Conservation of Legislation

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Conservation of Legislation

In the United Kigdom, a number of government commissions and parliamentary committees have attempted to revise and reorganise the statute book:

•One Act of 1867 alone repealed over 1300 statutes.
•In 1875 a select committee was appointed to consider “whether any and what means can be adopted to improve the manner and language of current legislation”.
•In 1965 the Law Commission was established “for the purpose of promoting the reform of the law”.
•In 1975, the Renton Report (1) made presented 121 recommendations to improve the form and drafting of legislation.

Storing a complete historical record of the legislation

The Renton Committee, “when considering the needs for maintaining UK legislation as early as 1975, discussed the possibility of storing a complete historical record of the legislation as an alternative to the common method of simply maintaining the current version. Despite Canada’s decision to use only the current file, they supported the historical file (back to the last complete consolidation) as the preferred option. Campbell and McGurk (2) discuss the use of an information retrieval database of consolidations within a drafting office in 1987. These sources clearly indicate a need for keeping track of past versions of legislation.

There are two reasons for this. The first and primary reason is that legal researchers need to know what the law was at particular points in the past (3). A case goes before a court often many years after the relevant events took place but the court generally must apply the law at the time the disputed events took place, not the current law.

Even when the current law is being applied, previous versions of the law may still be relevant:
Exclusive reliance upon the reprint of regulations as amended, sometimes, in a matter of interpretation, deprives the court of the advantage of seeing how the regulations were developed by amendment and why the amendments were made. It is not often that there is either need of or advantage in looking at the more authentic materials from which the Government Printer has reconstructed his convenient and perhaps more intelligible text.(4)…

While it is extremely unwieldy to provide access to every previous version of a particular piece of legislation in paper form, electronic delivery can solve the storage and presentation problems. What users want is the ability to specify a time point and then search and browse the collection as it was at that time point, viewing the law that applied at that time. While it is helpful to search the current time point and browse to previous versions, being able to search previous versions is particularly important where provisions have been repealed or replaced by provisions that cover different ground.
Since legislative documents are frequently very large, on-line retrieval needs to present fragments to the viewer (5). Care must be taken to preserve information about the context of the fragments and allow the user to navigate to related fragments with ease. In a hypertext environment like the Web, cross-references should all be activated as hypertext links (6). Where these links are to legislation, they should be to the legislation as it was at the same time as the time point of the legislation being viewed currently.

It is also helpful, particularly for tracking changes in legislation to have history notes showing when the amendments were made and what Act effected them. Where these notes appear, it is desirable that they be linked to the actual amendment wording via hypertext.”(7)

Jurisprudence is useful for determining the meaning of the text through time.

The Renton Report

The Renton Report, published in 1974, made 121 recommendations to the general effect that legislation should enact broad statements.


Notes and References

1. The Preparation of Legislation (The Renton Report). Cmnd 6053, 1975.
2. Campbell and McGurk (1987) ‘Revising statutes with computer support’ 8 Statute Law Review 104.
3. Greenleaf et al (1995) ‘Public access to law via Internet: the Australian Legal Information Institute’ 6 Journal of Law and Information Science and Robertson and Merrick. (1994) ‘Proposal for participation in the Workshop on Hypertext Systems and Version Support’ in Durand et al Proceedings of the Workshop on Versioning in Hypertext Systems, pp. 35-38.
4. O’Neill v. O’Connell (1946) 72 CLR 101, 122 per Dixon J (Austrlia)
5. This can also improve retrieval performance, see Arnold-Moore (1998) Information Systems for Legislation, Ph.D. Thesis, RMIT.
6. Corbett (1992) ‘Indexing and searching statutory text’ 84 Law Library Journal 759-67; Hoey (1988) ‘The discourse properties of the criminal statue’ in Walter (ed) Computer Power and Legal Language; and Schweighofer and Scheithauer (1996) ‘The automatic generation of hypertext links in legal documents’ in Wagner and Thoma (eds) Database and Expert Systems (DEXA’96).
7. Connected to the Law: Tasmanian Legislation Using EnAct, Timothy Arnold-Moore, Journal of Information Law & Technology, Warwick)

See Also

  • Preparation of Legislation
  • eLaw
  • Legal Information Institute resources
  • LexFind
  • EnAct
  • XML Standards for Legislation
  • Index to Subject Matter of Victorian Legislation
  • Free Access to Law Movement
  • Legal Information Institute resources
  • Commercial arbitral legislation worldwide

Further Reading

  • The Renton Report—Ten Years On, Simon of Glaidsale
  • Documents on Contemporary British Government: Volume 1, Martin Minogue
  • Law, Justice and Social Policy, Rosalind Brooke Ross
  • Better Regulation in Europe: an assessment of Regulatory Capacity in 15 Member States, OECD, 2009
  • Comparative Study on the Transposition of EC law in the member states, European Parliament, July 2007
  • Cutting Red Tape: National Strategies for Administrative Simplification, OECD, 2006
  • Estimating the cost of legislation, Prof. St John Bates in: Evaluation of legislation: Proceedings of the Council of Europe’s legal co-operation and assistance activities, (2001), Strasbourg
  • Ex-Ante Evaluation and Alternatives to Legislation: Going Dutch?, Statute Law Review, Volume 32, Number 3, 2011
  • Explaining Yourself, Statute Law Review, Volume 31, Number 3, 2010
  • Laying Down the Law, Daniel Greenberg, 2011
  • Legislative Section Heading: Drafting Techniques, Plain Language, and Redundancy, Statute Law Review, Volume 32, Number 3, 2011
  • Making Better Law, Ruth Fox and Matt Korris, 2010
  • National Strategies for Administrative Simplification, OECD, 2006
  • Public Bill Procedure, Select Committee on Procedure, 1985 (U.K)
  • Regulatory Quality in Europe, De Francesco, 2007
  • Report from Rippon Commission, 2003
  • The Drafting of Criminal Legislation: Need it be so impenetrable?, J.R. Spencer, Cambridge Law Journal, Number 67, 2008
  • The end of Legalese: the Game is Over, Robert Benson, 1985
  • The Preparation of Legislation, Report of a Committee Appointed by the Lord President of the Council, Sir David Renton et alt., 1975 (U.K.)
  • The Text through Time, Statute Law Review, Volume 31, Number 3, 2010
  • When to Begin: a Study of New Zealand Commencement Clauses with Regard to those Used in the United Kingdom, Statute Law Review, Volume 31, Number 3, 2010

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