Shaping the Future of Legislative Drafting: The Role of Akoma Ntoso

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As we transition towards an increasingly digitised world, the domain of law and legislation is not exempt from this transformation. Traditional legislative drafting, which primarily involves static text on paper, is gradually evolving into dynamic, digitised legislation. The driver of this transformation is Akoma Ntoso, an international XML standard for legal documents. This essay explores the role and impact of Akoma Ntoso in revolutionising legislative drafting and its potential to shape the future of law and legislation.


The Need for Specialised Rulemaking Systems


Just as engineers, architects, and software developers employ specialised tools for their respective professions, legislation, the fundamental operating system for any jurisdiction, also demands dedicated drafting systems. Although legislation might seem to be mere text, it is, in essence, a highly interconnected system of documents that have both causes and effects. It expresses complex concepts such as versioning, layered changes, operative dates, and more, which are challenging to capture with generic tools.


Moving Beyond the Paper Paradigm


For several decades, the process of drafting and enacting legislation has remained relatively static, transitioning from pen and paper to typewriters, mainframes, and word processors. However, these tools were not designed with legislative drafting in mind. They were developed for human consumption and interpretation, not for computer processing. Thus, there’s a need to shift from viewing legislation as a simple document to seeing it as a comprehensive set of rules, a collection of instructions, and a body of valuable information.


Akoma Ntoso: A Standard for Legislation


With the emergence of Akoma Ntoso, we see a shift towards standards that are specifically designed for legislative drafting. This standard enables a clear separation between the document content and its presentation, thereby providing a more efficient method for drafting legislation. It leverages the power of XML editors, which though numerous, are seldom designed with the unique challenges of legislation in mind.


Advantages of Digitised Legislation


Implementing the Akoma Ntoso standard in legislative drafting can lead to improvements in various areas. These include automatic numbering and renumbering of provisions and internal cross-references, drafting amendments in context, generating amendments, creating document comparison tools, automated consolidation and compilation, and an improved codification experience, among others. Moreover, it can facilitate multi-channel publishing from a single source document, eliminating the need for manual formatting and styling.


High-value Use Cases of Akoma Ntoso


Akoma Ntoso has several high-value use cases. For example, it enables drafting amendments from proposed changes, thereby inverting the traditional process of generating amendments from changes tracked to a base document. It also allows for advanced change management, where changes can be layered over existing changes, a scenario that is common in the legislative process. Additionally, Akoma Ntoso aids in advanced document comparison, a useful feature given that legislation is often recycled and bills are frequently similar to ones previously introduced.


The Bigger Picture and Future Implications


The adoption of standards like Akoma Ntoso for legislative drafting extends beyond the mere act of drafting. It paves the way for creating open and searchable data systems, improving automation and workflow, and enabling the bulk publication of legislative data. Additionally, it can contribute to better compliance, improved transparency, and the development of ‘rules as code’ applications. Moreover, introducing the concept of legislation as data to law school curricula could be a significant step towards preparing future legal professionals for the digital age.


Akoma Ntoso is playing a transformative role in the world of legislative drafting. By digitising legislation, it not only optimises the drafting process but also opens up new possibilities for how legislation can be used and disseminated. This digital transformation is not just about efficiency and convenience; it fundamentally changes how we perceive legislation and the process of lawmaking. Rather than viewing legislation as a static text document, the Akoma Ntoso standard allows us to see it as dynamic, interconnected data.


This shift has significant implications for transparency and public engagement. With legislation accessible in a standardised, machine-readable format, citizens, researchers, and businesses can more easily search, analyse, and understand the laws that govern them. This could lead to increased public engagement and greater accountability in the legislative process.


Furthermore, the ability to draft legislation using digital tools specifically designed for the task, complete with automatic numbering, renumbering, and the ability to track amendments, is a game-changer for legislative drafters. Not only does it make the drafting process more efficient, but it also reduces the risk of errors and inconsistencies, enhancing the overall quality and coherence of the legislation.


Another significant benefit of Akoma Ntoso is its potential to improve compliance. With legislation digitised and standardised, organisations can more easily stay updated with legal changes and ensure their operations remain compliant. This could be particularly beneficial in highly regulated sectors, such as finance or healthcare.


Moreover, the concept of “rules as code” that Akoma Ntoso enables could herald a new era in legislation, where laws are not just written for human interpretation but also for machine execution. This opens up exciting possibilities for the automation of legal processes and the development of smart contracts.


However, integrating Akoma Ntoso into existing legislative systems is not without challenges. Initial costs for tool development, system reconfiguration, and staff training could be substantial. Nevertheless, the long-term benefits in terms of efficiency, transparency, and accessibility are likely to far outweigh these initial costs.


In terms of future development, it is crucial to incorporate the teaching of digital legislation and legislative drafting into law school curricula. As the legal profession adapts to the digital age, future lawyers will need to be familiar with these tools and standards to effectively navigate and contribute to the legislative process.


In summary, Akoma Ntoso is not just transforming legislative drafting; it is redefining how we interact with and understand legislation. By facilitating the digitisation of legislation, it paves the way for more accessible, transparent, and efficient lawmaking, promising a brighter future for the legislative process.

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