Ashok Hariharan


Legal & Legislative Content Management using Open Standards

Submitted Sep 15, 2017

Legal and Legislative content poses unique problems in the digital space, and traditional content management systems or tools are not the best fit. This talk is about the specific challenges posed by such data and how newly available open standards can be combined with technology to bring legal & legislative information closer to citizens.


  1. What is Legal and Legislative Data

  2. How is Legal and Legislative Data different from commonly encountered content

    • LONG TERM readability, some old laws in current use:

      • e.g. Statute of Marlborough (52 Hen 3) from 1267, 4 articles are still in force
      • Magna Carta 1215 parts of it were applicable until 1969
      • Indian Penal code 1860
    • Their validity lifecycle is much longer than any modern hardware, software and application

      • There was no computer in 1267 nor in 1911 but there were laws
    • Both the structure and the content have high semantic significance

      • An Act is different from a Bill
      • Case Law is different from an Act
      • An Article and a Chapter in an Act are different things
    • Document Oriented

      • Content & Metadata need to be always together
      • The Workflow itself has legal significance
    • High Temporal significance (Sensitivity to Time)

      • Laws get amended, and amend other legislation at different points in time
    • Every legal document is connected to some other extant legal document

  3. How is Legislative Content being handled presently ?

    • Simple Answer

      • It is not being handled
      • Laws are not searchable, not linked
      • They cannot be searched at a point in time
      • Their structure cannot be sematically iterated
    • Long Answer

      • Legal information is treated in the context of very short-term systems requirement lifecycles
      • Legal Information producers (and consumers) end-up reinventing the wheel every that many years
      • Current spending on managing legal content is either very low - or very high
  4. How should they be handled ?

    • Using Open Standards

    • Open Source technologies

    • Top Down v/s Bottom up application

      • Who is producing the laws ?
      • Who is consuming the laws ?
    • More difficult going from paper / pdf -> digital, than from digital -> pdf / paper

  5. Talk about available Technology set, application examples

    • XML Databases
    • Document Production Use cases (and tools)
    • Search engines
  6. Internatioanl Usage


Some basic knowledge of information management; At least a very elementary understanding (e.g. primary school civics level) of what laws are and how they are produced; an idea of what XML is. Some programming experience / awareness of modern web applications is good but not a must.

Speaker bio

I have been working in the niche area involving the convergence between Law and Information Technology since 2005. I used to work for the United Nations, where I was part of project that gave birth to what is now the main Legal Document Standard “Akoma Ntoso” (pron. “Akoma-in-toso”) in use across the world.

I have had the unique opportunity of visiting dozens of Parliaments, Law making bodies and Legal research organizations in different parts of the World -- something that has also shown me how good laws can really make a difference for the better, and bad laws can be very hard to undo. Currently I am based out of Mumbai, and I consult with International Agencies and Law-making institutions in different parts of the world, to bring their laws out of dusty cupboards and grainy pdf files into the semantic web.


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