Putting the law on the line

A big thanks to Greg Kempe of Code4SA who gave up his Tuesday night last week to talk #HackTheConstitution through some key points about putting laws online, who’s done what already and what the big needs are for the future.

Kempe is the creator of openbyelaws.co.za, a project he’s been working on for some time to liberate municipal byelaws from dusty vaults (or worse, scanned PDFs) and put them online in an accessible format.

To make OpenByeLaws work, Kempe built the Indigo platform (with funding from the Indigo Foundation in the UK). Indigo formats legal documents into flawless HTML, and is exactly what we need to use for HackTheConstitution.

Indigo is based on the international Akomo Ntosi framework for publishing legal documents, which has been embraced across Africa and further afield. Because it uses a standard XML markup for things like chapter and clause headings, we can use it to anchor annotations around the text of the Constitution.

With the bulk of the HTML generation and formatting taken care of courtesy of the open source Indigo platform, we can concentrate on the annotation engine and design, which can ultimate feedback into the Indigo project itself. Getting the Constitution into Indigo should be more or less automated, with some manual touching up on the XML as required.

The presentation Greg gave is here, for those who couldn’t make it.

Greg also pointed us in the direction of other groups who have created similar projects that we could possibly collaborate with, particularly the Indian group Nyaaya which has made great progress with legislation there. We’re going look at how they’ve added annotations, and see if we can make the functions a little more dynamic.

On the development side, we got great interest from a committed group of coders who are investigating hypothes.is and annotate.js as ways to build the annotation engine. The project is starting to take shape.