New English Statute Database
The Library recently subscribed to a database containing a comprehensive collection of English statutes dating back to 1235. The database is called Justis UK Statutes, and patrons can link to it from the Foreign and International Resources page of the Library’s web site. The database is slick, providing PDF versions of the statutes, multiple search interfaces, and best of all, links to amending and amended legislation.
The Quick Search screen contains a single box for entering text you want to retrieve. Justis will search for the terms as a title or citation reference, then as individual terms. Quotation marks are used to identify a phrase, and proximity connectors and wild cards are available as well. If you want to limit your search to a particular document field, such as the title, you can type in the name of the field, followed by the desired search terms in square brackets.
The Legislation Search screen contains multiple boxes for entering search terms in specific document fields. This is useful when you don’t know what fields are available beforehand. Moreover, clicking on the information button for each field retrieves an example search for the field in question, which is a helpful guide to proper search syntax within a given field. One really nice feature of this search interface is that it allows you to customize the available fields. So if you happen to want to search for an enactment by the date it was laid on the table, you can do that.
Finally, the Browse index allows you to search by year. I decided to test this search feature by looking up the enactments of 1305. (Why not?) The index indicates that 12 statutes were enacted that year, but the real number turns out to have been five. The discrepancy is accounted for by the fact that individual statutory sections, as well as entries for the unsegmented versions of the acts, are all listed in the results list as separate documents. This display feature is a bit idiosyncratic. It means, first of all, that the user must link to the unsegmented version of an act to see the whole thing. Moreover, it makes it a bit difficult to determine what’s been repealed and what has not. There is a helpful notation next to each repealed document, but no notation is listed for any document (i.e. section) that has not been specifically repealed by name. Thus, document entries representing repealed sections of statutes that were repealed in toto will lack the repeal notation. As a result of this, I almost missed the fact that the Forest Act of 1305 was repealed by the Wild Creatures and Forests Act of 1971. (And if it seems that Parliament took its time to repeal the Forest Act, consider that the act of 1971 also repealed a statute from 1297!)
The best feature of the database is that it provides summary status information, as well as links to amendments and statutes amended for each statute in the database. Links to this information are listed under tabs above the retrieved document. There is also an Outline feature that permits you to navigate through a retrieved enactment using a clickable table of contents.
If you want to search the current status or historical evolution of an act, one very important point to keep in mind is that the database tracks only actual amendments (i.e., changes in statutory language) rather than changes in scope or application that result indirectly from the effect of later enactments. For example, the Locomotives Act of 1865 imposed various conditions on the operation of every Locomotive propelled by Steam or any other than Animal Power on any Turnpike Road or public Highway. These conditions included the following: that such vehicles must be accompanied by a crew of three, including a driver, a stoker, and a man with a red flag or lantern, walking 60 yards ahead of each vehicle, while warning horse riders and other horse-drawn traffic of the approach of a self-propelled vehicle; that self-propelled vehicles must not exceed a speed of four miles per hour in the country and two miles per hour in towns. The effect of this statute on the aborning automobile industry was completely mooted by the Locomotives on Highways Act of 1896, which created a new class of light locomotives exempt from the1865 Locomotives Act (which applied to locomotives, but not to light locomotives), and subject to a new, rakishly high speed limit 14 miles per hour. However, the 1896 statute did not actually amend the 1865 statute, so there is no link in the database between them.
One final feature worthy of note is the collection of context-sensitive help screens, accessible individually through a variety of links within the various search screens, and systematically via a help button in the upper right corner of the home page. These screens actually do provide access to the information you need when you need it and therefore simplify the task of using Justis UK Statutes.