Definitions

statute law

UK Statute Law Database

The UK Statute Law Database is the official web-accessible database of the statute law of the United Kingdom, hosted by the Ministry of Justice.

History

Background

Access to statute law in the United Kingdom was, for some time, a difficult matter. As the Hansard Society noted in 1992, "[a]t present the accessibility of statute law to users and the wider public is slow, inconvenient, complicated and subject to several impediments. To put it bluntly, it is often very difficult to find out what the text of a law is - let alone what it means. Something must be done."

Development

1991 - 1995

The idea for creating a UK-wide legislation database dates back to 1991 when the government awarded a contract to Syntegra, a BT company previously known as "Secure Information Systems Limited", to create a database containing all the public acts comprised in the publication "Statutes in Force" together with all amendments made since a "base date" of 1 February 1991. The database was delivered by Syntegra in November 1993, but not accepted by the government until Summer 1995 at a cost of £700,000. The database was originally intended for use by the Parliamentary Counsel Office, but following testing with the public service it was decided to make it available to legal practitioners and the private sector on a commercial basis, as well as to public libraries and Citizens Advice Bureaux.

The database comprised two parts. The "Editorial Statute Law Database" contained an electronic database of the legislation encoded in TSO ActiveText, a content management system, stored in XML and authored in DTD. Documents in ActiveText were fragmented and could be edited using XMetaL which allows editors to check documents in and out of the database for editing. The second part, the "Enquiry Database" was populated with data from the Editorial Database which was displayed in HTML. The enquiry database was available to a number of pilot users.

1996 - 2000

On 9 February 1996, Roger Freeman, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, announced that the copyright and charging policy of the Statute Law Database would "be decided nearer the time of implementation in 1997". This date was pushed forwarded to 1999 and then to 2000.

In March 1999, it was disclosed that "[t]he partially updated database is presently available to a number of users within central government who have access to the Statutory Publications Office Intranet. The Lord Chancellor's Department are considering options for the future marketing of the Statute Law Database. These options include free Internet access, the granting of non-exclusive licences to legal information publishers and the provision of a subscription on-line service. In September a demonstration version of the database was made available on the Syntegra Track Record website, containing legislation for the years 1985 to 1995, though this was quickly removed.

2001 - 2006

In 2004, it was announced that the system designed by Syntegra would be modernised by replacing its editorial database, developing two new enquiry systems (one for government departments (accessible via the Government Secure Intranet, "GSI") and the other for the general public), and the revision and updating of the statute book. Two contracts were signed by the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) with Computacenter, one for the delivery of the editorial system, the other for the government enquiry system. The combined cost of the contracts was £458,000.

The government's enquiry system was launched on 31 May 2006 with a plan to roll out general access in three phases. The first stage would open the database to a very limited number of users for testing. On 2 August 2006 the Department of Constitutional Affairs commenced with the second stage of the database project by issuing login details and passwords to a number of selected users, primarily commercial legal publishers, so that the system could be tested. Initially, the DCA intended to charge users for access to "historical law", but not current law, however, following pressure notably from The Guardian and its "Free Our Data" campaign, it was announced in October that the system would be free to use. The SPO's Clare Allison revealed nevertheless that the DCA would be "looking at options that concern the commercial reuse of the data".

The delays involved in realising the database led to a number groups requesting the raw data of the legislation in order to put together their own versions. Among those refused access was Julian Todd, the co-creator of the website TheyWorkForYou, who stated "I can’t comprehend what the DCA thinks it is gaining by not giving us a database dump of the law. Todd had submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for disclosure of the data, but this was refused and he brought an appeal before the Information Commissioner.

The database was finally made available to the public on 20 December 2006. Announcing its launch, Baroness Ashton, a Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, said that "[t]he Statute Law Database provides an authoritative and easy-to-use historical database of UK statute law. I hope it will be welcomed as a useful tool for professionals who need to keep up with changes to the law as well as those who simply have an interest in historic and current legislation."

Content

The database contains the text of primary legislation in force at 1 February 1991 and secondary legislation issued after that date, some 30,000 texts. All primary legislation on the site has been revised at least until the end of 2001, and it is intended that all should be fully revised by the end of 2008. The responsibility for keeping the database up-to-date lies with the Statutory Publications Office, part of the Ministry of Justice, which incorporates new legislation into the database and keeps primary legislation up-to-date by applying amendments.

In addition, a "table of effects" has been published every year since 2002 which lists all the legislation repealed, the effects of primary and secondary legislation brought into force since 2002 on primary legislation in the database.

Primary legislation

The database content includes the following primary legislation in updated form:

Other primary legislation that is held in unrevised form includes:

  • Post-1991 local Acts (and a small number of pre-1991 local Acts).

Secondary legislation

The database also contains certain secondary legislation which is not updated:

Current limitations

While the database reflects amendments to primary legislation, it is not up to date.

Also the database does not currently include:

  • Pre-1991 repealed legislation;
  • Most pre-1991 local Acts and revisions to post-1991 local Acts;
  • Secondary legislation pre-dating 1991;
  • The effect of revocations of or amendments to secondary legislation, so that the full text of post-1991 repealed legislation can be found without any indication as to its repeal;
  • Orders in Council made under the Royal Prerogative;
  • Northern Ireland Statutory Rules made between 1991 and 2005 which only affect Northern Ireland;
  • Byelaws.

There are no plans to extend the database to include the above material. However, a Select Committee report on the "Merits of Statutory Instruments", published on 7 November 2006, recommended that the database should be extended to cover secondary as well as primary legislation. The government responded that this was indeed important, but that "[t]he immediate priority is to ensure that a fully revised and up to date version of the official statute book is delivered for use by the public and that work on this is maintained. After this has been achieved consideration will then be given as to how work can be extended to updating secondary legislation.

References

External links

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