I have an iPhone (a 3GS, since you asked) and I like it. No, let’s be honest, I love it with a passion bordering on the indecent. So when I saw a note on Roll on Friday which said that there was now an iPhone app “which enables users to access the current text of all UK legislation”, I became terribly excited and headed off to the website for the app, called ‘iLegal’. [Edit: Definitely not to be confused with www.ilegal.org.uk, a fine site for information on legal aid contracting.]
The FAQ page promised “At the time of submission to the App Store, iLegal contained the full text of all revised legislation available”. That sounded good. It cost £20, rising to £40 in May. Not cheap, but for up to date legislation, a bargain.
But, being a suspicious litigator, I wanted to know a bit more. Two things niggled away at me. One was that iLegal was apparently developed by a College of Law LPC student called Timothy Leigh.(Picture removed at Mr Leigh’s request). The other was that I know full well that there is no free source of ‘as amended’, in force statute, and no cheap source for it either. Both the statutelaw.gov.uk and OPSI sites are updating their legislation, but it is a slow process and in the meantime they are thoroughly unreliable for in force statute (to be fair, the OPSI will usually indicate where subsequent amendments have not yet been applied, which seems to be from about 2005 on at present). This is why there are no links to the major housing law statute on this blog. We’re just not linking to it if it isn’t reliable.
This lack of availability of current statute, save through the big and expensive paid for services, is something that has been widely bemoaned, notably by the Court of Appeal.
So, curious as to Mr Leigh’s sources, I emailed him and asked. Mr Leigh replied quickly, which was a good point. Possibly the only one. He said:
The legislation contained within iLegal incorporates all subsequent amendments to the text and other effects, together with annotations.
Raw data is sourced from Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.
Well, that looked like a pretty unambiguous assertion that the legislation was ‘as amended’, but got me no further as to the source, as HMSO does not update for recent amendments. The OPSI does include amendments, but as mentioned above, it is not up to date and is thoroughly unreliable (no slur on the OPSI staff intended. It is a time and money thing and their efforts are heroic). But apparently, it was only the raw data from the HMSO involved.
So, back to Mr Leigh I went. Unfortunately, this time he ‘was not at liberty to answer my questions’.
Now somewhat unhappy, I replied, pointing out that if he was offering ‘full revised statute’, I needed to know the basis for that claim if I was to rely on it. Mr Leigh replied:
The stated source – HMSO – is correct. For obvious reasons, I am not prepared to say more than that. Being a lawyer yourself, I am sure you will appreciate my desire to maintain some secrecy.
Mr Leigh also offered me a review copy of the forthcoming release of the app. Full disclosure, I haven’t taken him up on that but said I would do so if the app did contain ‘as amended’ legislation, which I was increasingly suspecting that it didn’t.
I’ll leave aside the nicety that Mr Leigh is not actually a lawyer yet, he is in search of a traineeship (and in that he has my profound sympathy and understanding), but secrecy about how one gets hold of ‘full text of revised statute’ is simply not on and my concern about reliability was not addressed. So, off I went again, explaining that I wasn’t after commercial secrets but that for me, or any practising lawyer, knowing the current reliability of the text of a statute was vital. There are financial and other risks to clients involved and that I wasn’t going to take the unsubstantiated word of an LPC student for granted. I was hoping that actually explaining why this was important might get us somewhere.
Alas no. By the next morning, the previously chirpy Mr Leigh had been replaced by a terse version, almost as if he had spoken to his lawyers…
This Mr Leigh insisted that the phrase used on the website – ‘full revised text’ – was accurate because:
iLegal does indeed contain the full text of legislation. And that text is revised, i.e. not as originally enacted.
Which means that there is full text in there and amendments, but not necessarily that either are up to date or in force. Naturally this puts paid to Mr Leigh’s initial assertion to me that “The legislation contained within iLegal incorporates all subsequent amendments to the text and other effects, together with annotations”
In short, what the app contains is just like the OPSI, which I now presume – I emphasise presume, in the absence of other information – is Mr Leigh’s main source.
I suppose that, with one possible exception, it is true that the assertions on the iLegal site are simply that the legislation included is the ‘full, revised text’. One might quibble that the text cannot be full unless it has recent amendments, but I didn’t put that to Mr Leigh, so I won’t pursue it now. I’ll come back to the exception below.
When I then put it to Mr Leigh that the description on the site could well be misleading, and indeed had apparently misled the Roll on Friday writer who described the app as providing ‘current text’, Mr Leigh simply stated:
Our marketing materials are accurate – in fact, the contents of iLegal is described in the same way as HMSO.
This is, of course wholly beside the point. It is also not actually true. The OPSI revised legislation page states:
The revised legislation on this site is extracted from the UK Statute Law Database (SLD). By ’revised’ we mean that the legislation is not necessarily in the form in which it was enacted but incorporates any subsequent amendments to the text and other effects with annotations.
The content of these pages reflects the most up-to-date version of the SLD text. Where amendments have not yet been incorporated into the text of the legislation a warning message will appear at the top of the item of legislation giving further information.
So, actually warning people that it is, well, not actually up to date.
