In the Media

Long-awaited Statute Law Database promises comprehensive, user-friendly access within the year

PUBLISHED March 31, 2006

Pilot: spurred by an enthusiastic government-side trial, the Statutory Publications Office is keen for a public test by June

The long-awaited on-line Statute Law Database could finally become a reality this year, bringing access to a digital version of the UK statute book to both government and public users alike.

The Statutory Publications Office (SPO), the Department for Constitutional Affairs office responsible for the system, has finished the government-side trial of the final incarnation of the system, and hopes that the ?live? system for use on the government?s secure intranet (GSI) will be up and running from 31 May. The public pilot is slated for release to a select group of public testers from the beginning of June.

A spokesman for the SPO said: ?The pilot of the government version of the Statute Law Database was a success. We love the system, everybody?s been very, very positive and the pilot?s been across a diverse range of users. We?ve started gathering in potential pilot users for the public version already from the likes of Citizens Advice Bureaux, the Crown Prosecution Service, legal publishers [and] members of the public.?

Anyone who has been watching the development of the database knows that the system has been promised every spring for something like five years.

But the SPO seems very confident, and with the move towards getting public ?beta testers? involved, the database going live this year does seem like a possibility.

Building a system that will eventually be used by every level of user was a supremely tall order in IT terms, and the system will need careful consideration before it can be let loose on an unsuspecting and potentially Luddite public.

The SPO intends to get round this in a straightforward way ? by building a tutorial element into the public system. Its spokesman said: ?We?re trying to recognise that we might get Joe Bloggs, who might want to use it once for a court appearance, or we might be looking at a chambers which might want to use it all the time.?

Nick Holmes, managing director of legal publishing firm Information for Lawyers, welcomed the news. He said: ?We can now safely say that, following a summer pilot, the public version will be available ?next year?, as has been consistently promised for the last ten years, even this year if we are lucky.

?By providing a free-access, comprehensive, up-to-date corpus of consolidated acts, it will be immeasurably more useful than the incomplete and as-enacted data currently available on the Office of Public Sector Information Web site, whatever the interface. The database will also provide historical views of the legislation, a further boon.?

The SPO has not been able to say which elements of the database might be chargeable, but its spokesman stated that ?what will be there will be free, certainly [in terms of] access to the textual legislation?.

Mr Holmes said the SPO risks ?public wrath by charging for this point-in-time access?.