Free Online Access to The Archive of Parliamentary Debates
(The Handsard): 1960-to the Present Time
In Partnership with:
- Kenya National Assembly
- Google Kenya
- Kenya ICT Board
Who is the National Council for Law Reporting?
It is a state corporation under the Judiciary. Its mandate is to publish the Kenya Law Reports (which are Kenya’s official reports of the decisions of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Kenya), to revise and publish the Laws of Kenya and to publish such other related publications.
What is the big news?
Kenyans now have free online access to the historical and current records of the debates of the Kenya National Assembly and previous parliaments or legislatures dating as far as 1960 and coming forward to 2011. This comes close on the heels of digitizing over 100 years of the Kenya Gazette.
What is contained in these records?
The records contain the debates of the various legislatures of Kenya, i.e., the pre-independence Legislative Council (popularly known as the Leg-Co), the post-independence House of Representatives and subsequently, the Kenya National Assembly. Such records are officially referred to as the Hansard.
What is the Hansard?
The Hansard is the name given to the official records of parliamentary debates. The term is used mostly by Commonwealth countries which have a parliamentary system descended from or modeled on the English/Westminster system.
What is the relevance of these records?
The records contain information of enormous value to Kenya’s social, legal and political heritage. From the parliamentary debates capturing the transition to internal self government to the birth of the Republic of Kenya; from the declaration in 1952 of the Mau Mau as an unlawful society to the lifting of the declaration in 2003. The records are an invaluable repository of knowledge and information on Kenya’s governance. Citizens can now easily search, access and cross-reference contextually relevant information on parliamentary debates on matters affecting their constituency or a matter in which they have a particular interest. Legal scholars and judicial officers can now easily research the historical context in which certain laws and policies were passed by parliament.
Where have the records been?
These records have been previously available to the public in paper form as part of the public records of the Kenya National Assembly and the Kenya National Archives. However, because they were preserved in paper form, public access to them was limited. The Kenya National Assembly has since 2007 been digitally recording its proceedings and providing free access to them through its website www.parliament.go.ke.
How did the records become available online?
The pre-2007 records were available exclusively in paper form and therefore access to them was limited. The National Council for Law Reporting in conjunction with the Kenya National Assembly converted these paper records into digital documents and then used Google’s unique indexing and search engine technology to provide access to them on a platform that makes it easy to search and browse through the records while retaining their original look and feel.
This is one of the initiatives of a project aimed at improving citizen access to public legal information involving the National Council for Law Reporting, the Kenya National Assembly, the Kenya ICT Board and Google Inc.
How complete are the records?
At the time of this announcement, the earliest edition of the Hansard collected and indexed was the Report of the Fourth Session of the Debates of the Legislative Council dated March 22, 1960. Recent editions are also available. Earlier editions dating back further than 1960 are indexed and included in the collection as and when they are obtained.
What about current and future records, will they be continuously provided on the portal?
The portal has been established to provide the historical content of the Hansards, the bulk of which was prepared and preserved exclusively in paper form. The portal is a unique platform for enabling easy access to and cross-referencing inside a stockpile of scanned paper documents. Since current and future records are generated and distributed as computer documents, they can be provided on a different online platform that provides even more functionality and better access. This new platform for the current content is what the National Council for Law Reporting and its partners in this initiative are working on. However, until this new platform has been developed and adopted, current records of the Hansard will be provided on this portal.
What makes the online platform on which these records are provided unique?
It is a robust hosting, indexing and browsing solution for documents, books and magazines, in the cloud. Through state-of-the-art OCR (object character recognition) technology, historical issues developed with typewriters or in image formats now have their text indexed and fully searchable. This exposes readers to information they might not otherwise find, in the same visual format that the documents exist.
How accurate are the records?
The records are actual representations of the original paper records from which they were derived.
Are the records copyrighted?
The records of the debates of Parliament are public information. They are published by the Government and provided freely to its citizens. There are no restrictions on the use of this content.
Can one download, print and save the records?
Not at this time. However, users will be able to copy and share a link to any record in the archive or by using the ‘print-screen’ feature on a computer, to print a frame of the content that is displayed in the screen at a particular time.
How much money did this initiative cost?
The only direct costs for the initiative was the professional fees incurred by the Kenya National Assembly and the National Council for Law Reporting in converting the paper records from paper to digital files. This cost was approximately Kshs. 2 million. In addition to this, each partner provided key technical knowledge and labour input, particularly Google Inc in freely indexing the content and developing the technology platform on which the content could be easily searched and shared online.
More information about the initiative:
Name of the initiative: Open Access to Public Legal Information
While Article 35 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 establishes the citizen’s right of access to public information, actual access to public legal information is limited by among other factors, the nature of the platforms on which this information is deployed.
The creation, management and deployment of Kenya’s public legal information (the Laws of Kenya; Judicial Opinions; the Parliamentary Hansard; Legal Notices; Gazette Notices; Bills of Parliament and Treaties & International Instruments) is not predicated on a common standard that would allow easy citizen access to the information using current and emerging technologies.
Considering the diversity of the institutions in the public legal information domain, there is need to adopt a shared, open, semantically rich and technology-neutral standard to improve data reuse, exchange, document life-cycle automation and standardized representations of data and metadata.
Enhancing the capacity of the National Council for Law Reporting to establish it as the focal point institution in the management and deployment of public legal information;
Providing free public access to legacy public legal information on a search-friendly user interface and as a quick win;
Developing and implementing an open, interoperable and technology-neutral standard for the management of current and future public legal information.
The agencies involved and their roles
The National Council for Law Reporting – convener of the reference group and implementation leader;
The Kenya National Assembly – implementing agency and content provider;
Government Press – implementing agency and content provider.
Kenya ICT Board – resource support through the Kenya Transparency Communication Infrastructure Project (TCIP);
Directorate of e-Government – technical advise on approaches and standards in e-government;
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs – UNDESA – Africa i-Parliaments Action Plan - Technical advisor on the development on open, open, semantically rich and technology-neutral standards for parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents.
Google Inc – indexing and search technology partner.
National Council for Law Reporting
Transforming Legal Information into Public Knowledge
Credits, National Council for Law Reporting:
Siphira Gatimu · Martin Andago · Lameck Oyare . Michael Mayaka · Nicholas Okemwa · Michael M. Murungi · Musembi Kasavu