Statute Law Database – the jury’s still out

By Nick Holmes on March 7, 2007
10 comments
Filed under Legislation

In the first few days following the launch of the SLD there was a fair amount of comment and criticism. But since then … zilch.

Is everyone ecstatically happy with it, reserving their judgment or quietly cursing its shortcomings?

As a leading proponent for early and open access to the SLD (indeed, a main campaigner according to the Beeb), I’m keen to know how useful lawyers are finding it in practice. I comment and criticise from my ivory tower, but what do the workers think?

10 comments

I am still very nervous about directing library users to SLD. I think if you did not have the full suite of subs. available to you then this would be a more attractive option. We advertised SLD to our users when it came out and were pretty excited about it. However, on a day to day basis neither myself or my colleagues would opt for this over a paid for service, which I suppose is a bit sad.

by lo_fi on 7 March 2007 at 7:18 pm. #

I also have my name down as a campaigner (though rather less famously than you).

I use SLD about 80-90% of the time for statute references in my work. The fact that it has updated statutes — or mostly tells you where it doesn’t — is very useful. The lack of some (like the DDA) is a problem.

Of course, as a self employed person (I am a barrister) I am very well aware of the costs of paid-for databases since they come out of my own pocket.

I have got rid of my justis statute/statutory instrument subscription. The only value it really added over other services was reliably having all statutes. The SLD has almost everything which is current law, so I’ll only miss my excursions into legal history.

Having said that the SLD is a mess in terms of user interface and misses lots of opportunities. A project (one I might get round to) is to scrape all the data and serve it up with rather more value added.

by Francis Davey on 7 March 2007 at 8:55 pm. #

LIke Lo_Fi I am still more likely to point people to our paid for services such as LNB, as SLD is still rather messey looking – the url’s are still very unhelpfull – if opsi can do it, why oh why can’t the SLD??? Also the lack of ability to save things (as Word, PDF or any ‘open’ format) also often makes it less than useful for both myself and lawyers I work with. It is still early days though, and hopefully improvements will happen over the course of the year.

by Scott on 8 March 2007 at 12:47 pm. #

Great comments so far. Keep them coming. I will put them together in an article I am preparing for the next Internet Newsletter for Lawyers.

If anyone is actually willing to contribute a whole article incorporating not just own thoughts but also the comments expressed here and elsewhere, get in touch.

Nick

by nickholmes on 8 March 2007 at 1:01 pm. #

I have been using the SLD ever since it came out. The only paid subscription I have is to egi which although it has statutes, I did not find them very user friendly. I think the SLD is great, as the search engine is easy to use and I have been able to find all the statutes I need. I have to say I do not understand what all the icons and annotations mean, but I am not worrying about that too much at the moment.

I find I am constantly now opening up another tab on my internet browser to check out the statute on SLD when I am writing something, its great to be able to access them all so easily. I have found it really really helpful. All in all a definite thumbs up from me.

by Tessa Shepperson on 8 March 2007 at 11:06 pm. #

I’m with lo-fi in that I am a bit nervous about referring individuals to the SLD. Having said that the SLD gave a presentation to a group of Knowledge Managers recently and they all seemed very impressed, highlights were the ability to view historical versions of legislation quickly.

Lowlights were the 40 of so “major” pieces of legislation that are missing, including The Companies Act 1985.

I think if you worked in a relatively small firm this could be an alternative to the big two but they need to make some major improvements before it is used widely.

by James M on 9 March 2007 at 10:27 am. #

It is rare that I find something that I can categorically say is up to date on the database. Until the database is updated its use will be limited.

by Andrew Keogh on 11 March 2007 at 4:26 pm. #

I remember being quite excited by this when I first heard about it. Then when it was released, I had a play around with it, to see how it worked/looked etc. I decided at the time that I wasn’t likely to be using it very much, due to having access to paid-for services. And I was right, I haven’t been using it at all – to the extent that I had pretty much forgotten all about it!
I still think it is a good thing, and that free access to current legislation is important. But I don’t use it. I don’t know anyone who does use it. We never told our lawyers about it when it came out (though I did tell the rest of the library staff). We don’t really want them to use it, as we put more trust in the paid-for services (though sometimes I’m not sure if they warrant it!), and because they are used to using them. They know how to use LNB, and it is easy to use. The SLD, from what little I have looked at it, is not that easy to use. It looks cluttered, and badly (not?) designed, you can only print, you can’t save or email things (which is vital when a lawyer rings up wanting an act, or section of one), I still don’t get the icon thingies, and I still wish there was a link to it from OPSI.

by lore librarian on 12 March 2007 at 12:27 pm. #

Andrew Keogh refers to the SLD not being reliably up to date. Does this just refer to the non-consolidation of post 2001 amendments or is there also a more general issue with accuracy?

An early report on IMPACT quoted a few users who had found it inaccurate:
http://impact.freethcartwright.com/2006/12/uk_statute_law_.html

Any further comments or experiences on accuracy?

by nickholmes on 12 March 2007 at 2:12 pm. #

A great asset, although the interface remains amateurish. I use it in preference to the paid services. Its worst defect is the failure to update in the past six years. But it also has a number of technical irritancies; using Firefox, it has oddities I don’t remember seeing anywhere else..

Back in November 2006, when I was using the pilot, I commented:

“I attach questionnaire. I have further comments. I am using Firefox v 2. NB comments below on differences using Safari v 2. SLD should certainly be supporting both.

1. The annotations are wrongly positioned for their references, see ‘SLD annotations’ screenshot. 2. There are a number of problems in printing using Firefox and I attach a PDF of an Act to illustrate them (printing is identical to the PDF):

i. Section numbers are not always printed. They are printed in some Acts, but in others as the 2006 Act here they are omitted (here, after s 2). This doesn’t seem to be a problem in Safari.

ii. Pale grey text does not print well. Could this be made darker?

iii. A constant problem is that marginal notes don’t print, or rather that they all overprint one another- see 1985 Act first page attached in PDF (no later page has notes). Again, doesn’t seem to be a problem in Safari. 3. The ‘table of legislative effects’ is clunky; the year is brought up even if all there is is a commencement order. No direct link is provided to the year, this all has to be retyped and this typically brings up several statutes.

4. Point 3 is of course particularly problematic given the extent to which it is still necessary to do a scissors and paste for updates since 2001; it will matter less when that is completed. 5. Some Acts have alternative versions laid out by statutory instrument; certainly in the case of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 this is very extensive, but no hint of this is given in the SLD edition. See for example Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Order 2001; this actually provides in effect for the vast majority of cases. See for another example section 27 of the same Act, which does not show or even refer to the very important Order in Council SI 1997/2780. I know this is simply an effect of the different treatment of primary/secondary legislation, but it isn’t obvious to the reader and certainly not the inexperienced reader.”

I was thanked for my feedback, but these problems remain untouched.

by Jonathan Mitchell on 15 March 2007 at 9:02 pm. #