New legislation website launched, updated to 2002

2 August 2010 by

The government has launched a sparkly looking but as yet scantily featured new legislation website, legislation.gov.uk, to replace the two websites which previously did the same job, OPSI and the Statute Law Database.

One notable absence from the National Archives-run site is any guarantee that the statutes will be up to date after 2002. This was also a limitation of its predecessors, which is why lawyers generally avoided them for fear of unknowingly using an out-of-date statute. “About half” of the legislation is now up to date, according to the frequently asked questions section. This is surprising given the amount of money which is spent on Government IT; the new website asking what laws people want scrapped will apparently alone cost £20,000.

Making the law of the land readily available to the general public is probably the most basic requirement of ensuring access to justice. This is particularly so given that many people chose to litigate their own cases these days rather than instructing costly solicitors and barristers, a trend which is likely to increase once legal aid is further reduced in the coming “brutal” reforms. It is Kafkaesque to expect people to litigate in criminal or civil proceedings without any cheap way of knowing what the up-to-date law is.

At the moment, the only way to know for sure what law is on the statute books post-2002 is to subscribe to expensive services such as Westlaw or Lexis Nexis Butterworths. Mercifully most important case-law (i.e. judgments of courts) is contained on the excellent British and Irish Legal Information Institute website, run on donations, which we always try to link to for judgments. The new Supreme Court website has also improved the situation by providing highly useful press-summaries of all of its new judgments. It is a great shame that up-to-date statute law is not similarly available and this can only be a bad thing for access to justice and ensuring the right to a fair trial.

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