Open data opens up the law to all
Open data is allowing the creation of the first up-to-date web resource on the current state of UK law, the National Archives announced last week. It is inviting "expert participants" to work on the legislation.gov.uk website to create up to date snapshots of the state of legislation applying to any topic.
Legislation.gov.uk provides a single point of access for legislation covering the UK from 1267 to the present day. New legislation is published to he site as soon as it is enacted and National Archives' in-house editorial team of some 15 editors applies up to 10,000 complex legislative changes, called "effects", to the database every year. However this effort is not enough to keep the database up to date: the UK's parliaments and assemblies make 15,000 new effects a year. As a result around half of the laws currently visible on the site are not fully up-to-date, National Archives says.
Under the new programme, trained editors from the private and voluntary sectors will help in-house editorial experts revise legislation on the site. The hope is that the work will be paid for by organisations such as legal publishers who have a strong interest in creating a resource. However the updated data will be available to all.
John Sheridan, head of legislation services at The National Archives, said the project creates "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".
All information will be made available under the open government licence. "No one is going to come along and change the rules," Sheridan said.
The project is possible because of the web and some recent technology developments. Legislation.gov.uk is the world‟s first linked data statute book: a platform which more effectively manages the vast amounts of data about each act and statutory instrument.
The site's underlying application programming interface (API) was created first to allow open and unfettered access to the government‟s legislative database. Companies such as the Practical Law Company (PLC), have already signed up to the programme. Anyone can then re-use the data under the Open Government Licence to create their own commercial products and services. The National Archives retains ultimate responsibility for the accuracy of content.
The Expert Participation Programme is part of a broader strategy which also includes developing new tools and changing in-house processes to increase productivity, making use of smarter technology, such as natural language processing to automatically detect changes in legislation and obtaining information earlier from government departments drafting new laws.