The Statute Law Database – an update

First published May 2007 in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers.

It is now 4 months since the Statute Law Database was released to the public. In the first couple of weeks following the launch there was a flurry of comment and criticism; but since then, near silence. Is everyone ecstatically happy with it, reserving their judgment or quietly cursing its shortcomings? I set out to find out.

What it says on the tin

The SLD is a database of UK legislation containing the updated texts of all Acts that were in force on 1 February 1991 or have come into force since, and the (unupdated) texts of all “printed” SIs passed since then. A key benefit of the SLD is also that one can view the primary legislation as it stood at any date from February 1991.

It is thus a vast improvement on the incomplete and “as enacted” statute law available on OPSI and in principle, as to the raw law, provides functionality similar to that in the costly commercial alternatives. So, how does it compare and does it compete?

Completeness and reliability

The most serious defect at present is that it is not complete. Approximately 30 Acts remain to be loaded. Further, the effects of much 2002 to 2006 legislation are not yet consolidated. Nor is the set of SIs yet complete. It is now understood this work will be completed by the end of 2007.

There is also some anecdotal evidence that it is not entirely accurate. This may be as a result of its incompleteness, but even so, the impression it leaves with some is that it is currently unreliable.

Together these two shortcomings are the killer for the larger firms and chambers with sufficient budget to subscribe to LexisNexis or Westlaw or a more specialist service such as Complinet: there is no question that the commercial services still prevail. However, for the smaller firm and the individual barrister, for whom the big two commercial services are not an option, the SLD is winning the day, albeit with reservations.

Librarian: 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.

Librarian: 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 … We don’t really want them to use it, as we put more trust in the paid-for services.

QC: A great asset … I use it in preference to the paid services. Its worst defect is the failure to update in the past six years.

Barrister: I use SLD about 80 to 90 per cent of the time … The fact that it has updated statutes is very useful. The lack of some is a problem. I have got rid of my Justis statute/SI subscription.

Barrister: 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.

Sole practitioner: I have been using the SLD ever since it came out. I have been able to find all the statutes I need.

The interface

The other main issue concerns its functionality and ease of use. Statute law is complex, and that complexity is revealed rather than hidden in the SLD. It is undoubtedly a good attempt, but there is some way to go before it delivers intuitive use. There are also several inexplicable obstacles to fully-effective “open” use. (The DCA is to be commended for finally declaring it open, after earlier indications to the contrary.)

Librarian: The SLD … is not that easy to use. It looks cluttered and badly designed; you can only print, you can’t save or email things. I still don’t get the icon thingies, and I still wish there was a link to it from OPSI.

Librarian: SLD is still rather messy looking; the URLs are very unhelpful. The lack of ability to save things often makes it less than useful.

QC: The interface remains amateurish. … it also has a number of technical irritancies.

Barrister: The SLD is a mess in terms of [its] user interface and misses lots of opportunities.

Sole practitioner: 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.

Follow the SLD thread at Binary Law.