Last year Clare wrote about changes to the UK government’s legislation website, and we’ve written a lot about enhancements to THOMAS, so when I got an email last week about the Australian government’s legislation website being upgraded I thought it definitely warranted some attention.
The ComLaw website provides open access to Commonwealth (i.e., federal) legislation. I use the site a lot and have found it to be relatively easy to navigate and search, but the changes are a significant improvement and I’m really (quite geekily) excited about some of them.
First of all, many menus on the homepage are now grouped in drop-down boxes on a “Find it Fast” bar that also shows at the top of each page as you move around the site. There are new menu options too, for example the Constitution has its own place on the new Find it Fast bar, and there is easy access to helpful “getting started” pages on the homepage. The “key jargon” page looks like it will be particularly useful if someone is new to researching Australian law or is looking at the details of an unfamiliar area of the law – in addition to defining various terms, it includes links to different sources of information, including government agency websites and national codes.
However, one of the best aspects of the new homepage for my purposes is that there is now a prominent tab for “other sources of Australian law” that provides links to the legislation and case law websites of Australian state and territory governments, as well as to their gazette notices. If I need to, I can also quickly check the Commonwealth laws relating to the territories to see what the governance arrangements are for each one and therefore what laws will apply there. There is also a quick link to a list of some of the most significant laws currently in force in Australia.
In terms of delving into the details of specific legislation, when I’m looking at a current Act I’ll now be able to easily see if there are any bills that relate to it in the “view series” tab, as well as viewing previous versions and amendments. This will save me conducting a separate search of bills to ensure I’m getting the most up-to-date information. I can also save any search that I do run and subscribe to receive notifications relating to that search – plus the Advanced Search option has been redesigned and includes new search criteria.
The ComLaw site states that “most ComLaw content is authoritative: it is presumed to be a complete and accurate record of the law in question unless the contrary is proved in court and other legal proceedings, and strict laws apply to how this content is managed.” A major focus in the past couple of years has been on providing such authoritative content. Starting with the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments, the Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing (part of the Attorney-General’s Department), which is responsible for the site, has been adding a check mark logo (or “tick” to us non-Americans) to records and PDF files to show that they contain an authoritative version of an instrument. You can see this logo on various Acts now as well.
Other websites have permission to re-publish ComLaw content, and information about using and reproducing the content is provided on the site. However, it is stated that ComLaw “contains the only database of Australian Government legislation that is authoritative for the purposes of legal proceedings. No other website in the world can make this claim.”
Apparently more changes are being worked on over the next few months, including bringing some Commonwealth gazette notices on to ComLaw, and people are able to provide their own suggestions and views regarding possible improvements. I’m certainly impressed with what I’ve seen so far.