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It’s Official! Online Versions of New Zealand and Australian Legislation are Authoritative

It’s been a couple of years since I wrote about the two websites that I use most frequently in my research: the Australian federal legislation website, ComLaw, and the New Zealand Legislation website.  Earlier this month I saw announcements about an exciting development regarding the New Zealand site, so I thought I’d provide an update and also explore what else is new and interesting on both sites.

NZ Coat of Arms

Screenshot of the PDF version of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, showing the New Zealand Coat of Arms.

First, the exciting development: effective January 6, 2014, the PDF version of all legislation enacted since 2008, and the PDF of the latest version of the majority of prior legislation, which is published on the New Zealand Legislation website is now considered to be an official version.  This means that, in accordance with the Legislation Act 2012, all courts must now take judicial notice of the online version (or a printout of the PDF) of an act or legislative instrument without requiring further proof of its accuracy, unless the contrary is shown.  The requirements for the official electronic version of legislation (as well as printed versions) were set out in the Legislation (Official Versions) Regulations 2013 and include that the front page must contain the New Zealand Coat of Arms.

Previously only the published hard copy of New Zealand legislation was considered official.  However, like me, I’m sure most people were already going to the New Zealand Legislation website to locate the most up to date version as well as to conduct searches and browse relevant provisions.  I had been waiting since mid-2012 to see when the Parliamentary Counsel Office would meet its goal of making the online versions official, knowing that this would involve an amazing amount of detailed checking to ensure the accuracy of what was already online.  In the end, apparently more than 85,000 pages were checked!  I first saw an announcement of the online version becoming official via a tweet from the Attorney-General, Hon. Chris Finlayson.  In a press release, Mr. Finlayson said that “[t]his important development puts official up-to-date legislation in the hands of New Zealanders at no cost.  They can be confident that they are accessing the authoritative source.”

Over to Australia… For the past three years I’ve been enjoying the enhancements made to the ComLaw website in January 2011.  I’ve particularly noticed that a lot of the Acts (and all of the legislative instruments) that I’ve been accessing now have the “tick” logo indicating that the PDF version has been certified as authoritative for the purposes of legal proceedings.  Something else I noticed relatively recently was an indication of when a particular legislative instrument would cease to have effect due to sunsetting.  Under Part 6 of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003, most federal regulations and other delegated legislation must be renewed before a certain date or they will automatically expire.  The aim is to ensure that “legislative instruments are kept up to date and only remain in force for so long as they are needed.”   Sunsetting may be deferred in certain circumstances and there are some listed exceptions.  ComLaw has lists of instruments that are sunsetting soon (i.e., in 2014 and 2015) and you can also easily see the sunsetting date for individual instruments in the top right hand corner of the relevant ComLaw record.  Note that another really helpful feature of ComLaw is the “enables” tab for each Act – this gives you a list of legislative instruments that have been made pursuant to the Act.  You can easily go the other way and get to the enabling legislation from a legislative instrument too, just be going to the “enabled by” tab.

ComLaw Tick

Screenshot of the ComLaw page for legislation starting with “Au,” showing the tick logo.

As in New Zealand, the official publication of legislation in Australia, both online and in print, is part of the role of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, which also drafts laws for introduction in Parliament.  I noted with interest a statement that the ComLaw site is “one of the largest websites maintained by any jurisdiction in the world.”  This made me wonder how the size of the site compares to our own Congress.gov!

You can find links to the legislation websites of a large number of countries in our Guide to Law Online.  Just select the country that you’re researching and scroll down to the “Legislative” heading.  For further help with foreign law research you can also check out the other information on our website, including various reports, articles, and research guides.  You can also submit a request via our Ask a Librarian service and a foreign law specialist will be happy to help!

2 Comments

  1. Sergio Stone
    January 30, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Wonderful developments. Many thanks for the update.

  2. Emily Feltren
    February 28, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Thank you for this interesting blog post, Kelly. I’m pleased to read that New Zealand and Australia have taken steps to increase and protect access to official, authoritative versions of their legal materials on the Internet.

    The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) supports that principle, while also taking it an important step further—by advocating for authentication by technological means (e.g. digital signature or document hashes) for primary legal materials of federal and state governments in the United States.

    We believe this is an additional and very important component of ensuring that official, authoritative legal information on the Internet continues to be trustworthy and accessible. Authentication safeguards content integrity and provides members of the public with confidence that the legal material they are accessing online is accurate and unaltered.

    In the United States, AALL supports the work of the Government Printing Office, which authenticates materials in FDsys (www.fdsys.gov) by applying digital signatures to PDF documents. We also advocate for adoption of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA), a uniform law that provides a technology-neutral, outcomes-based approach to ensuring that online state legal material deemed official is authenticated, preserved and made permanently available to the public. Eight states have enacted UELMA since it was approved by the Uniform Law Commission in 2011. We have many resources about the act here: http://www.aallnet.org/Documents/Government-Relations/UELMA. AALL has also been working with the Law Libraries Section of the International Federation of Law Associations (IFLA) (www.ifla.org/law-libraries) to highlight the value of technology-based authentication being used by countries such as France and Brazil. We hope that the conversation on the important matter of digital authentication of primary legal materials will continue, both within the U.S. and in countries around the world.

    Emily Feltren, Director of Government Relations, AALL

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