Laws.Africa, AfricanLII and Kenya Law: faster, cheaper, better

14 March 2019, by Greg Kempe

In the last week of February 2019, the team from Kenya Law visited AfricanLII and Laws.Africa in Cape Town and we spent a week exploring how Kenya Law can use Indigo to manage and consolidate Kenyan legislation.

Kenya Law, or the National Council for Law Reporting to use its formal name, is a semi-autonomous state corporation and is the official publisher of the Kenya Law Reports and the Laws of Kenya. This makes Kenya one of the few countries in Africa that consolidates and publishes its own legislation.

Kenya is also, to our knowledge, the only country in Africa to use machine-friendly Akoma Ntoso XML to consolidate and publish their legislation, both online and in print format.

Why Akoma Ntoso?

Akoma Ntoso (or AKN) is an open, non-proprietary XML markup format for legislative documents. It was accepted as an OASIS standard in 2018 and allows authors to capture the rich semantics and structure of legislation. When legislation is marked up with AKN, it’s machine-readable. This unlocks value and makes it faster and easier to publish legislation in multiple user-friendly formats, including online, mobile, ebook and hardcopy print. It also makes it easier for others to re-use the legislation in a variety of apps and services.

The Kenya Law challenge

The editorial team of Kenya Law are very experienced with Akoma Ntoso. They’ve been manually marking up their legislation with AKN for over 5 years and have a good understanding of both its strengths and the challenges it presents. Their AKN markup powers the Laws of Kenya website as well as the production of print-ready, high-quality Laws of Kenya books and bound volumes.

However, their current system inhibits them in two significant ways.

  • First, the manual process of marking up legislation with AKN is slow and error-prone.
  • Second, it’s difficult for them to fully use the power of AKN and add new functionality, such as rich point-in-time navigation, to the Laws of Kenya website.

Kenya Law and Laws.Africa are collaborating to see how the Indigo platform could help them solve both of these problems.

How does Indigo help?

Indigo is AfricanLII and Laws.Africa’s open source legislation consolidation platform. It makes it easy to mark up existing legislation with Akoma Ntoso and capture rich metadata. Indigo will help Kenya Law reduce the time it takes to consolidate complex legislation from months to days, ensuring the timeous publication of new and consolidated statutes. Indigo does this by automating mark-up and associated common tasks, implementing and supporting editorial workflows, linking up in standard ways to related sources of gazettes and legislation, while enforcing strict editorial controls over quality.

Indigo’s Content API makes it easy to pull content into another platform. This means that Kenya Law are free to run their public website using whichever platform they choose. This is crucial as their website must support gazettes, law reports, case law and much more in addition to legislation. Indigo focuses on legislation consolidation, and doesn’t restrict how its content can be used.

Indigo’s Content API also simplifies the complexities of working with Akoma Ntoso XML. This makes it easier to produce rich functionality for end users that help them navigate and work with legislation. For example, maintaining a Table of Contents for an act such as the Companies Act which has over 1000 sections is laborious and time-consuming. Indigo does this automatically and keeps it up to date with every amendment that is applied.

Built in Africa, for Africa

Indigo is open source software, built initially for AfricanLII, and further developed and maintained by the Laws.Africa team in Cape Town, South Africa. AfricanLII is an umbrella organization, an overarching collegiate of 15 legal information institutes (LIIs) in Africa. By working with AfricanLII and with Kenya Law - AfricanLII’s most experienced member in the legislation consolidation domain - we’re expanding the skills and knowledge of working with Akoma Ntoso and Indigo in Africa. This reduces the cost of working with these technologies and grows the regional and global Akoma Ntoso community and applications ecosystems.

Into the future together

We’ll be working with Kenya Law as they migrate to Indigo over the next few months.

Kenya Law are at the front of the pack when it comes to working with legislation as data and providing up-to-date legislation available online, for free. We’re incredibly excited to be working with Kenya Law to improve their efficiency and enable new functionality for Kenyan judges, advocates, academics and citizens as they work with the Laws of Kenya.

Kenya Law possesses tremendous knowledge and expertise in legislation consolidation and working with AKN. Laws.Africa will work with Kenya Law to translate that knowledge into resources and skills for the growing community of volunteer legislation contributors across Africa. Other LIIs in Africa part of the AfricanLII umbrella, in particular, will be the first to benefit from being able to implement these best practices and carry updated legislation for the benefit of their users.

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Attribution: Photo of Kenyans running the 2012 London Olympic Marathon by Sue Kellerman on Flickr.