20/04/2010

On the naughty step – there’s not an app for that

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:

acknowledged
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.

Naughty StepFurther, 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…]

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

26 Comments

  1. house

    Very interesting post.

    I’m guilty to linking to the Statute Gov site and I can see why I shouldn’t.

    I personally have access to fee paid sites through work so don’t it’s not much of an issue for me but perhaps I should take the links down or hope that people are aware they aren’t upto date.

    Reply
  2. NL

    On the OPSI and Statute Gov sites, I tend to take the view that they are OK as long as you know to check for subsequent amendments. But it is time consuming and fiddly doing so.

    Reply
  3. William Flack

    Good stuff NL. I agree with your decision to put him on the Step. There can be no excuse for not giving straight answers to your questions or agreeing to take steps to correct the misleading impression of the product which had previously been given.

    Reply
  4. NL

    Ah. And there’s that ‘Revised text of every item of legislation ever made up to the latest 2010 Acts’ claim again. Mr Leigh really ought to contain his enthusiasm.

    Reply
  5. Patrick Torsney

    Well researched post and very illuminating!

    As another 3GS user with a legal bent I too came across this app and wondered what the score was

    Oh, and I should say, there’s only one ilegal: http://www.ilegal.org.uk and we do exactly what it says on the tin

    Very helpful post, thanks again

    Reply
    • NL

      And from that article, I quote:
      “I had to research the law on begging and produce a report on it,” he said. “All the online sources had different versions of the Vagrancy Acts, which were not necessarily up to date.
      “Searching for the legislation was massively complicated. People want to go straight to it.”

      How true.

  6. Stephen O'Neill

    In fairness ilegal provides no guarantee as to accuracy or reliability or that the legislation is correct, complete, accurate or up-to-date and should not be relied upon without first doing the research yourself. If the legislation is not correct ilegal are not at fault even if they are negligent.

    http://www.ilegalapps.com/terms.html

    Reply
    • NL

      Stephen – I quote those very parts of the terms and link to that page in the post. Quite how that sits with claims such as:
      “iLegal makes researching legislation quicker and easier than ever before.” (Not if one has to do the research twice);
      “It’s user-friendly interface allows you to find the legislation that you need quickly and easily, saving you time and money. ” (Not if one has to do the research twice); and
      “Most users will find that iLegal pays for itself through increased efficiency in just a few uses.” (ditto)
      is anyone’s guess.

      As I mentioned, the T&C are not linked to on the main iLegal site. There is a reference towards the end of the description on the app store page, which says ‘Your use of this software is subject to your agreement with the iLegal terms and conditions of use which can be read at http://www.ilegalapps.com/terms.html‘. That is not a clickable link on the app store page, by the way.

      I have no problem with what the app is and does. Although that makes it practically useless to me, it would not for anyone who either doesn’t need up to date statute or doesn’t mind carrying out the research twice where before they would only have had to have carried it out once. My problem is wholly that what it is and does is, to put it at its lowest, not made clear in the description on the ilegal site or the app store description, and that misunderstandings of it by third parties are not being corrected.

  7. Francis Davey

    Which also strongly implies that the iLegal version will give you the up-to-date as amended version of an act. Elsewhere he seems to claim it has every act passed, which I also bet isn’t true (probably only those still in force) and that is also an issue – repealed acts may still have important effects on present law particularly if there were saving provisions.

    iLegal is just a jazzy web interface to the SLD isn’t that right?

    Reply
  8. NL

    I gather that the text is included in the app, for offline access. Whether it is just SLD/OPSI, we don’t know. But the HMSO/Crown copyright is the only one acknowledged.

    Reply
  9. Peninsulawyer

    I read the review of iLegal on ROF and I did wonder how it was possible to provide full “as updated” legislation for this price given how expensive the paid services are.

    It seems from the post that the answer may be “it isn’t”…

    However, rather than speculating, surely it would be quick and easy for someone who has purchased the App to put to rest once and for all whether the legislation it provides is fully updated?

    I presume someone must have downloaded it and confirm this..?

    Reply
  10. NL

    It would be very interesting to hear from someone who has bought it, but I am confident in my conclusion that it doesn’t contain fully updated legislation, particularly given the passage in the terms and conditions that says “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”. This is the OPSI/SLD warning and as such, the contents are as not up to date as the OPSI/SLD. And, depending on how often the full contents of the app are updated, possibly more out of date.

    Mr Leigh has had the opportunity to rebut my conclusions by email, and of course in the comments here.

    Reply
  11. chief

    There will be a review in the May edition of Nick Holmes & Delia Venables’ internet newsletter.

    Reply
  12. Scott

    There will indeed be a review in Internet Newsletter for Lawyers written by me – and i did get a free copy of app for review purposes. Without pre-empting the substance of that, I can confirm the app does just put the SLD (or a time specific version from that) on your iphone.

    Reply
  13. John Jennings

    Just shows you what a mess our statute law base is in. It is a dissgrace that the law we are all supposed to obey is not even kept up to date by the government. Oops- it may be because of all the crap legislation they have passed- some 4,500 new crimes and tons of gobbledygook to boot

    Reply
  14. NL

    Thanks Scott, that is very helpful. Look forward to the review.

