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Research report: Legislation as Code in New Zealand

The idea for Syncopate Lab grew from a year-long research project on "Legislation as Code" in New Zealand.

In 2019, the Brainbox Institute team became aware of work by Hamish Fraser and others to convert legislation – or statute law – into computer code. This topic presented potentially transformative digital shifts in the wider legal and political system, and we agreed there were important questions to be investigated and analysed.

We applied to Te Manatū a Ture o Aotearoa – the New Zealand Law Foundation for research funding support, and produced the Legislation as Code report (PDF version here).

During that research, we found a fascinating body of scholarship and an intricate community of experts across various disciplines in law, technology and public policy.

In our report, we concluded that the concept of law or legislation as code has promise, while also concluding that some advocates had overstated the opportunities and benefits.

One important conclusion was that it was difficult to discuss the risks and benefits of implementing law as code in an abstract sense, outside of specific examples. We observed that people in different disciplines were frequently talking past each other, using similar terminology to mean very different things.

We argued that the benefits of law as code could best be realised through scrutiny of specific cases. That means building real systems.

We concluded that a collaborative space called the Digital Legal Systems Lab was the best way to do this – and that lab has now become Syncopate.


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