Online Sources of Official Legislation Rarer Than You Thought

A post earlier this week on In Custodia Legis, the blog of the Law Library of Congress in Washington, explained that the Australian federal legislative website ComLaw and the New Zealand legislative website were offering official versions of their laws.

In other words, the sites guarantee that the text that a searcher finds there (usually the PDF version) is a correct statement of the law and is admissible as evidence in court. Traditionally, only the print version of legislation from a government printer is official.

Many people are surprised to find out how few electronic versions of laws and regulations are considered official, even today.

In Canada, for example, the print version is the only official one in a majority of jurisdictions.

The exceptions are:

  • Canada Gazette: the online PDF format of the Canada Gazette has been official since April 1, 2003.
  • Consolidated Acts and Regulations on the Justice Canada website: as of June 2009, these documents are considered official
  • Ontario e-Laws: on November 30, 2008, the following copies of source laws and consolidated laws accessed from the website were prescribed by regulation as official copies of the law:
    • An on-screen display of a law viewed on or downloaded from e-Laws in HTML or Microsoft Word format.
    • A print-out of a law viewed on or downloaded from e-Laws in HTML or Microsoft Word format.
  • Quebec’s Gazette officielle: since July 5, 2012, the PDF version has been considered official
  • the New Brunswick Royal Gazette and Acts and Regulations are considered official under the authority of the Queen’s Printer Act.
  • Nova Scotia’s Assented to Statutes from 2003 onwards in PDF format are official

In the United States, FDsys, or the Federal Digital System, is run by the Government Printing Office and provides access to official publications from all three branches of the US Federal Government. The PDF documents on the site contain digital signatures that guarantee their authenticity.

One could think that our neighbours to the South would be more advanced when it comes to official online publications.

But only a minority of U.S. States have endorsed the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act proposed by the Uniform Law Commission to encourage the publication of official versions of online legal materials in a format that can be authenticated.

The American Association of Law Libraries has done some very extensive work in trying to identify which state electronic legal materials have any official status. For a majority of US states, it appears that print is still king when it comes to official status.

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Comments

  1. “The internet?! Is that thing still around?”

    Actually, I do wonder if the roughly-net-neutral internet will be around, by the time many large institutions gear up to make use of it.

    Access to laws online? Sure, “free”, so long as you have your “ePad” (locked to some commercial service provider), and our $19.00 app.

  2. Thanks for this overview Michel-Adrien.
    You might conclude that our southerly neighbours are still more advanced. At least the US has a focused initiative to bring official versions of states’ acts online!

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