Expert opinions, TECHNOLOGY

Machine — readable law: the future in the present

The Government Commission on Digital Development approved the Concept for the Development of Machine—Readable Law Technologies — a document defining the state and directions of the introduction of digital technologies into legal activities. You can get acquainted with it by link. Consider the main characteristics of this phenomenon, the remarkable processes that it helps to mediate, as well as the main positive and negative aspects of machine — readable law.


Today, the profession of a lawyer and other specialists working with the text of legal norms cannot be iimagined without the use of various legal reference information systems. Many decisions related to law are made with the use of such systems, and they have earned confidence among professionals and have become the main tools for making various decisions, whether it is filing a lawsuit, concluding a contract, preparing analytical material and much more.

Machine — readable law technologies largely change the quality of legal activity and work with legal documents, when the basis is the use of digital technologies to translate text into machine—readable form, into a computer program algorithm, into program code.

The basis of the work on the translation of the legal text into the information and technological framework is the identification of its normative content, all possible meanings of words, as well as forms of confirmation of the performing or imperfection of various actions of people described in the texts, compliance with the requirements for material objects, as well as intangible phenomena. At the same time, the legal texts themselves can be formed by conducting a preliminary analysis of the validity by the information system (computer program) and describing them in text form or by deriving certain dependencies on the basis of which legal texts can be formed.

It is important to note that a number of domestic information systems already allow you to design contracts, lawsuits, statements, and other legal texts automatically. Analytics of judicial and other law enforcement practices are also carried out using digital technologies.

The following characteristics of machine — readable law can be distinguished as a phenomenon that already exists and develops:

  • processability of legal norms;
  • algorithmization of legal norms;
  • use of the information system;
  • legality of machine—readable law.

The first characteristic — processability — is that the rules of law should be described in the form of various facts or documents, which can be further confirmed using digital technologies, or the rule itself should be developed clearly and accessible: all the necessary components and logical links can be distinguished. For example, compliance with the contract for the carriage of a passenger can be confirmed by a geolocation mark on an electronic map at the destination, however, objective difficulties exist with confirmation of the solemnity of the marriage ceremony. The use of evaluation concepts and categories in legal texts is itself a problem for their application, and not only within the framework of machine — readable law.

The second characteristic — algorithmization — is a description of legal norms as rules of behavior of people through program code associated with other algorithms and programs that provide the logic embedded in the behavior rule. That is, the implementation of the machine — readable law itself is performed by one or more algorithms. An example is enforcement proceedings, where one algorithm — informing a citizen about the presence of debt — launches another algorithm — online payment of debt, and upon receipt of payment information, the main algorithm stops its work.

The third characteristic — the use of a special information system — is determined by the fact that the work with the law is carried out in a certain format and with established data requirements, and the data cycle itself takes place in a special software shell. As a rule, a machine — readable law information system is an open type system, that is, it allows receiving and processing information coming from other information systems, as well as a developing system, that is, it allows introducing new functions and capabilities. A typical example is the technology of identifying the likely outcome of a court case, which has grown on the basis of legal reference systems.

The fourth characteristic — the legality of machine — readable law — manifests itself as the recognition of the information system of machine — readable law by the parties for execution, and such recognition can be both voluntary and mediated by the contract or norm in the contract, and mandatory — mediated in a normative legal act, while the normative legal act itself can eventually offer the opportunity not to use digital technologies. As an example of a voluntary type of information system we can consider internal corporate legal systems that mediate actions with documents containing labor law, notifying about the publication and content of employer orders, familiarizing employees with them using an electronic signature, and a mandatory system — a unified information system in the field of procurement.

The main directions of possible and existing application of machine — readable law technologies are given in the Concept of development of machine — readable law technologies.

Let’s look at some new social processes (both legal and managerial), for which the use of machine — readable law technologies can become an impulse for external and meaningful change.

Legal information is of great importance as a special process. Today, knowledge about the enactment of law norms, their modification and termination, about the procedure for actions in accordance with them is a guarantee of the qualitative realization of law, observance of the rights and freedoms of citizens and legal entities.

Digital technologies in legal information are most widely used in public administration in the form of various registers available in digital form, the receipt of information from which can report the presence or absence of rights or powers of a subject of legal relations, the application of liability measures to him, court cases involving him and much more. In the activities of lawyers and organizations providing legal and/or audit services, this practice is called due diligence (legal due diligence): it can be conditionally called a “legal audit” or “comprehensive legal audit,” where information obtained from an ever—increasing number of public and municipal registries plays a large role.

