N-Lex launch, May 2006

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Publication Date 2006
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N-Lex launch
N-Lex, previously known under the working title of Nat-Lex, was launched officially at the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting on 28 April 2006. This long-awaited resource will facilitate direct access to national legislation implementing EU directives. It is accessible now at the new style address {http://eur-lex.europa.eu/n-lex}. The database is being opened on an experimental basis as work is still on-going. The information is not yet complete for all countries nor is it available in all the eleven languages currently offered. It may for example only be available in English or in the language of the country selected.
The database offers a standard search template for twenty-two of the member states, excluding Cyprus, Hungary and Latvia where no suitable free online source of legislation is available at present. From the menu of countries on the left of the screen, links are provided to the key national sources and to general background information about the legal system. Although the format of the search screen is the same for each country, not all fields are accessible in every case. Most commonly the document number and date fields are greyed out, leaving title or text as the only access points. This is unfortunate as the document number, traceable through the national implementing measures information in EUR-Lex, would be the most reliable search route. Whatever language the search template is in, it is essential to use terminology in the language in which the national legislation has been published. Help is on hand for those challenged by the language barrier as both the text and title field offer the possibility of using the Eurovoc thesaurus to translate search terms into the required language. Simply click on the Eurovoc link next to the field, enter the term in your own language into the search box, select from the list of Eurovoc descriptors offered and their equivalent in the language of the country you are searching in will be displayed. Click on the relevant term in the target language and it will automatically be inserted into the search template.
However working with search terms in an unfamiliar language in this way may not produce reliable results. One way to make the search more precise is to search for the EU directive number in the text field. Implementing measures refer to the originating directive in their text so a string search such as “1999/63*” – with truncation - can be entered. On the French site, for example, this will pick up the reference to Directive 1999/63/CE transposed by Loi 2004-237 and the full text of the French legislation can be displayed.
N-Lex is by no means the perfect solution. It relies on the availability of free online national databases of legislation which meet certain technical standards. How complete these national sources are varies considerably from country to country but those countries which accept the online legal text as authoritative tend to have more complete access to the full body of their legal texts. Other countries may have shorter back runs available. The other main issue relates to stability and the difficulty of managing access to twenty-two (and more) sources under the control of national authorities who may change or upgrade their own platforms at any time. Ideally, from the user perspective, a live hyperlink from the implementing measures details in EUR-Lex would be the ultimate solution and this is what the EU-Lex project has been working on. The technical issues there have proved even more complex than for N-Lex so in the meantime N-Lex provides a very welcome source of improved access to this important aspect of legal information.

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