The iLegal site also states, as quoted above, that “At the time of submission to the App Store, iLegal contained the full text of all revised legislation available”. I would go so far as to say this is untrue. Copies of more up to date amended legislation were available at that time, albeit through paid for and copyrighted services. Without specifying the source, this statement sets no limitation on what ‘available’ means. If it had said ‘available through OPSI’, that would be accurate, but as we have seen, Mr Leigh was determined to retain some secrets.
So, in itself, it is untrue that the app contains ‘the full text of all revised legislation available’. Then there is the implication of that statement that all available revisions are included. Which, it is by now clear, they aren’t. Mr Leigh did not respond to me on this point. He is of course welcome to explain how this statement from his site is actually true in the comments to this post.
I had suggested to Mr Leigh that it was unprofessional not to provide a proper description of the status of the legislation in the app (as in ‘not necessarily up to date’), and that, given the Roll on Friday article, perhaps he might wish to amend the description on the site and app page. I also asked if Mr Leigh had contacted Roll on Friday to correct their misapprehension. Mr Leigh did not see fit to respond.
There is a further problem for Mr Leigh, which is in the terms of the waiver of Crown Copyright in legislation. The terms are:
You may re-use waiver material free of charge without requiring a formal licence provided that it is:
not used in a misleading way
reproduced accurately and kept up to date
Mr Leigh appears to be determined not to acknowledge his source. I don’t know whether or not it is acknowledged in the app, but it isn’t on the app’s website. [Edit – being entirely fair, I’ve now checked and the Crown copyright is acknowledged on the app’s description on the Apple app store. No mention of the limitations, though. Just says one ‘can search across the revised text of all UK, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales legislation’ (sic). All? That’s interesting. OPSI has some notorious absences, including the Insolvency Act 1986. Can anybody, including Mr Leigh, confirm whether or not the app contains the Insolvency Act 1986? Correction – the Insolvency Act 1986 is now in the SLD/OPSI, but the fact that it wasn’t until recently illustrates the level of potential problems].
I have agonised about this post for a bit. It seemed a little unfair to have a go at a commendably entrepreneurial LPC student, and there was the outside chance the app might be useful.
But as our email exchange went on, I agonised less and less, until I stopped entirely. Mr Leigh’s effort is to be applauded. However, promoting an app like this to legal professionals (and he doesn’t lack ambition – “iLegal is perfect for solicitors, barristers, judges and law students as well as lecturers, teachers, journalists, historians and members of the public alike”) without making clear the status of the legislation it contains (and indeed in his correspondence with me refusing to acknowledge the point) is poor practice.
I’m forced to the inevitable conclusion that the iLegal app is completely useless to any legal professional who requires current and in force legislation, because there is no guarantee or indication that the legislation it contains is as currently amended. It might well be technically and practically nice to use on the iPhone – I have no idea, I haven’t used it – but for anyone needing current statute, it is at best an expensive toy or proof of concept.
Further, although I’d admit to a certain reluctance in doing so, Mr Leigh is put on the naughty step for a) refusing to acknowledge the rather crucial shortcomings of the app; b) apparently failing to take any steps to correct another site’s misapprehension about the capabilities of the app, although this was a major error; and c) falling back on a formalistic account of his publicity material as a defence when it isn’t really sustainable.
Now I feel like I’m walking away from the canal suspiciously quickly, as a bag making meowing noises sinks slowly beneath the surface. But if Mr Leigh isn’t going to make the limitations of the app clear, someone else has to.
[Edit – ohh what have we here? A terms and conditions page, that has no link from the main iLegal site pages and is only referred to as an url in the app store description. Some choice parts:
The contents of this application reflect the most up-to-date version available and is subject to revision without notice. Where amendments have not yet been incorporated into the text of the legislation a warning message will appear at the top of the text, directing you to details of any pending amendments.
As discussed above, in my view this assertion that the contents ‘reflect’ the most up-to-date version available is just not true as it stands. But the warning message bit suggests that it is the OPSI editions of statute being used.
You acknowledge and agree that Engraved Ltd provides no guarantee as to the accuracy or reliability of the legislation contained herein. The information found within this application is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon without undergoing further research.
In view of my entire discussion with Mr Leigh, and the statements made on the iLegal site, that is quite amusing. Mr Leigh’s very first statement to me was “The legislation contained within iLegal incorporates all subsequent amendments to the text and other effects, together with annotations”. But then:
Engraved Ltd offer no guarantee that the legislation contained herein is correct, complete, accurate or up-to-date. You hereby agree to indemnify Engraved Ltd against all liabilities, costs, expenses, damages and losses (including any direct, indirect or consequential losses, loss of profit, loss of reputation and all interest, penalties and legal and other professional costs and expenses), however caused, arising out of or in connection with your use of the application. This indemnity shall apply whether or not Engraved Ltd has been negligent or at fault.
So the passages on the ‘about’ page and the ‘FAQ’ page, such as ” iLegal makes researching legislation quicker and easier than ever before” and “iLegal is perfect for solicitors, barristers, judges […]” would be nonsense then? Love that attempt at a blanket indemnity clause… Oh and they reserve the right to amend the Terms without notice…]