'Big data for Law' government project begins


It's no secret that the laws currently on the books in several countries are a frightful mess. Many conflict with other laws. Some are outdated and no longer enforced. More than a few had unintended consequences. Everyone knows these problems exist but no one knew how to go about fixing them. Certainly elected officials do nothing about it except add more muddied laws to the books. Most are too busy politicizing every mundane point, stretching truths and posturing in front of cameras to seriously address the mess. But now big data is poised to change all that by bringing thousands of laws and their effects into tight focus. Finally, we have a way to do some major housekeeping and bring the law itself to judgment.

Be warned, however, that cleaning up the law books will still not be an easy task. Lobbyists will still lobby and politicians will still posture to get their interests served. Even so, big data can uncover a lot of legal ills that the public can then have a voice in addressing too.

Enter the recently announced "Big Data for Law" project in the U.K. "All users of legislation are confronted by the volume of legislation, its piecemeal structure, frequent amendments, and the interaction of the statute book with common law and European law. Not surprisingly, many find the law difficult to understand and comply with," reads the U.K. government's web page explaining the project. "There are an estimated 50 million words in the statute book, with 100,000 words added or changed every month. Search engines and services like legislation.gov.uk have transformed access to legislation. Law is accessed by a much wider group of people, the majority of whom are typically not legally trained or qualified."

The Big Data for Law project received £550,000 in funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to enable the project "to transform how we understand and use current legislation, delivering a new service--legislation.gov.uk Research--by March 2015." 

For now, big data will amount to baby steps in understanding and harnessing the law around the world and in local communities too. It will, however, eventually lead to actual housekeeping tasks. The law will be cleaner and leaner eventually and much more serviceable. Eventually.

Expect other countries to follow the U.K.'s lead, albeit slowly. Such efforts should be applauded wherever and whenever they appear for if ignorance is no excuse in failing to comply to law, then surely everything should be done to make the law more understandable to all. - Pam