E-Legislation: Law-Making in the Digital Age

By Howes, David | McGill Law Journal, November 2001 | Go to article overview

E-Legislation: Law-Making in the Digital Age


Howes, David, McGill Law Journal


This article takes a communications approach to law. The author argues that the formulation, dissemination, and reception--as well as doctrinal notions--of legislation are shaped by the prevailing mode of communication. Three such modes are distinguished: oral, print (or typographic), and digital (or electronic). The doctrine of legal positivism is shown to derive from a text-based communications order. The legislative ideals associated with this doctrine, such as generality, promulgation, clarity and absence of contradiction, and top-down authority, all reflect the imprimatur of the printed text. In pre- and post-typographic (i.e. oral and digital) communications orders, the predominant legislative values are flexibility, participation and accessibility, contextuality, and multicentric authority. These tenets are summed up by the notion of legal interactivism. The author shows this notion to be motivated by the ubiqulty, multisensoriality (or organicity), and instantaneous-interactive quality of communication in both the oral and digital modes. It is for this reason, the author argues, that the best way to envision the future of legislation is by recurring to the model of law in pre-modern oral societies. Two such models are presented--the corporeal model of the Inca Empire and the gastronomic (law as feast) model of the Witsuwit'en--and their implications for conceptualizing lawmaking in the digital age are discussed.

L'article examine le droit en adoptant une approche du champ des communications. L'auteur soutient que les modes de communication dominante modelent la formulation, la dissemination, la reception ainsi que les notions doctrinales de la legislation. Il distingue trois de ces modes de communication : l'oral, l'impression (ou la typographie), et le digital (ou l'electronique). La doctrine du positivisme juridique decoule de l'ordre des communications fonde sur les textes. Les objectifs legislatifs de cette doctrine telle la generalite, la promulgation, la clarte et l'absence de contradictions et l'autorite hierarchisee representent l'imprimatur des textes imprimes. Dans les ordres de communications pre et post-typographiques, c'est-a-dire l'oral et le digital, les valeurs legislatives predominantes sont la flexibilite, la participation et raccessibilite, la contextualite et l'autorite multicentrique. L'auteur etablit que la notion d'interactivisme juridique, resume par ces doctrines, est justifiee par l'ubiquite, la multisensorialite (ou l'organicite) et la qualite instantanement interactive dans les formes de communications orale et digitale. L'auteur suggere ainsi que referer au modele de la loi des societes orales pre-modernes constitue la meilleure facon d'envisager l'avenir de la legislation. En presentant deux modeles de ces societes, soit le modele corporel de l'Empire Inca et le modele gastronomique des Witsuwit'en (la loi en tant que festin), l'auteur explicite leurs consequences pour la conceptualisation de la legislation a l'ere digitale.

Introduction
I.   Charting Cyberspace
II.  Legislation in a Digital Age
III. The Cyber-Village
IV.  Governing the Electronic Tribe or Feasting on the Law
Conclusion

Introduction

This article explores the iconic implications of the materiality of legislation, or law's "embodiment" as digital versus printed text in the network era. With Desmond Manderson, I am interested in how one can "illuminate both the meaning and force of law" by being "sensitive to the form and imagery of legal texts." (1) Framing the issue of law's expression in this way puts the medium through which legal norms are communicated before the articulation of the norms themselves in what can prove to be a highly instructive manner. As regards electronic communication, for example, digital texts may be seen to evoke a different understanding of authorship and authority from printed texts. Digital texts have the potential to be interactive, whereas there is no back and forth between sender and receiver with printed texts. …

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