In the U.S. there’s a League of Technical Voters the aim of which is to motivate and assist “technical experts to improve lawmaking and governmental process.” Citability.org, a project supported by that league and other organizations, is tackling one small part of the lawmaking-improvement process by urging “advanced permalinks” on American legislatures. Their complaints about the situation outside commercial databases are familiar:
- links to statutes too often go to large PDF files;
- where there are HTML files of legislation online, it isn’t possible to link to particular clauses within the legislation
- when legislation changes, earlier online versions of provisions are lost and old links may no longer work
This is something we’ve had a go at on Slaw from time to time, the last occasion being a discussion on linking to a section in our Criminal Code. In that specific case, i.e. the case of the Code, CanLII stepped in with a beautifully rendered, detailed, hyperlinked table of contents; and Maureen Heeny drew our attention to the fact that the federal laws site has a guide on how to construct links to sections of federal legislation. This latter is helpful, of course, but not the simple solution that is needed: it ought to be the case that anyone reading a statute online can find a permalink to any provision (section, clause, subclause, etc.) without fuss or bother. The technology is available.
As Citability.org points out, U.K. legislation is further along in that the acts have hyperlinked tables of contents to each section, making it fairly easy to take the URL for that section.
Citability.org is planning its second “codathon” in (snowy) Washington, D.C., for February 26-28, inviting programmers to come together to create open source tools of universal application that will enable governments and citizens to find, cite, and re-find the rules of law.