Legislation Goes Open

June 28, 2012

A pioneering initiative was announced by the National Archive on 29 June. 

As SCL members will be aware, Legislation.gov.uk, launched in 2010, is the official home of UK legislation. The web site receives more than 2 million monthly visitors and is many people’s first port-of-call for looking up the law. However, 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.

The Expert Participation Programme, announced on 29 June and presaged in the Open Data White Paper (see the Case Study there), is a new initiative to bring legislation on the site fully up-to-date. The National Archives is teaming up with trained editors from the private and voluntary sectors to help its in-house editorial team revise legislation on legislation.gov.uk.

John Sheridan, Head of Legislation Services at The National Archives, explains: ‘This project will, in time, transform public access to the law in this country. We are creating a sustainable model for revising legislation, making official, revised UK legislation available to the public for free and without any additional cost to the taxpayer.’

Consequence of changing legislation

The National Archives’ in-house editorial team currently applies up to 10,000 legislative changes, called ‘effects’, to the database every year. This is the effect that a new law can have on existing legislation. However in the same period, the UK’s Parliaments and Assemblies may make 15,000 new effects. As a result around half the laws on legislation.gov.uk are not yet up-to-date. Where outstanding effects are yet to be applied, this is clearly indicated on the web site. By providing experts from outside government with the tools and training required to revise legislation, we will be able to ensure all legislation on the website is current, while at the same time retaining ultimate responsibility for the accuracy of the content.

The project is only possible because of new technology in which The National Archives is a world-leader. The data underpinning legislation.gov.uk is available under the Open Government Licence for anyone to re-use to create their own commercial products, apps and services.