Background noise for those who don’t know me or follow every single thing I do or join: I am on this and am writing about some of the stuff that comes out and sharing opps to join in too.
We heard evidence being given today on making laws in a digital age, aka Legislation. “Giving evidence” is another phrase for those who have a proven track record or knowledge in the space we are casing, stroking our collective chins and mumbling, telling us everything they think we should know from their years and years of detailed work – in 15 minutes. I know, not perfect but there it is. (I think that is why they invite the empassioned to be commissioners, this is like catnip to us – a whiff of *new*… ‘mazing). But we don’t *just* do that, we also …
(This is the only image I could find for stroking chin looking serious, on open licence, apologies – but ice skating can be fun)
… read everything that comes in from everyone over the course of the evidence process. (See my previous post for the timeline of topics, but you can pretty much join in whenever, if there is a soapbox, we will gladly standby and listen – mainly because we want to be on your soapbox with you. So long as it is about Digital Democracy obviously). So nothing is done based on 15 minutes and a short heated debate, but it does actually require you to send your stuff in email@example.com, or chat on the forum <- bit rubbish in there, come on real people, this is properly the time to stop whispering behind your hand and chuck your milk; stuff is going to happen here, you can help. I’ll stop hectoring…
Anyway, today we heard from people who know a *lot* about Legislation. I mean this space of civic society is quite incestuous, it is a small world, luckily growing larger (go get on your soapbox and make it bigger…) and of course any discussion on Legislation without John Sheridan would be a discussion that is pretty pointless. Or so I thought, I mean John knows everything, and he is passionate and he can analyse and apply Boolean logic to the Statute Book for God’s sake – his life, like mine and digi democ, is dedicated to this legislation topic. He does lots of diagrams that look like this:
… although that is a social media diagram from Wikipedia and way more simple than John’s, his are too scary for pre-watershed. I can honestly tell you that his visualisation of the affect of an amendment to an Act, was basically a GIANT SCRIBBLE, that was drawn properly and could justify itself. The most scary scribble in the world – and it even took the Speaker back into his pre-Speaker days (I think).
But John is just a piece of this puzzle I thought I knew pretty well, from reading John’s stuff. But then, these amazing men (who are dressed beautifully but ridiculously, please do not change, I absolutely love having men/women that dress up for work and I am so totally not lying, Parliamentary dress is something we must treasure forever, like paper, ink and embossed logos… but I digress) explain the process of amending a Bill; making a change to something that has already been enshrined in Law. They were so …
… about the process they absolutely believed in, but also knew absolutely to be outdated and irrelevant to the people who needed to know.
Cue my lesson number one: This is not a case of just pointing out the bleeding obvious (which to be fair has been the case across government/Parliament-ish for the last decade+). In Parliament at least they have slashed the thorn trees to the best of their ability (not a green field yet, obvs) and they are facing the granite wall of history. How the holy f*ck are we going to deal with this, I mean seriously…
We had at the table today, five dedicated people who have been active in this digi democ space from a point of law, preeettttyyy much since they learned to read, I think. In addition to the Commissioners and Speaker.
As I listened to this insanely complex process of legislation, the paper annotations that are recorded studiously, drafted meticulously, the amendments that are processed now against Laws passed in the 19th Century to address issues we face nowadays with firearms and knives on streets, for example. There are no limits to the number of amendments to a Bill, so basically we are updating the manual when the toaster just doesn’t work any more. this analogy is not mine, it was from today though <- perfect.
I was sitting next to MPs who groaned in acknowledgement of the time, the ridiculous process and effort they had to go through to recommend that something change in law to make life better, in a legal way, for their constituents. The *time* our democratically elected representatives spend on this …
And so I suddenly learned lesson number two today:
This is not about getting Mary next door to comment on a Bill about firearms, that’s a thing we need to address of course – but if the MPs we actually elect are bound up in this crazy web of amendments, and not actually representing the people because they are having to actually make up for the fact that they have not learned every Bill and Amendment when they chose to go into elected politics, I am not actually sure anyone except John could do this anyway.
Freeing the MPs from paper-bound process is as vital to democracy as engaging Mary in gang warfare (law), so to speak.
Action required from you, dear reader:
Having read all of that, these are the questions the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy have out for consideration at the mo:
- Could technology improve the access to and usability of both legislation and the law-making process for the citizen, representatives and professionals (such as lawyers), and if so do you have any suggestions?
- Should you need to be a lawyer to understand and use an Act?
- Should technology be used to integrate citizens’ views better into the legislative process? At what stage of the legislative process would this work best? How could the Public Reading Stage be improved?
- Are there any examples from other parliaments/democratic institutions in the UK or elsewhere of using technology to enhance legislation and the legislative process, which the Commission should consider?
You don’t have to answer them all, of course, just tell us what you think we should consider/remember/be wary of/or of course what you think we should JFD. You can submit your evidence (thoughts/opinions) by email to firstname.lastname@example.org but there is also a forum if you prefer some chatter: although all I can see so far is Nick Booth commenting and I know him so that isn’t fair – go play in the forum, this affects you all. Please? And actually, riff on the MPs, because I really think we could have a huge impact by digitising their official work. I know loads of them and they are not all gin and jags, most are like me: still up at 1am writing about this stuff.
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1. Compulsory sunset period. Must be renewed at least every 100 years; with options for every 1, 2, 5, 10, 25 years.
2. Lay out the INTENT of the legislation in plain English – and make it enforceable. This
a) means non-lawyers can understand laws
b) reduces the point of finding loopholes
3. Every new law should assess its impact on (at least, where relevant) society, culture, environment, biodiversity, resource use, sustainability, opportunity entropy, & other measures of genuine civilisation.
John Sheridan’s diagrams are wonderfully illustrative of the structural complexity of the legal corpus. But the law is so much more complicated than that. Governments make and execute the law: we inhabit it.
I write a rule based legal advice program. Understanding the mechanics of the law is often difficult, the greater challenge is in imagining its impact upon the governed *. But we have little hope of doing the latter if we cannot achieve the former.
Although I have misgivings about related projects, I think the #goodlaw initiative is an almost unequivocally a good thing. That it has come from the civil service is a source of strength, but I think it coull be strengthened further with the involvement of people from outside.
* There was once a social security advice program. If benefits were less than zero, its reports began “we are sorry”. greater than zero, “we are delighted”, even if the entitlement was 10p a week.
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