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Thursday, September 27, 2007


Legislation 2.0

I feel as though I should start this blogpost with the Monty Python adage, “and now for something completely different…”.

On Tuesday, the New Zealand Police announced the launch of a new wiki as part of its current review into the 1958 Police Act. The aim of the wiki is to encourage individuals to make suggestions regarding this legislation. On the homepage for the wiki the situation is further explained and it is stated that, “[a]n official Bill is currently being written-up by parliamentary drafters, but in parallel there's an opportunity for others to suggest how a new Policing Act might look by contributing to a wiki Act. It'll be kept open until 1 November 2007, when the results can be fed back into the official law-making process.” So for those who feared that the new New Zealand Policing Act may have featured a few radical provisions (“Police will have no power to arrest individuals on Tuesdays”), it is obvious that the wiki will not be the be-all-end-all for the new Act.

Constituents in a variety of jurisdictions have often had the opportunity to comment on proposed laws, with various degrees of success. For example, in Australia, at a Federal level, a Bill can be released by the Attorney-General’s Department for public comment or a Parliamentary Committee may seek public submissions on issues raised in a Bill. Last year, in the case of the Copyright Amendment Act 2006 (Cth), the Attorney-General’s Department sought comment on the proposed technological protection measure provisions, while the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs conducted a broader inquiry into the overall Bill, prior to its being passed into law.

However, making a public submission to a Bill can be a difficult task. Individuals who have an interest in a Bill but who do not have expert qualifications may be deterred from voicing their opinion. Therefore, a wiki is a very democratic way of allowing individuals to contribute to both the text of laws and the governance of a country (according to a Sydney Morning Herald report on the wiki, NZ Police Superintendent Hamish McCardle has described it as a "new frontier of democracy.") While reading this story I thought back to the many seminal discussions on commons-based peer production by Yochai Benkler, particularly his 2006 book The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. I would suggest that what we are seeing in the New Zealand case is the creation of laws by commons-based peer production, albeit without the economic aspect of production.

Despite that, I’m still not convinced as to whether this represents the future of law-making, or its demise.

Hat Tip: Many thanks to my housemate Abi for bringing this story to my attention and her very apt title!

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Blogger Jeffrey G said:
Talk about taking the law into your own hands.

MP's rarely listen to the people but I am glad they have created this option. Just because one isn't in Parliament doesn't mean they don't have good ideas. This could be a good thing as it may empower people and undermine the flawed mechanics of lobby groups.
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