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Official version of online legislation from 6 January 2014

Official electronic versions of New Zealand legislation will be issued from January 2014. Chief Parliamentary Counsel, David Noble explains when, how, and what this means.

From 6 January 2014 I will issue official electronic versions of legislation under s17 of the Legislation Act 2012, making the New Zealand Legislation website (legislation.govt.nz) a source of official legislation.

This milestone will put New Zealand among the few comparable jurisdictions that provide free official up-to-date online legislation to their citizens. I expect it to save legal practitioners money, time, and effort.

I’d like to acknowledge the dedication and hard work of Parliamentary Counsel Office (PCO) reprints and publication staff that has made this happen.

Legal effect of official versions

The versions of online legislation that are issued as official versions, and printouts of those versions, will be taken to correctly state the law without any further proof of their accuracy in a court of law (ss16 and 18 of the Legislation Act 2012). At present, only the hard-copy legislation published by the PCO has official status.

Which versions of legislation on legislation.govt.nz will be official?

It’s a simple test: only PDFs, and only if they display the New Zealand Coat of Arms on the first page.

To achieve the accuracy required of official legislation, since 2008 when the website went live the PCO has been checking the legislative database we acquired for accuracy ‒ a process we’ve called “officialisation”. All principal (ie, not amendment) legislation back to 1931 has now been “officialised”, 1931 being the date of the most recent consolidated reprint of legislation. We have checked each document against the original text, confirmed every amendment, added history notes, and updated the format. We have audited and re-checked.

Legislation enacted or made after the drafting and publishing system that drives the website went live in 2008 does not need officialising, as it has undergone the same scrutiny that printed legislation receives. In fact, printed legislation since 2008 has been derived from the XML database running behind the website, making the accuracy of the printed and electronic formats identical.

The website retains all versions of legislation, so after every amendment both the previous and the new versions are accessible. For an Act enacted or a Legislative Instrument made after 2007, website users can expect every version of that legislation to be official. In addition, the latest version of every Act and Legislative Instrument enacted or made since 1931, if still in force, will also be official. How many of its earlier versions are also official will depend on when we officialised it. And finally, a few pre-1931 titles will also be official ‒ most significantly, the Judicature Act 1908 and the Sale of Goods Act 1908. The Judicature Act 1908 was officialised back in May 2010, so there will be 20, and counting, official versions of the Act online from that date.

Practical implications

For lawyers, access to official online legislation will save time and provide certainty. It is a simple matter to locate the relevant legislation on the NZL website and then identify the version with the appropriate “as at” date. If the version is official, the Coat of Arms will appear both on the PDF and under the “View whole” HTML tab; using the official PDF, relevant provisions or the entire document can then be filed electronically or printed and filed (eg, for the purposes of proceedings).

Changes to printing options

Also from 6 January 2014, the website will offer “print on demand” ‒ the ability to order commercially-printed copies of any version (with any “as-at” date) of any legislation. If the online document is official, the printed copy will be too ‒ just as it will be for a self-printed copy.

With these changes, we have looked at what legislation we print, and why. The result is that the 2013 annual bound volumes will be the last to be produced by the PCO ‒ though for those who love their bound volumes (even though they are out of date before they are delivered) Legislation Direct or other commercial printers may offer a publishing and binding service. Similarly, after our current reprinting programme is completed, we will cease publication of traditional hard-copy reprints. They simply can’t compete against official online reprints, available every time an Act or Legislative Instrument is amended.


Getting the best from the Legislation website

With the emphasis on online legislation, it is important that practitioners know how to get the best from the New Zealand Legislation website.

Quick pointers:

· don’t just rely on Quick Search (or on Google) ‒ get to know the options offered under Advanced Search;

· explore the home page ‒ links here can save you time and give you the latest on website changes;

· use a document’s “Versions and amendments” tab (“Versions and SOPs” for Bills) ‒ this is where you’ll find a document’s history and upcoming amendments, and its earlier versions;

· to cut and paste provisions, use “Tagged sections/clauses”; and

. check for the official Coat of Arms on PDF versions to determine if the version is official.

 

This article was originally published in LawTalk 833, 6 December 2013, page 32. 

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Last updated on the 10th December 2013