This report is also published in Refer, the journal of CILIP’s Information Services Group, Vol. 29, No 2, Summer 2013. The course was organised by the London & SE branch of ISG. Many thanks for their permission to reproduce.
Legislation.gov.uk holds original ‘as enacted’ versions of UK primary legislation from 1988 and UK secondary legislation from 1987. It also holds revised primary legislation held in the form it was in force at Feb 1st 1991 (Jan 1st 2006 for Northern Ireland) onwards. No revised versions are available for secondary legislation. It holds a complete set of records from 1991 to the present and partial records from 1267 to 1991. It does not hold EU legislation or any case law.
Having recently taken over supporting Law and Government Publications at my library, this course was very timely for me. The full day course was led by Jim Thorne with support from Robert Marks, legal editors at The National Archives, which delivers the service. The course was well attended by mainly librarians from a mix of sectors, including public, academic, national and legal libraries. As a result, the depth of knowledge of legal sources
Inevitably, when learning how to find legislation, a basic understanding of the legislative process is required. This was covered in the morning session and I found this to be the most interesting and useful part of the day. Jim had a relaxed presentation style and explained legal concepts clearly, using memorable examples to bring them to life. Some of the legal jargon explained included Primary and Secondary Legislation, Extent and Application, Commencement Orders and Amendments. There was quite a lot to take in but the course materials were very detailed and comprehensive and will be valuable reference tools. I found the presentation slides were useful to highlight key points and on request these were made available to us after the course. Jim welcomed questions and I was pleased that the course schedule was adapted to allow extra time for the many questions
The hands-on time allowed us to work through examples of simple and advanced searches on Legislation.gov.uk. Advanced features included restricting by geographic extent and locating legislation at a particular point in time. Importantly we learned how to locate new
legislation and changes to existing legislation, including an explanation of the symbols and notes used in amendments. A lesson I learned was that it is quite difficult to see what the latest law actually is – it was emphasised that there is always some uncertainty, because law itself is constantly changing and open to interpretation.
I found I got less out of some of the later parts of the day where we were talked through some very detailed examples of specific searches – I felt a bit overwhelmed by the information given in the handout at this point. The presenters were open and honest about
the benefits of using legislation.gov.uk and also its weaknesses and were keen for feedback on how the site could be improved. Legislation.gov.uk is the most authoritative source of UK legislation and is a great public resource, however due to resource constraints it isn’t always the most up-to-date source. It also doesn’t provide any interpretation and the presenters were keen to highlight this point – “we tell you what the law is, not what it means – you need a lawyer for that!”.
I found the knowledge I gained about legislation in general has helped me to improve my ability to search for legislation in general, as well as specifically on Legislation.gov.uk. In the end, one of the key learning points for me was that I was unlikely to use legislation.gov.uk very much as we are lucky enough to subscribe to the major commercial legal databases, which have more up-todate and enhanced content. However, for the many attendees from public libraries who are dealing with law queries from the public it will be invaluable. I would certainly recommend the course for anyone who would like to deepen their understanding of the legislative process and how to find legislation.
Following my report, Jim Thorne highlighted the Expert Participation Project, which aims to improve the currency of the legislation by teaming up with trained editors from the private and voluntary sectors.