Advocates of Open Law have no more redoubtable champion than Carl Malamud the founder of– the California-based not for profit dedicated to work for the free publication of public sector legal information.
Malamud's By the People address to the 2009 Government 2.0 conference in Washington last September is the most eloquent articulation of the case for Open Law yet penned. There he cites the legendary Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis's fears that ignorance of the law would become a defence unless the law was publicly and easily accessible to all.
Last week Malamud’s organisation was granted $2million by Google - one of five organizations to share $10 million in prize money awarded “for ideas to change the world.” The logic being presumably that Google’s mission (...”to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful”) and that of Malamud’s organisation are co-terminous.
Malamud’s vision of every level of public regulation becoming free to access, and intelligibly so in the form of open links and intelligent connectivity provided by an open market is visionary. It is a logic is shared by the Open Law, Open Government and Open Source movements.
Law itself is a complex business – primary statutes, statutory instruments, guidance notes, case law precedents and interpretation(s). Ownership is diffused in the USA from Federal to State and local levels; in the UK from national and devolved administrations, to departmental and statutory body levels, and on through the courts . Attempts even by Government to accomplish the task that Malamud has set his organisation would indeed be ambitious in these or any other times.
However, what is shaping up in the UK is the beginnings of something potentially quite impressive. The launch of our previous column - is one of the Government's flagship examples of its open data initiative.in July 2010 – notwithstanding the currency issues flagged in
Less well know, but fundamentally as significant, is the 100% use of The National Archives' Statutory Instrument drafting tool in all Government departments responsible for promulgating secondary legislation. Integrating the consolidation of law into the draughting process is now a common practice in places like Australia - see theexperience. It holds huge potential for efficiencies and transparency - openness and costs savings: truly a Coalition nirvana!
Add to this the development of a common legal schema and free API access to the law at more granular (paragraph) levels (via persistent URIs) – and we have the essential ingredients of an open and integrated statute book over time.
This Government knows the perils of public sector scope creep - just achieving an open statute book would be sufficient achievement. But the more Utopian (Malamudian) linking of all this to Case Law and precedents, to advice and interpretation is the role of the open market over time, not that of the State.
That task is much too vast, even for Government, though maybe not for Google...
Postscript: next month sees the retirement from The National Archives of Alan Pawsey who, along with his colleagues past and present in HMSO, The Statutory Publications Office(s) and the Office of Public Sector Information, helped lay the foundations of much of what is described above. Si rmonumentum requiris ...