PAL improvements a 'huge leap forward'

However, response time at peak-workload periods has disappointed some users

The Parliamentary Counsel Office has received a good deal of positive reaction to the Public Access to Legislation (PAL) website it launched earlier this year, says spokeswoman Gillian McIlraith, through there has been “the odd query about the performance”.

Response time at peak-workload periods has disappointed some users, she says.

“Mechanisms are currently being designed to accommodate these demands and users should see an improved response during these heavily used times,” she says. The issues are expected to be addressed this month.

The PCO is prioritisating its responses to user needs in an orderly way, McIlraith says.

A written review of the site, by Helga Arlington, librarian at the Auckland District Law Society’s library and research centre, notes the performance problems, particularly on a dial-up link. Arlington is impressed with the ease of operation of the site and the way material is displayed, either as a complete document, serially by section or as a set of search results with keywords highlighted.

“There are basic searches, guided searches [and] advanced searches. If I do an advanced search, my search and the options I used display, so I can add words to cut a result down, or select (for example) only public acts.”

However, she points to some gaps in what is available for the legal researcher; PAL does not give access to court judgments, which show how the law is interpreted and set precedents for its future application. Codes, bylaws and treaties are also not available on the site.

“The tone is jargon-free without being patronising,” Arlington says. “Terms such as ‘consolidated legislation’ are translated; [this is called] ‘up-to-date legislation’. “I am even warned that the Bill of Rights Act has ‘New Zealand’ at the front of its name.

“In an ideal world, there might be even more guidance for members of the public,” she says.” I’d have liked to see some school stuff as there is on the Parliament site and a link to the information there about the making of legislation.”

Overall, though, the site is “a huge leap forward” for the public availability of the law, she says.

While improvements will be made in a timely manner, says the PCO’s McIlraith, some allowance must be made for the huge and complex system to be allowed to settle.

“It is important to note that the legislation website is part of a wider legislation system that is used to draft and publish New Zealand’s legislation and as such careful planning and testing needs to occur before any releases can take effect,” she says.

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