The challenge

Can a machine interpret and apply legal texts?

Legislation is often difficult to interpret, and it can be even more difficult for digital systems to abide by these rules. The challenge was to understand how and whether rules of logic can be applied to allow a machine to interpret and apply legal texts.

Our response

Research and evaluate

We aimed to evaluate whether the use of digital legislation (i.e. human-understandable and machine-processable rules) was both understandable by stakeholders (drafters, business analysts, developers), and whether it can reduce the time needed to deploy and improve the quality of such systems.

We analysed legal documents (Acts and regulations) to check whether they were representable in DDL, and analysed the complexity of the modelling procedure. We also hosted a two-day workshop with stakeholders, to present the logic and the encoding process, where we tested the response of the stakeholders to the approach. We simultaneously investigated some technical features concerning the computational complexity (efficiency) of the approach and how to reduce it to make the approach more efficient.

Law books

The results


The end user was able to directly model legislation in DDL, without needing to use an intermediate step to structure the underlying legislation. The logical rule can also be understood as a business rule and implemented directly in an information system.

If drafters are aware of digital logic, they can write the legislation in a way that is more amenable to be (semi)automatically translated into digital logic (if not written directly in DDL). In extensive discussions with legal drafters, some improvements were also suggested and added to the logic, so that it can more accurately and naturally represent the intent of the legislation.

We have improved the technology to evaluate compliance, such that the computational complexity is reduced, leading to significantly faster performance.

Currently, there is an ongoing project between Data61 and QUT Law school on the formalisation of Commonwealth Legislation, taking into account modern interpretation standards, and to evaluate the encoding against existing jurisprudence (cases) to assess the validity of the approach.

A further opportunity would be to collaborate with legal drafters and encode a piece of legislation at the same time the legislation is drafted, to determine the effort and cost of such an approach. This is partially covered in the project with QUT.

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