Introduction to AKOMA NTOSO

AKOMA NTOSO (Architecture for Knowledge-Oriented Management of African Normative Texts using Open Standards and Ontologies) is an open legal XML standard for parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents. It means “linked hearts” in Akan language of West Africa.

The role of Akoma Ntoso is “to mark up legal and legislative texts so that the legal knowledge and the legal structure of the text can be understood.”(1)

Akoma Ntoso is a framework used by many countries (see below) to annotate and format electronic versions of parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents.

Akoma Ntoso is already in practice in several parts of the world including Brazil (Senate of Brazil), Africa, and the European Unión. Starting from 23 February 2013, all the bills published on the Italian Senate website are available, other than in the usual HTML, PDF, and ePub formats, also in XML, using an Akoma Ntoso compliant scheme. In 2013, a challenge, “Markup of U.S. Legislation in Akoma Ntoso”, an initiative of the Library of Congress, invites competitors to apply the Akoma Ntoso schema to U.S. federal legislative information so it can be more broadly accessed and analyzed alongside legislative documents created elsewhere. The Italian Senate, in the wake of the European Parliament, has also joined the growing number of parliaments supporting Akoma Ntoso as common to support more effective management of information and long-term preservation of formal documentation.

These are examples of a growing worldwide recognition of this XML open standard as a potential common standard for parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents. In fact, currently Akoma Ntoso is an OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) standard candidate. It is in the process of standardization in OASIS.

The Standard

History of AKOMA NTOSO

In 2004 and 2005, the UNITED NATIONS Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN/DESA) project “Strengthening Parliaments’ Information Systems in Africa” has aimed at empowering legislatures to better fulfill their democratic functions, using ICTs to increase the quality of parliamentary services, facilitate the work of parliamentarians and create new ways to promote the access of civil society to parliamentary processes. In the first stage, the project was actively supported by the NormeinRete community, and was influenced by NormeinRete project

The Project AKOMA NTOSO is basically a set of guidelines for e-Parliament services in a Pan-African context. The framework “addresses information content and recommends technical policies and specifications for building and connecting Parliament information systems across Africa. In particular, the AKOMA NTOSO framework proposes an XML document schema providing sophisticated description possibilities for several Parliamentary document types (including bills, acts and parliamentary records, etc.), therefore fostering easier implementation of Parliamentary Information systems and interoperability across African Parliaments, ultimately allowing open access to Parliamentary information.

AKOMA NTOSO was developed as a necessary foundation for the development of a comprehensive Parliamentary Information System (PIS). The goal of the Parliamentary Information System is to maximize the operational efficiency and effectiveness of National Legislatures by implementing a solution which provides secure, reliable, and timely collection, storage, access, and transmission of information. The aim is to equip Parliaments with a solution that fosters accessibility, transparency
and accountability of Parliaments by exploiting open source multi-platform applications based on open standards and available in multiple human languages.”(2)

A Framework for Interoperability of Parliaments

“Individual country Parliaments are meant to use the guidance provided by the AKOMA NTOSO Framework to supplement their national e-Government initiatives with a Pan-African dimension and thus enable Pan-African interoperability of Parliaments. Thus the AKOMA NTOSO framework is meant to supplement, rather than replace, national interoperability guidance that may exist, and to add a pan-African dimension to them.”(3)

“The need for a country-independent data format Parliaments are currently exploiting ICT to improve the quality of their services and to improve access to all Parliamentary information: In Africa, this is particularly considered a strategic resource for its young and active democracies. In a Pan African context, Parliaments are also promoting collaboration among Parliaments and co-operation among countries in order to tackle the enormous problems that Africa is facing. At present, most interactions within and among Parliaments require numerous disparate transactions across multiple departments
and Parliaments and there is very limited consolidation and aggregation across national Parliaments’ boundaries.

Yet, Parliaments in Africa are continually confronted with demands for ever-greater dialogue between the electors and the elected, and have to examine how the management of information and official documents can improves transparency and citizens’ access to political decisions, thereby permitting greater understanding of the democratic process.

Needless to say, improved access to documents regarding activities of the Parliaments enable citizens to hold Parliaments accountable, stimulate greater efficiency and enhance democracy.

