About the Rule of Law Legislation database

The database assembled during the development and construction of the Rule of Law Standard is based on South African legislation and the official Gazette notices for that jurisdiction, and is housed under the banner of LegalB HERE.

The  database includes the text of all SA national and provincial legislation 1994 on, as unamended and amended, but has where opportune, extended beyond that into the pre-1994 era. Legislation text is annotated with publication and commencement details, with amendment information, with engrossing markup, and that documentation is linked to various documentation relating to the relevant timelines, subordinate text lists from 2008 on, potential transgressor lists, the elements of potential transgressions, and rule of law related commentary documentation for that legislation.

Although based on the South African legal jurisdiction, there is no reason why the database in its current structure and form, cannot be extended to, or replicated in, other jurisdictions.

Comparing a Rule of Law Database to others

A database of legislation designed around a use-case that relates to the rule of law must, of necessity, be structured and annotated to facilitate that use.

The result? A database that looks and feels very different from the usual legislation databases put out by commercial and other publishers of legislation, and one that uses different representational symbols and tools

First, a Rule of Law database has to ensure that every timeline around the making, publication and commencement of that legislation, and around the publication of intentions and the carrying out of actions under that legislation, are transparent in order to facilitate an understanding of how the basic principles of the rule of law have been satisfied or failed. The fact is, that failures of the rule of law are incremental over time and accumulative in effect, and the creation of a timeline of events around a piece of legislation is crucial to the audit of its compliance with, or failure to uphold the rule of law.

So for instance, a timeline showing not only that a Bill was signed assent to, and thus becomes an Act, on x date but that it was then pushed into a draw for a couple of months before being published, and that during that 2 month period notices are issued calling for the public to participate in the nomination of candidates for appointment to structures the Act sets up, allows you to count the ways in which the rule of law was broken.

Another difference is, a Rule of Law database has to indicate by way of symbols and other devices, when the content of legislation, or actions in terms of that legislation, fail the rule of law. For instance, if an amending Act amends the wrong version of an Act – say, by ignoring that it has already been amended – this has to be clearly indicated, and a decision has to be arrived at by the engrosser (those who carry out the instructions of an amending Act on what amendments to effect) about whether to treat the already amended text as being revived by the new amendment, or whether the correct version of the Act should be amended, and whether and how inconsistencies between the correct version of the text of the Act and the new amending Act should be portrayed. Compare that to the objective of a commercial publisher, who generally call those who follow instructions in amending Acts as “editors”, whose interest is in maintaining the reputation the publisher has as relates to their ability of their products to represent the letter of the law with as much certainty as possible and who will carry out amendments with that in mind. A stark example of how this interest plays out and ends up concealing actions and processes that break the rule of law, is the fact that commercial publishers have not developed tools to represent such errors, frequent as they are. A personal example of how this interest plays out, is an attorney who, when advised that he was utilising the wrong version of an Act, said it did not latter, because if he walks into court with that publishers version under his arm, the Judge would know that was the law.

Another difference between a legislation database devoted to all things rule of law, and the more usual databases of legislation, is the pure density of information they provide. Whereas a commercial legislation database has as its objective to simply portray the letter of the law, a rule of law database lights that up with all sorts of factors that are necessary to establish whether the text and processes relating to that legislation comply with basic principles of the rule of law.

In sum

The LegalB legislation database has been designed specifically to facilitate the evaluation of its texts and actions in terms of those texts against the rule of law, and to facilitate the identification of  Rule of Law Standards, and this objective and use-case results in the LegalB database being substantially different to legislation databases that are compiled by commercial and other publishers.

At this stage the LegalB legislation database is limited to legislation that relates to the South African jurisdiction, but is expandable other jurisdictions without alteration to its basic structure, components and the tools for its use because these are totally interchangeable one jurisdiction to another, regardless of the nature of the political or other regimes of other jurisdictions. We have made this so, based on the belief that the rule of law is a universally applicable rule-set, and therefore legislation databases should be presented similarly no matter the jurisdiction to which that rule-set is applied.