At long last, the Public Access to Legislation (PAL) system is accessible to the public. The system, formally released by Attorney-General Michael Cullen today, puts New Zealand statutes, regulations and Bills progressing through Parliament on a revamped website, at www.legislation.govt.nz. The same XML-based database used on the site will generate the hard-copy versions of legislation. PAL was originally scheduled for completion in February 2003. Its progress was marked by delays and budget blowouts remarkable even for government computer projects, and by a major dispute midway through between the client, the Parliamentary Counsel Office, and provider Unisys. In August 2003, the project was halted and an independent technical report was commissioned. This uncovered shortcomings in both the software developed and the print rendering hardware, a vital component of the hard-copy production of the law under PAL. The project was restarted in April 2005, under an agreement between PCO and Unisys to share the extra cost of the remaining stages. Media inquiries into the shaky progress of the PAL project have sometimes been stymied by the fact that Parliament, including its operational systems, is not subject to the Official Information Act. The database of legislation will be brought fully up-to-date over about the next three months, Cullen says, and it will then be possible to close down the “interim” website run by legal publisher Brookers and the information broker Knowledge Basket, which has to date been the public’s only free online access to Bills in their progress through Parliament. The Knowledge Basket versions of Bills have been very basic in their formatting, making amendments and features such as tables difficult to follow. The PAL versions will be fully formatted similarly to the printed version of a Bill. On completion of the database, the PAL output will become the definitive expression of New Zealand law.
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