanent URI scheme and any list of legislation can be delivered as an Atom (RSS) feed.

Unfortunately …

Despite its sophistication, legislation.gov.uk fails to provide an adequate service inasmuch as its consolidation of primary legislation is only complete up to 2002 and secondary legislation is not consolidated at all. So, if you’re after an up to date statement of the law, you often won’t find it.

All primary legislation held on legislation.gov.uk in revised form has been updated with effects of legislation made up to 2002 (with some minor exceptions). Less than half of all items of legislation are also up to date to the present. For the remainder there are still effects outstanding for at least one of the years 2003 to the current year.

TNA creates and maintains revised versions of primary legislation with an in-house editorial team. The current process of revising legislation has three main steps:

  • Marking-up the document with information about the legislative effects, commencement information and geographical extent.
  • Adding information about the changes the legislation makes to a set of Tables of Effect and creating an initial edit version of the legislation, showing which sections are prospective.
  • Updating the legislation, using the Tables of Effect to research and gather information from the amending legislation to create new versions of the amended legislation.

Using this process the editorial team can apply 10,000 effects each year. However, during the same period Parliament may make 15,000 new effects which will need to be applied. As a result, a significant (and increasing) proportion of the current views of legislation on legislation.gov.uk are out of date.

Fixing the hole

TNA are now implementing a strategy to bring the revised legislation up to date. First 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 second element – the Expert Participation Programme – is a new initiative to bring legislation on the site fully up to date. TNA is teaming up with trained editors from the private and voluntary sectors who are willing to work collaboratively towards the common goal of a comprehensive and up-to-date official source of revised legislation. TNA estimate that engaging a team of 50 “external expert participants” could bring the database up to date by 2015. Participants will be trained by TNA and given the software tools they need.

Private sector companies, such as Practical Law Company (PLC), have already signed up to the programme and are now employing people trained by TNA to bring legislation.gov.uk up to date. Anyone can then re-use the data under the Open Government Licence to create their own commercial products and services. Meanwhile TNA retains ultimate responsibility for the accuracy of the content on the site.

Meantime …

When accessing an item of 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.

The Changes to Legislation facility provides access to lists detailing changes made by all legislation enacted from 2002 – present to the revised legislation held on legislation.gov.uk. Changes made by legislation enacted prior to 2002 have already been incorporated into the content and are not available as searchable lists. These lists provide details of changes including repeals, amendments and other effects (eg modifications and commencement information). The lists are updated with changes made by new legislation as soon as possible after the legislation is received by the legislation.gov.uk editorial team. There will usually, however, be some delay between the publication of new legislation to the website and the effects of it appearing in these tables. In most cases the delay will be less than two weeks.

Nick Holmes is joint editor of the Newsletter.

Email nickholmes@infolaw.co.uk.

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