lagen.nu

About lagen.nu

Lagen.nu is a non-profit, volunteer-run web site which provides access to legal information concerning the swedish legal system. It contains all statutes published in the main collection of statutory law, SFS (Svensk Författningssamling), as well as an archive of case law from the swedish supreme court, the supreme administrative court, and a number of special courts. It also contains commentary on a number of the most important statutes, as well as important legal terms. These commentaries are written by law students and practicing lawyers.

Collaborative commentaries

Like any legal system, swedish law can be daunting at first. The style of writing has changed considerably from the oldest laws (from 1736) to the ones written today, and the terms used, as well as the structure of the regulation, often needs to be explained to be understandable. This understanding is what a typical legal education provides. But since the law applies to everyone - not just the legally trained - there is a need for an explaination of the statutory text. We provide this in the form of a law commentary for the most important statutes.

For each important section of these statutes, a brief explaination of the section is written. This can include descriptions of terms used, guidelines for balancing opposing interests, notes on how the section have been referred to in important legal cases, and hypothetical examples of it's application. It frequently refers to other parts of the law that one needs to be aware of when analysing the particular section.

Legal terms are often used in many different section commentaries. In these cases, it's often more effective to just mention the term in the section commentary and link it to a separate page, containing a more detailed description of the term, so that a reader not familiar with the term can learn more about it. This also keeps the statutory law commentary brief for readers who are familiar with the term.

The commentaries have so far mainly been written by law students. The text of the commentaries are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license. Anyone who is knowledgeable about a certain statute is welcome to apply for writing its commentary.

The actual writing is done using the Mediawiki system, the same web-based wiki application that Wikipedia uses. The text is written according to certain conventions (such as prefixing the commentary for an individual section with a headline consisting of that section's number). When saving the text of a legal commentary, it gets weaved together with the statutory law text and presented alongside of it. The text of pages that describe legal terms are combined with legal cases and statutes using or defining the same term.

Swedish legal information

As a civil law country, swedish law is primarily concerned with statutory law. The main legislative powers are the parliament (Riksdagen) and the government (Regeringen) - each of these institutions can adopt statutes which are published in the main official collection of statutory law, the Svensk Författningssamling (SFS). The statutes enacted by the parliament are referred to as laws, and the statutes enacted by the government as ordinances.

Whenever a particular statute is changed, this is done by adopting a new statute (the change statute) that states what sections of the old statute (the base statute) are to be changed, and how. In SFS, only these base statutes and change statutes are published. In practice, consolidated versions (texts where the actual texts of the base statutes have been changed according to subsequent change statutes) are used by lawyers and courts, but these texts are not officially binding.

Lagen.nu uses consolidated versions of the statutes, available from the governments legal databases. These versions, which are in a non-structured plain text version, is parsed and analysed to get a XML version of the text that represents the true structure of the statue, divided into chapters, sections, paragraphs and so on.

Court decisions are also an important part of swedish law, particularly the decisions from the supreme courts. The National Courts Administration makes available an archive of over 10 000 court decisions. These are available with the full text of the verdict as well as some metadata (such as which statutory law sections the verdict is based upon, earlier cases referred to, and keywords for the issues in the case).

There are other sources of legal information in the Swedish system - particularly preparatory works for the statutes are often used when interpreting the statutes themselves, and courts often explicitly refer to these preparatory works. Certain administrative agencies have the power to create binding statutes concerning issues in their area. Some administrative agencies have the power to make legally binding decisions for certain issues, and these decisions are often referred to, particularly when doing legal investigations in areas where there's a dearth of supreme court decisions (such as consumer rights - not many consumers have the time and resources to appeal a case all the way to the supreme court). These sources are not yet present at lagen.nu.

Browsing and navigation features

Statutes

There are about 1500 laws and 2000 ordinances in the swedish legal system. Some of these can be quite long (the longest, the income tax law, has around 1500 individual sections and close to 120 000 words), but since individual sections frequently refer to each other, each law is presented as a single web page.

To the left, each law have a treeview-like control containing the entire table of contents for the law, sectioned into chapters and headlines. In addition to this, the text of each section is parsed and references to other parts of the law (or other laws) are identified, and hyperlinked. Together, this makes navigating large amounts of statute text reasonably quick.

Statutes are divided in sections (and, for larger statutes, chapters and divisions). To the right of each individual section are a number of boxes containing information about that section.

Cases

There are over 10 000 cases available on the web site, ranging back to 1981. The cases are from the swedish supreme court, the supreme administrative court, as well as the special courts used for certain legal disputes (such as labour law, environmental law, marketing law etc).

Each case is presented in full text, with hyperlinked references to each individual statute section that is mentioned in the verdict, and other metadata. Of particular interest is the usage of keywords -- when preparing the case for publication, the National Courts Administration provides it with a series of keywords, often specific legal terms that was referred to in the verdict. This makes it possible to order the cases by keyword, for example, see all cases that deal with issues of occupational safety and health.

Legal terms

When parsing statutory text, passages that define a particular term are recognized. This information is combined with the information about which keywords are used in which legal cases, as well as text from the legal information wiki (mentioned above), to form a single page that provides an overview of the term, its definition and usage. Links to this page appear whenever the term is used in commentary, as a keyword for a legal case, or in the statutory law text. Around 4500 terms are currently present in the system.

Reuseable

We actively want people to use and reuse the legal information and functionality found at lagen.nu. We make this possible in four different ways.

Linking

Being a public web site, we strive to make it easy to link to any content on lagen.nu. As each statute has it's own unique number (the SFS number), we use this to construct the URL for that statute - i.e. The Copyright Act (1960:729) has the URL https://lagen.nu/1960:729. Furthermore, any individual section can be referred to using named anchors, so to URL for section 12 of the copyright act is https://lagen.nu/1960:729#P12. This is a documented part of our interface and guaranteed not to change, so anyone linking to the site can be sure that the link will work indefinitely. And of course, noone needs to ask permission to link to us.

Structured data

The actual statutory text are not copyrighted. The text of the legal cases are copyrighted, but may be reproduced by anyone as long as the text is not improperly changed and the author (in this case the National Courts Administration) is credited.

Lagen.nu makes these texts available in a structured, XML-based format. The files are all available just by adding the suffix ".xht2" to any URL (ie https://lagen.nu/1960:729.xht2), and they can also be downloaded in bulk. The metadata used in the system (for example titles, dates, case numbers, and links between cases and statutes) is expressed using RDF, and the entire metadata set (comprising over a million RDF triples) can be downloaded in bulk as well.

Commentaries

The commentaries are all licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license, which should enable re-use of these in practically any scenario.

Code

To run a web site like lagen.nu on a volounteer budget, a lot of things need to be automated. There is a fairly complex code base to do things like downloading all statutes and legal cases, parsing the raw data, structuring it and formatting it for presentation. This is done mainly in python (around 8000 lines) and XSLT (around 1500 lines). The code is licensed under a BSD-style license and can be fetched from the Subversion server at http://svn.lagen.nu/svnroot/ - everybody who wishes to build a similar site, or just to find out how we have done certain things, are welcome to check it out.

Contact

If you have any questions, please contact staffan@lagen.nu

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