As is my wont, I made a book to illustrate this. Physical objects are useful props in debates like this: immediately illustrative, and useful to hang an argument and peoples’ attention on.
James Bridle is probably best known as the artist who first articulated ‘The New Aesthetic‘, but he has run many projects on books and technology. His project ‘The Iraq War‘ is a favourite of mine – the entire Wikipedia Edit History of the ‘Iraq War’ article, from 2005-2009, which stretches to twelve volumes. He’s also the creator of a Book of Tweets.
James’ projects are the inspiration of one of my own – The Defamation Act 2013: Complete & Unabridged. It collects together, in chronological order, every single parliamentary document published during the passage of the recent reform of our libel law. These include the various versions of the Bill (which I have previously published in a spliced together version, ‘Tracked Changes in the Defamation Bill‘), the parliamentary Hansard transcripts of the debates; and the amendment papers.
The two volumes, ‘The House of Commons‘ and ‘The House of Lords‘ together run to 1149 pages and are available to purchase online in both hardback (Volume I, Volume II) and paperback (Volume I, Volume II). I have also created a free PDF version that you can view or download via Scribd.
All the documents are already easily available online… so why assemble these printed volumes?
First, I wanted a physical demonstration of the sheer number of words that went into this piece of legislation. The online versions of the text do not convey the detailed scrutiny that the Bill was subjected to by Parliament. This is an important point to make, because the Defamation Act 2013 has recently been characterised by its opponents as a knee-jerk response to a media-led campaign. The books I have created are an argument against such a charge.
Second, the verbosity of Parliament is, in my opinion, an argument in its favour. Legislating is time consuming, painstaking and thankless. These are features, not bugs, of the parliamentary system.
Third, there is a virtue to collecting all the parliamentary papers together in a single place. Judges routinely refer to parliamentary debates when deciding how to interpret the law. I hope these books, or at least the PDF, will be of practical use to jurists and lawyers.
Finally, the two volumes of The Defamation Act 2013: Complete & Unabridged are a memento of the Libel Reform Campaign. The coalition of citizens and civil rights groups, lead by Index on Censorship, Sense About Science, and English PEN, built a grassroots movement that succeeded in changing the law of the land. That is something to be proud of, and I am pleased I have physical objets to mark that achievement.
Perhaps other people may wish to produce similar books for other pieces of legislation? For example, what newlywed same-sex couple would not wish for a full record of the passage of The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, the law that enabled their union?