Last week, in the course of researching a Global Legal Monitor article about the possibility of New Zealand introducing a law requiring plain packaging of cigarettes, I discovered that the New Zealand Legislation website has recently been updated! Such things are quite exciting to some of us here at the Law Library, as you may have noticed from our previous posts on the legislation websites of Australia, the UK, and Kenya. Not only do improvements help me in my own research work, but I’m also a strong supporter of ensuring that people can easily and freely access laws (and also that they be written in plain language so that they can be understood!).
The first thing that I noticed was that the site has definitely been modernized in terms of layout, style, font, etc. I told Andrew that it had been “prettified” – clearly a technical term! This is especially evident when you go to the main page of a statute. Previously, the text was smaller and more cramped on the page, including when you went into a specific section. The content is now much easier to read. Also, the options for moving between the contents page, full version, and bills and amending legislation are much more straightforward in the new layout. I especially like that the latter page clearly states the amendments that haven’t been included in the current version. In the instance linked to, for example, some provisions of the Smoke-free Environments (Controls and Enforcements) Amendment Act 2011 aren’t yet in force and haven’t been incorporated into the primary Act.
You can also go straight to the exact section of a statute that amended the Act you’re interested in from the “versions and amendments” page as well as when you’re looking at the history of a particular section. And, if you want to keep up to date with amendments in the future, you can set up any number of RSS feeds. Ready-made feeds (e.g., “All Bills published in the last 30 days“) are also available for broader updates.
In terms of finding what you’re looking for on the site, I most often use the “browse” function because I usually know the name of the statute or regulation that I’m looking for. However, the “advanced search” function is definitely helpful when I’m trying to find references to a particular term or concept across all laws, particularly if I’m researching an area that I’m less familiar with.
One great new feature of the website is that the “quick search” function is now easily accessible from each page, and it makes suggestions for matching entries as you type. For example, I tried typing “bill of rights” in the box and the matches changed with each word. This is helpful because, as in other countries, the titles of New Zealand laws and regulations don’t always follow a clear pattern or start with the word you would expect – e.g., if you were to look under “B” for the relevant legislation matching that search in the browse function you might not find what you’re looking for, since it’s actually called the “New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990” (unless of course you happened to be looking for the Bill of Rights 1688).
The updated site also has a prominent tab that takes you to detailed information about the site. The menu on the left-hand side of the “About” page then allows you to get tips for searching and browsing, saving and printing, and information on how the site works and what it contains. In terms of the content, an interesting and important aspect of the recent update is that links are being added to “deemed regulations,” which are made by government agencies rather than by the Executive Council. These are published online on government agency websites and also in the New Zealand Gazette, which you can now easily access from the home page of the updated website.
As with the Australian ComLaw website, non-Kiwi users will find the glossary on the New Zealand site useful when researching and learning about New Zealand’s laws and legal system. In terms of researching historical legislation, the site also links to the New Zealand Acts 1841–2007 As-Enacted Collection and the 1908 Consolidation of New Zealand laws, both of which are available on the NZLII website.
Unlike the ComLaw website, the online versions of statutes and regulations on the New Zealand Legislation website are not currently considered official. However, work is underway to achieve this, and the Parliamentary Counsel Office (which drafts legislation and maintains the New Zealand Legislation website) has said that it aims to make the website an official source of legislation during the 2012-2013 financial year.
Here at the Library of Congress we also have an ongoing project to update and enhance the THOMAS system for legislative information. Check out the Law Librarian, David Mao, talk about the project in his testimony before the Committee on House Administration last week (at 1:30:47 in the video).