    Reply
  15. Michael

    Like many of you, I also saw this flagged up on ROF and, equally like many of you, was a touch suspicious to say the least.

    NL, great job for reviewing and pursuing this so far… someone had to do it. :-)

    And as for the app, I guess it’s just another example of when something sounds too good to be true, it invariably is.

    Shame.

    Reply
  16. Nick Holmes

    NL, as Scott has said, he’s done a review for the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers which is printing and going on the web as we speak (so I write here with no first-hand knowledge of the product). The long and short of it for us commenting here seems to be – if you’ve produced a neat app that delivers the SLD on an iPhone, great, well done; but if you don’t/won’t acknowledge the source and/or pump the product up as something more than it is, then you’re just a snake oil salesman.

    Reply
  17. Andrew Keogh

    I was asked to promote this in April 2010. I considered it to be useless and told them so, this was Timothy’s reply:

    “I respectfully disagree that the software is “useless” and that “only incompetent lawyer would use [it]”. This is simply not the case. In fact, clients have found the app to be incredibly useful.

    Some Acts have pending amendments, but this is the exception and not the rule. Furthermore, amendments are of course addressed by way of regular updates.”

    When you look at the statute database it is clear in my view that very little is up to date. It is simply a dump of the database at a point in time.

    Reply
    • NL

      Andrew, I think that is a bit harsh on the SLD (now legislation.gov.uk) people, who did the best they could on very limited resources. They did (and do) update, but are always a few years behind.

      But I agree with your point, as does every practicing lawyer who has reviewed the app. Mr Leigh cannot say that he has not been made aware of its shortcomings, but he will not publicly acknowledge them (or even in private emails).

      I’m impressed that you got a ‘respectfully’ from Mr Leigh. I got false accusations that I had made up quotes, for which I never did get an apology…

      The various reviews all seem to get mysterious commenters who insist the app is wonderful and has saved them time and money. None of them actually say how it has saved them time and money. People can draw their own conclusions.

  18. Free Movement

    I was given a review copy and duly reviewed it a while ago (http://freemovement.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/ilegal-legislation-app-review/). It is simply a version of the SLD database in a more accessible form. I pointed out an example of the potential problems this causes in my review. That said, I use the SLD all the time and I know what legislation is in force and what is out of date – immigration law moves so fast all the time it is essential to follow what is going on as it happens. I’ve used the app a few times to check references and sub sections (which subsection of section 1 of the British Nationality Act 1981 is it that children register under if a parent becomes settled, that sort if thing).

    I think I understood that at the time I downloaded it, and looking back at my review I certainly understood that at the time I reviewed it – apart from anything, how on earth else would the makers get ‘revised’ statute into their app?

    The app has limitations that might make it useless for some, but I have found it useful for checking references and I was not surprised to find it was the SLD. It has not been updated recently, though, and does not, for example, include the current SLD version of some of the immigration acts – I’ve just checked and s.85A of NIAA 2002, which commenced last Monday, is not there.

    I think you are being a bit harsh on the lad, basically! It is a one off cost of £40 and it is made by a law student – one can’t possibly reasonably expect the full LexisNexis etc treatment.

    Reply
    • NL

      FM, my harshness was wholly due to Mr L not saying what you just said. If he had said ‘it is the SLD database, it is as not up to date (or even more so, given the time intervals to update the app) as the SLD database, but it is as useful as the SLD’, I would have been entirely happy and, as I said in the post, would have thought it a commendable effort.

      But he didn’t. He had been, to put it at its lowest, giving the impression that the contents were up to date, and hadn’t corrected anyone – like Roll on Friday and others – who took that to be the case. I didn’t think there was any way an LPC student could have got as amended statute into a £40 app, hence me asking him about it. The sorry tale of evasion and semi-truths that unfolded was the reason for the post. Any harshness was a result of that experience – as I hope I made clear.

      The app is what it is – but it is proper that anyone being asked to pay £40 should know what it is beforehand. If they find it useful, great. Forgive me, but you had a free review copy. Wouldn’t you want to know what the limits of the app’s contents were before actually paying for it?

      After the post was up, Mr Leigh then emailed me, accusing me of defamation for saying “the iLegal app is completely useless to any legal professional”. I replied, pointing out that I had said no such thing, but I had said it was “practically useless for a practising lawyer who requires current and in force legislation”, which was not defamatory in the slightest. While making up this quote from me, Mr Leigh had the chutzpah to accuse me of fabricating quotes. I pointed out that everything cited as being by him was a direct quote from his emails and I asked for an apology for the serious accusation of fabricating quotes. Never heard from him again.

  19. yasin

    This article is nothing but utter sour grapes. You knew the app would not be perfect, particularly for £40

    I have used applications before which are not 100% perfect (or even 60% perfect) but as a tech enthusiast I actually bother to contact them with feedback, rather than writing a belligerent blog post that stinks of sour grapes.

    And to think you’re involved in a profession that’s highly regarded, what a joke.

    Reply
    • NL

      Yasin,
      You may be a ‘tech enthusiast’, but you are apparently unable to read. The issue was not whether the app was ‘perfect’ – for all I know it may function extremely well.

      Do pop back if you have any worthwhile comments.

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