'Approaches to Understanding the Quality of Legislation'

The legislation of a country underpins its efforts to support the rule of law. The body of legislation should therefore be fit for this purpose, conforming as far as possible to theoretical principles of ‘good’ legislation. But there have been few empirical studies of objective qualities of legislation. In this presentation I explore some ways of addressing this question and describe a novel approach. 

One approach is to look at the language of legislation (e.g. Williams, 2016) and another is to look at the extent to which the legislation itself gives rise to litigation, for instance via judicial review. A third approach is to focus on the parliamentary process itself. In our study of the changing face of UK government (Hood and Dixon, 2015), Christopher Hood and I assembled qualitative and quantitative evidence of how the process of legislation changed over the past thirty to forty years in the UK, and assessed whether those changes tended to support the production of ‘good legislation.’ 

One aspect of that study was to measure how often laws are amended as they pass through the parliamentary process. We reasoned that if legislation is presented to Parliament in an incomplete or unsatisfactory state, a large number of late-stage amendments will be needed to ‘repair’ the legislation, to the detriment of fully informed scrutiny by legislators. For that study, we were only able to count by hand the amendments to a limited number of laws. In extending that study I developed, with Jonathan Jones, a semi-automated method for quantifying legislative amendments (outlined in Dixon, 2016). In this presentation I will describe the development of that methodology and our preliminary results.