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What is Codification?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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Codification is a process in which laws are organized in a logical way. Governments are continually adding to the law and amending existing laws. This means that viewing laws purely chronologically could quickly become daunting, especially in countries with legal systems which are very old. Codification allows laws to be gathered together in groups which can be bound in a codex or law book, allowing people to look up specific areas of the law much more easily because similar laws are grouped together. The codification process is continuous and can also be accompanied by recodification, which is periodically necessary to clean up existing legal codices.

One way to present laws is in the form of session laws, which are arranged in chronological order. In fact, most governments do maintain session laws because they provide an important record of when legal changes were made and can be valuable historical documents for people interested in studying the history of legislature and the law. However, looking up specific areas of the law in session laws can be a nightmarish task when laws and their amendments may be separated by considerable timespans, and other laws which pertain to them may be scattered elsewhere in the text.

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Hence, most governments also codify. When laws are codified, they are grouped together under specific chapters, titles, and so forth within the law so that they can be found, and any amendments and changes to the law are attached directly to it in the codex during the codification process. In recodification, redundant, outdated, and erroneous laws are struck from the books so that the codex contains a clear, cohesive grouping of laws which do not contradict each other.

The process of codification can be time consuming. Usually when new laws are proposed, lawmakers note the area of the code into which they should be inserted so that once they are passed, they can be easily codified. Likewise, new case law also references the areas of the code affected so that it can be codified and cross-referenced. Because law books are continuously updated with changes and new laws, they must also be regularly reprinted so that people have access to the latest legal standards and statutes.

Legal scholars participate in codification, as do people who perform research for legislators to help them determine where new laws need to be inserted. Many governments have established electronic law databases which allow people to access the most recent version of the law, and these databases are an increasingly popular alternative to costly physical codices which need to be routinely replaced.

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