The Queen’s printer

A First published in the Solicitors Journal, October 1996.

End bytes in last month’s column noted the sale of HMSO’s business to the National Publishing Group. The sale completed on 30 September and the new business now trades as The Stationery Office Limited.

As always, things are not quite that straightforward. The bulk of the family silver has been sold, but the carving set is till in the drawer: the office of Controller jf HMSO has been retained as a residuary body to discharge the statutory and quasi-statutory functions previously carried out within HMSO. Of note for the lawyer, these functions include ‘Queen’s Printer’ responsibilities for Acts of Parliament and Statutory Instruments and control and administration of Crown copyright.

For the Web lawyer this means that HMSO’s Website at gives access to the full texts of Acts published since January 1996 and the Data Protection Act 1984, and summaries (arrangements of sections) of many earlier Acts. It is worth noting that the Acts appear as originally passed by Parliament, ie unamended. This seems to me a fairly basic deficiency both for the lawyer and for the unsuspecting layman who takes the text to be a statement of the current law. HMSO hints at improvements in the presentation of the ‘xts, since the site is expressed to be under construction while the Acts are published in their ‘existing form’ with existing URLs.

The site will also give access to all new Statutory Instruments published from January 1997.

Other internet publications formerly published by HMSO can now be accessed from The Stationery Office’s site at

This change serves to highlight one of the principal problems of the Web, that of outdated or otherwise broken links. There are a number of utilities which will monitor specified sites for movement or change and smart bookmark programs which effectively update the links themselves, but even if such utilities are developed further it is unlikely that they will be of much help if sites are substantially reorganised or documents renamed.

The Web will really come into its own as sites with reliable content are developed and stabilised to the point where one can point to very specific URLs with confidence that the reference will remain a valid destination for the foreseeable future. Wouldn’t it be good if document/Acts 1996/199603 l.htm#2 still pointed to s 2 of the Defamation Act 1996 as then amended in five years’ time?

In the meantime, the message to Web publishers is: think ahead; organise your site in a way which is most appropriate to the likely level(s) of access to the information you are publishing; thereafter avoid moving or renaming directories unnecessarily; and above all avoid renaming documents and sections within them.