A lamentable state of affairs
Last week, an obscure case on a technical legal point exposed an alarming failure to meet the condition that the law must be accessible to all. Moreover, as an angry and worried appeal court judge, Lord Justice Toulson, made clear, the problem was not confined to the narrow area of law in that particular case. It raised a far wider issue. …
To put it bluntly, it was almost impossible to find out exactly what the law said. Lord Justice Toulson pointed out that most of our law today is not contained in acts of parliament but in secondary legislation, regulations and the like. On many subjects the law can’t be found in one place, but in a patchwork. “There is no comprehensive statute law database with hyperlinks which would enable an intelligent person, by using a search engine, to find out all the legislation on a particular topic.”
He went on: “It is profoundly unsatisfactory if the law itself is not practically accessible … even to the courts whose constitutional duty it is to interpret and enforce it.”
What particularly concerns Toulson is that this “lamentable state of affairs” affects many areas of law which have great impact on the ordinary citizen, including sensitive childcare issues and social security benefits. There is a laudable government project to create a single, free, online legislation service which would bring together all the bits and pieces of a particular law. The trouble is that progress has been slow, it’s costing a lot of money and in the meantime new legislation is proliferating at unprecedented speed.
Props to Lord Justice Toulson for highlighting the need for the FreeLegalWeb – “a single, free, online … service which would bring together all the bits and pieces of a particular law”.
[The case in question was R v Chambers  EWCA Crim 2467]