Connecting Parliaments has many benefits: in addition to its value as a knowledge transfer mechanism whereby one Parliament can learn from the other it also can be a tremendous boost to Parliamentary positive imitation. By seeing what others are doing, members of Parliaments can discover the possibility of doing the same in their own Parliaments. The explosion of Internet-based systems has increased the possibilities and range of such dialogue but this can be achieved
and exploited only if common standards to produce, classify and share Parliamentary and legislative electronic documents are agreed and used by African Parliaments.

Providing access to primary legal materials and parliamentary documents is not just a matter of providing physical or on-line access to them, what we could be termed formal access. What we call open access, on the other hand, requires that the information content and the tools for search and retrieval of data are organized so as to allow users (MPs, the Executive, public administration, enterprises and citizens) to access and use the information in the form that is most convenient to them. In order to build an information system that provides open access, there is the need to establish both common specifications for document models on which parliamentary systems can be built and a mechanism for citation and cross referencing of legal documents. To embark on the
development of an information system without defining and agreeing on a standardised way for Parliaments to classify and structure their documents, e.g. bills, debate records, etc., would be to ignore the lessons learnt and the best practices of ICT development.”(4)


Akoma Ntoso is specifically designed to model a legal document’s structure and legal metadata, like the preface, preamble, sections, conclusions and normative.

“Akoma Ntoso describes structures for legal documents using a vocabulary of common structures based on XML, references to legal documents across countries using a common naming convention based on URIs, and a systematic set of legal metadata values using an ontologically sound approach”(5) compatible with OWL (6) and GRDDL (7).

It “aims at being extensible for the individual needs of any country, preserving the legal digital resources over time (even long spans of time, in decades and centuries even), guaranteeing legal principles, and favoring trust by means of authoritative versions, legal copies, etc.

Akoma Ntoso has been designed so that XML documents can be managed in any step of the legislative or judiciary life cycle (for instance, in the publishing phase) without any modi cation of the content published by the body empowered by law to endorse it. Additionally, long term preservation of Akoma Ntoso documents must be possible even without access to the extensive original documentation.

The information added by Akoma Ntoso (the markup) can be seen as distributed over multiple layers, each layer addressing a speci c problem: the text layer provides a faithful representation of the original content of the legal text, the structure layer provides a hierarchical organization of the parts present in the text layers, the metadata layer associates information from the underlying layers with ontological information so that semantic tools can apply inference rules (like simple rules of description logic) or perform advanced reasoning using logic frameworks”(8), such as argumentation. (9)


This Framework has three “main objectives:
• to define a common standard for data interchange between parliaments;
• to define the specifications for a base document model on which parliamentary systems can be built;
• to define an easy mechanism for citation and cross referencing of data between parliaments.

The AKOMA NTOSO framework aims at providing two basic types of interoperability: semantic interoperability is concerned with ensuring that the precise meaning of exchanged information is understandable by any person or application receiving the data; technical interoperability is aimed at ensuring that all AKOMA NTOSOrelated applications, systems, interfaces are based on a shared core of technologies, languages and technical assumptions easing data interchange, data access and reuse of acquired competencies and tools. AKOMA NTOSO ensures technical interoperability
by enforcing the use of open standards and open document formats.”(10)

Main features

AKOMA NTOSO describes, initially, “two different but connected families of schemas:
• AKOMA NTOSO General Schema: a vocabulary and minimal set of constraints that all AKOMA NTOSO documents must comply to.
• AKOMA NTOSO Detailed Schemas: a set of stricter schemas. They provide more constraints over the same vocabulary of elements to enforce the rules of specific document types in specific African Parliaments. It is a requirement of AKOMA NTOSO that all documents satisfying one of the Detailed
Schemas also satisfy the General Schema.”(11)


AKOMA NTOSO “provides rich and full support for the semantic description of a large set of elements in legislative documents. The set of allowed elements is extensive and complete, although the complexity of their use is fairly reduced by the systematic use of content patterns, that simplify the comprehension of the structures and the generation of software tools. A full support for documents evolving in time is also a feature that needs to be stressed among the advantages of the language.”(12)

