The National Archives www.legislation.gov.uk

The National Archives (Legislation)

Benefits

  • Simultaneous access to human and machine-readable formats dynamically created from a single format independent source
  • Transformation of thousands of documents into a single electronic format through TSO’s Transformation Services
  • A robust website receiving over 50 million hits a month.

The National Archives’ Legislation.gov.ukopens in new window service was created in partnership with TSO to be the world’s first state legislative records service published online, and available in multiple formats, using Open Data standards.

The aim was to create a single source of legislative information from the millions of electronic and printed documents held, that could be easily read by humans and machines, and be fully searchable by anyone in the legal profession or public at large, with equal ease and success.

TSO works with The National Archives (TNA) as the official publisher of UK legislation, bringing together the skills and specialisms needed in the digital world for managing and preserving government information – both past and present, and into the future – and for making it accessible to its users.

The challenge

Consolidating the UK’s three legislation websites into a single official legislation service was a key strategic goal for The National Archives. The new service had to be more user-friendly, whilst bringing together the best functionality from all three sites, and act as a portal for third parties to extract legislation in Extensible Markup Language and Resource Description Framework (XML and RDF) formats at no charge.

‘We had two objectives with legislation.gov.uk: to deliver a high quality public service for people who need to consult, cite, and use legislation on the Web; and to expose the UK’s Statute Book as data, for people to take, use, and re-use for whatever purpose or application they wish. In particular, our aim was to show how the statute book can contribute to the growing Web of data as well as to the Web of documents,’ said John Sheridan, Head of Legislation Services, The National Archives.

A big challenge was getting the data into a single Open Data format from all the sources that would form the database underpinning the new Legislation.gov.uk site, but that is only half the story.  The Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) naming scheme and user interface would have to be right to ensure that such complex information could be easily searched, cited and consumed by third party developed applications.

The solution

TSO has transformed the legislation publishing workflow to enable content to be captured, transformed and disseminated quickly and simply in a variety of formats. TSO’s robust single-source publishing platform captures legislation in a structured way and transforms it to XML to enable simultaneous publishing on the new website in print and as machine-readable data.  Utilising TSO’s transformational services, a repository of over 6.5 million documents is now available on the website in HTML and PDF formats that are dynamically generated from the underlying XML source. The source triple store repository contains over 1.8 billion RDF triples of linked data, and continues to grow daily!

In developing the new website, TSO worked with TNA to integrate semantic web technologies and to provide a URI scheme that met best-practice guidelines. The solution also provides access through a public Application Programming Interface (API) in XML and RDF formats for re-users of the data. The website has been designed from the ground up with both usability and open data in mind and meets the principles of the recently established Public Sector Transparency Board.

Technologies involved

  • XML, XSLT
  • Accessible xHTML;
  • XSL-FO for dynamic PDF generation;
  • RDFa/OWL for semantic markup;
  • URI scheme that follows guidance in ‘How to Publish Linked Data on the Web’(www4.wiwiss.fu-berlin.de/bizer/pub/LinkedDataTutorial/);
  • Open source software including Apache, Squid, Orbeon, FOP and Saxon;
  • MarkLogic server for XML database and search; and
  • In-house ePublishing system.

Service mix

  • User experience research to help develop a groundbreaking web service;
  • Structured content capture and content management;
  • Multi-format publishing in print, CD, bound volumes, PDF and websites;
  • Web development, web design and web hosting;
  • Data publishing, using the latest linked and open data principles;
  • Project management;
  • Order processing and customer care; and
  • Print on demand.

The result

The new website, www.legislation.gov.ukopens in new window, is one of the first government services to fully meet the linked data principles advocated by the Public Sector Transparency Board, and is the first site of its kind in the world, transforming public and professional access to legislation data.  Uniquely the site brings together the application of legislation from across all four UK jurisdictions.

The carefully developed user interface, which went through extensive experience research and testing, allows users to fully contextualise the legislation they are viewing for the first time.  Users can find legislation using search engines, view original documents, and see legislation dating back to 1267 from an ‘enacted’ and ‘enforced’ perspective, as well as how it has evolved over time.  There are more than 30 million links to predecessor services maintained and redirected to the new service. They can choose between formats and link precisely to the section of the legislation they need, thanks to an innovative approach to naming elements of legislation.

Government also benefits from the new Legislation.gov.uk site, which acts as a powerful new tool for government. For the first time, government can demonstrate precisely how an Act would look if an amending Bill was passed. This aid to pre-legislative scrutiny and public consultation, already piloted by HM Treasury for the Financial Services Bill, was not previously a practical option.

‘Legislation.gov.uk presents complex information in a clear and intuitive way. This groundbreaking work puts democracy at the heart of legislation and makes a major contribution to the government’s transparency agenda.’ Lord McNally, Minister of State and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords.

By June 2011 the monthly use of legislation.gov.uk was 2.5 times the combined use of the previous two websites, www.opsi.gov.uk and www.statutelaw.gov.uk, and has become one of the Government’s most visited sites with monthly page views of up to 50.5 million.  Over 75% of user satisfaction ratings are either ‘satisfactory’ or ‘very good’ with commentators such as Mike Bracken, UK Government Executive Director of Digital, describing the site as ‘Amazing. This is government data as public utility.’

Finally, even the cost to the taxpayer is dramatically lower than Legislation.gov.uk’s predecessors.  Having a single site, combined with new tools and processes, the use of open standards and open source software has cut the cost by a third.

Sheridan concludes, ‘We are extremely proud of what has been achieved with TSO, it really is a world first and an exemplar for what can be achieved with open data if it is approached correctly.  Third parties are already building mobile device and other online applications that use the data and API we created.  There is a vast community accessing one dataset, in different ways, through different means, freely and easily.  That is exactly what we wanted.’

Legislation.gov.uk project recognised for IT innovation at UK Public Sector Digital Awards 2012