Particularly interesting is the possibility of using machine — readable law technologies to prepare various descriptions of the proper procedure for legal entities, including in the form of schemes. At the same time, changing the content of law will also change the scheme, which significantly simplifies the outreach of public authorities, consumer information and many other activities related to the provision of legally significant information. It is noteworthy that the schemes as a form of informing citizens about the procedure for necessary actions at one time found application in regulating the procedure for the provision of public services, when block diagrams were attached to the relevant administrative regulations.

The next process where machine — readable law technologies are actively used is control and supervisory activity, which is currently undergoing reform.

Machine — readable law technologies allow monitoring of various indicators of the economic activity of controlled persons, for example, by obtaining information from sensors installed at production facilities. This allows you to respond both quickly to deviations from permissible values ​ ​ of safety indicators, and effectively plan inspections, as well as expand the areas of implementation of remote forms of inspections, reducing the number of field inspections.

In turn, artificial intelligence technologies can allow you to study remotely the content of corporate acts, for example, to take into account the requirements of labor legislation. Technologies related to the analysis of legal texts have great potential for dissemination in control and supervisory activities.

An important issue remains the implementation of checklists, the filling of which can automate the technology of machine — readable law, using various hints and previously identified information about the person under control, object, production, which can also lead to the development of proposals for determining the measures of responsibility and regulations for the inspector to choose from.

In general, machine — readable law technologies are most actively developing within the framework of the general task of reducing the number of inspections by using digital technologies that do not require personal visits by inspectors of controlled persons. Such a goal makes control and supervision activities the most suitable area of ​ public activity, where it is possible to introduce the technologies under consideration both in experimental and in constant order.

It is advisable to complete a review of the directions of introducing machine — readable law technologies into legal activity with highly significant work on systematization of law, which requires focused work on the analysis of a large array of legal texts contained in various sources of law.

The key issue of the systematization of law was the search for links between various legal instruments and their parts, which was already being carried out in information legal systems, facilitating the day — to — day work of lawyers. At the same time, the use of machine — readable law technologies can automatically offer options for changing the norms of related documents, if changes have already been made to one of them. Further development of technologies may lead to the possibility of developing options for changing related documents already at the stage of designing changes to the main document, for example, a set of draft changes to the laws of the subjects of the federation when changing the federal law, etc.

The preparation of codified documents, accompanied by the replacement of many documents by one, faces the issue of overcoming duplication of legal norms, both in form of complete duplication and meaningful, inaccurate reproduction of law. This is allowed by the technologies we are considering, working with the texts of legal documents, their logic and the connections between them, the search for synonyms.

An equally important area of ​ ​ introducing the technologies under consideration into the systematization of law is the analysis of the prevalence of various legal relations, which makes it possible to justify the need to introduce new rules, change or repeal existing rules. Thus, statistical, survey, expert data, data from public and municipal information systems make it possible to deepen the elaboration of legal proposals within the framework of the systematization of law.

Like any phenomenon common in social life, machine — readable law has a number of positive and negative aspects that we would like to highlight.

The positive aspects of machine — readable law are related to the legal side of the process of introducing digital technologies into legal activities.

The most important positive phenomenon is the increase in the objectivity and validity of various legal actions, which is achieved using large amounts of data, statistical and other information. At the same time, the importance of the work of lawyers and specialists is not diminished, and even receives a new aspect — the role of the analytical component in their work increases.

Another positive phenomenon is the significant reduction in the length of legal processes, the length of work of lawyers and specialists, which can be achieved by automatic filling out of various documents, simplifying the flow of documents, and quickly informing about legal facts.

The third positive phenomenon is the increase in the accessibility and comprehensiveness of legal documents, which can be achieved in general by the need to consider in advance the possible algorithmization of legal norms, to overcome the duplication of legal norms, not using blurred categories and concepts, since all this is difficult to use in conjunction with machine — readable law technologies.

The negative aspects of machine — readable law are largely related to its technical and technological components.

The most problematic side is the high dependence on the technical state of the information infrastructure, called in the expert environment the “chopper problem.” Destruction or interruption of power supply to data storage and processing devices, disconnection from computer networks, including the Internet, and similar cases actually cease the very existence of machine — readable rights or minimize the functionality of information systems.

Another negative side is the high importance of digital information, leading to an increase in the role of the so—called “digital profiles” of citizens and legal entities. With conscious or unconscious deletion of digital profiles, the subject of law ceases to exist for the information system. This problem is referred to by experts as “digital user death.”

A third negative party is the problem of possible unauthorized access to information systems, disclosure of personal data and direct harm to the interests of participants in legal relations.

In conclusion, it should be noted that machine — readable law technologies have already been firmly incorporated into legal activities (in the broad sense of the word), which necessitates their constant improvement and wide dissemination.

By Artem Yudkin, director of ANO DPO “National Center for Advanced Training and Competencies”

Previous ArticleNext Article