Limited set of constraints

“By design, AKOMA NTOSO provides a very limited set of constraints on the allowed values in legislative documents. This implies that a large number of “badly formed” documents can in theory be accepted by the AKOMA NTOSO language. On the other hand, the assumption behind the descriptive role of the language justifies this by saying that, if such a badly formed act is approved by a Parliament, it is not the job of an XML DTD or schema to reject such document; on the other hand, if no such badly formed act is ever found out, then this potentiality of danger does not eventually produce a problem and thus should be ignored as a weakness.”(13)


“Akoma Ntoso is an XML vocabulary for legal and legislative documents sponsored by the United Nations, initially for African Countries and subsequently for use in other world countries. The XML documents that represent legal and legislative resources in Akoma Ntoso contain a large quantityof elements and sections with concrete semantic information about the correct description and identification of the resource itself and the legal knowledge it contains. Such information is organized in many distinct conceptual layers, allowing for the contribution of different semantic information according to competencies and role in the workflow of the contributor.”(14)

“Akoma Ntoso has been designed as a format for legal documents that must be read and understood for decades and at the same time be useful to computer reasoners. In order to balance clearness, delity to the authentic legal text, interoperability and usability with semantical tools, Akoma Ntoso made some clear choices. In this paper we showed how these choices t the stated goals: using XML as the base mark-up format and having clearly separated layers allow documents to be preserved without modi cations to the endorsed texts. Additionally, multiple agents can provide their own interpretation of certain legal aspects of the given legal text. Moreover, computer reasoners can extract semantic infor mation from Akoma Ntoso document and reason over them.

The approach used by Akoma Ntoso allows the development of systems that use more sophisticated formal logic modeling framework, like non-monotonic or non-deductive logics in order to apply sophisticated legal reasoning theories, more suitable for the complex legal domain, lling the gap between all the semantic web layers while preserving interdependency and expressiveness.”(15)


Notes and References

  1. AI Approaches to the Complexity of Legal Systems: International ….,pg 134, Pompeu Casanovas, ?Ugo Pagallo, ?Giovanni Sartor).
  2. XML format(s) for legal Sources, Estrella Deliverable 3.1, Caterina Lupo et al. (2007)
  3. Idem 2
  4. Towards a country-independent data format: the Akoma Ntoso experience, Fabio Vitali, Flavio Zeni
  5. Idem 2
  6. W3C OWLWorking Group: OWL 2Web Ontology Language Document Overview. Recommendation, W3C (Nov 2009), https://www.w3.org/TR/2009/REC-owl2- overview-20091027/. Latest version available at https://www.w3.org/TR/owl2- overview/
  7. Connolly, D.: Gleaning Resource Descriptions from Dialects of Languages (GRDDL). Recommendation, W3C (Sep 2007), https://www.w3.org/TR/2007/REC-
  8. Multi-layer markup and ontological structures in Akoma Ntoso, Gioele Barabucci, Luca Cervone, Monica Palmirani, Silvio Peroni, and Fabio Vitali
  9. Gordon, T.F., Governatori, G., Rotolo, A.: Rules and Norms: Requirements for Rule Interchange Languages in the Legal Domain. In: Proceeding of RuleML 2009. pp. 282 296 (2009)
  10. Idem 2
  11. Idem 2
  12. Idem 2
  13. Idem 2
  14. Managing semantics in XML vocabularies: an experience in the legal and legislative domain, Gioele Barabucci, Luca Cervone, Angelo Di Iorio, Monica Palmirani, Silvio Peroni, Fabio Vitali
  15. Idem 8

See Also

  • Semantic Web and Law
  • Semantic Indexing and Law
  • XML Standards for Legislation
  • MetaLex
  • LegalXML
  • Linked Data Principles to Legal Information
  • LexDania
  • NormeinRete
  • CHLexML
  • EnAct
  • Legal RDF
  • eLaw
  • LAMS
  • JSMS
  • UKMF
  • Estrella Project
  • Legal Ontologies
  • Artificial Intelligence and Law
  • Free Access to Law Movement
  • Legal Information Institute resources

Further Reading

  • Marchetti A., Megale F., Seta E., Vitali F., “Using XML as a means to access legislative documents: Italian and foreign experiences” , ACM SIGAPP Applied Computing Review, 10, n. 1, pp. 54-62 (2002)
  • Vitali F., Di Iorio A., Gubellini D., Design patterns for document substructures, Extreme Markup 2005 Conference, Montreal, 1-5 August 2005, mulberrytech.com/Extreme/Proceedings/xslfo-pdf/2005/ Vitali01/EML2005Vitali01.pdf
  • Vitali F., Zeni F., Working Towards Interoperability in African Parliamentary Information Systems, IST-Africa 2006 Conference Proceedings, Paul Cunningham and Miriam Cunningham (Eds). IIMC International Information Management Corporation, 2006,
  • XML Patterns: xmlpatterns.com
  • Gordon, T.F.: Constructing Legal Arguments with Rules in the Legal Knowledge Interchange Format (LKIF). Computable Models of the Law: Languages, Dialogues, Games, Ontologies pp. 162 184 (2008)
  • IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records: Functional requirements for bibliographic records: nal report. K . G. Saur (1998)
  • Kay, M.: XSL Transformations (XSLT) Version 2.0. Recommendation, W3C (Jan 2007), https://www.w3.org/TR/2007/REC-xslt20-20070123/. Latest version available at w3.org/TR/xslt20
  • de Oliveira Lima, A., Palmirani, M., Vitali, F.: Moving in the Time: An Ontology for Identifying Legal Resources. Computable Models of the Law, Languages, Dialogues, Games, Ontologies pp. 71 85 (2008)
  • Palmirani, M., Benigni, F.: Norma-System: A Legal Information System for Managing Time. In: V Legislative XML Workshop. pp. 205 224 (2007)
  • Palmirani, M., Contissa, G., Rubino, R.: Fill the gap in the legal knowledge modelling. In: proceeding of RuleML 2009. pp. 305 314 (2009)
  • Presutti, V., Gangemi, A.: Content ontology design patterns as practical building blocks for web ontologies. In: ER2008. Barcelona, Spain. (2008)
  • Valentina Presutti et al.: A Library of Ontology Design Patterns. NeOn project deliverable D2.5.1. (2008)
  • Biagioli, C. and Francesconi, E. (2005). A semantics-based visual framework for planning a new bill. In Proceedings of the Jurix Conference: Legal Knowledge and Information Systems.
  • Jérôme Fuselier et Boris Chidlovskii, Traitements Automatiques pour la Migration de Documents Numériques vers XML, in Document Numérique, vol 9/1 -2006.
  • Ovidiu Vasutiu, David Jouve, Youssef Amghar, Jean-Marie Pinon, XML based Legal Document Drafting Information System, 20th Aniversary Annual JURIX Conference, Workshop on Legislative XML, LIRIS, 12/2007
  • Data models for version management of legislative documents, Marà­a Hallo Carrasco,
    Journal of Information Science.
  • V. R. Benjamins, P. Casanovas, J. Breuker, and A. Gangemi, editors. Law and the Semantic
    Web: Legal Ontologies, Methodologies, Legal Information Retrieval and Applications.
    Springer-Verlag, 2005.
  • C. Lupo and C. Batini. A federative approach to laws access by citizens: The Normeinrete system. In R. Traunmuller, editor, Proc. Second International Conference on Electronic
    Government, Berlin, 2003. Springer.
  • Thomas F. Gordon, Guido Governatori, and Antonino Rotolo. Rules and norms: Requirements for rule interchange languages in the legal domain. In Guido Governatori, John Hall, and Adrian Paschke, editors, Rule Representation, Interchange and Reasoning on the Web, LNCS 5858, pages 282-296. Springer, 2009.
  • Long-term preservation of legal resources, Gioele Barabucci et al.
  • Electronic Government and the Information Systems Perspective, Kim Normann Andersen, ?Enrico Francesconi, ?Ake Grünlund
  • Legislative xml: principles and technical tools (commissioned by the inter-american development bank), Monica Palmirani



, , ,



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *