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Akoma Ntoso

Legislation: draftingLegislation: representationSearch: case lawSearch: legislation
Main research: March 2022


  1. What does it claim to do?
  2. Substantiation of claims & potential issues
  3. How might the end-user assess effectiveness?
  4. What form does it take?
  5. Is it currently in use?
  6. The creators
  7. Jurisdiction
  8. License

What does it claim to do?

Akoma Ntoso (AKN) is an open standard :markup language that defines a method for ‘tagging’ the structure and content of legal documents such that they are machine readable. The goal is to enable other systems to process such documents in more sophisticated ways than is possible with standard word processor files.

Claimed essential features

  • Makes the structure and meaning of legal documents machine-readable.
  • Facilitates interchange of documents across institutions and jurisdictions.
  • Allows precise citation and cross-referencing of documents.
  • Allows identification of the content of the law at a given point in time.

“Both the ‘meaning’ and ‘structure’ of every element in a parliamentary, legislative or judiciary document are available for all applications to access, thus providing the unprecedented opportunity to exploit the speed and accuracy of ICTs to manage, access and distribute such documents.” (What it is; archived)

AKN “…provide[s] a common legal document standard for the specification of parliamentary, legislative, and judicial documents, for their interchange between institutions anywhere in the world, and for the creation of a common data and metadata model that allows experience, expertise, and tools to be shared and extended by all participating peers, courts, Parliaments, Assemblies, Congresses, and administrative branches of governments.” (OASIS standard; archived)

Provides for: (i) “direct access to the document being referred to, regardless of type, jurisdiction, country, or emanating body”, (ii) “the specification of the existence, at a certain time, of more than one copy of the same document”, and (iii) “the possibility that references to resources not yet published on the web are present” (Purpose; archived)

”[AKN provides] ‘open access’ and advanced functionalities like ‘point-in-time’ legislation through standardised representations of data and metadata in the parliamentary and judiciary domain and mechanism for citation and cross referencing of legal documents to also improve data exchange and document life cycle automation.” (What it is; archived)

“Akoma Ntoso 1.0 includes a sophisticated mechanism to keep track of the life cycle and evolution of a legislative document.” (Schema; archived)

Claimed rationale and benefits

  • Enable greater access to legal information.
  • To provide a common model for parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents.
  • To facilitate time-tracking and archival of documents.

AKN “enables citizens to hold Parliaments accountable, stimulates greater efficiency and enhances democracy and transparency in the actions of parliaments and courts, thereby providing further safeguards to equitable justice and citizens’ trust.” (What it is; archived)

Despite differences in process, culture, history, and language, legal documents have “undeniable similarities”: “One of the main objectives of Akoma Ntoso is to be able to capture and describe these similarities so as to unify and streamline, wherever possible and as far as possible, the formats and software tools related to parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documentation, and describe processes in a similar way.” (OASIS standard; archived)

Claimed design choices

  • AKN is an open standard, usable by anyone.
  • Combines flexibility of natural language drafting with strict requirements for tagging documents.

    “Akoma Ntoso clearly separates data and metadata, thereby clearly distinguishing the contribution of the legislator (data) and the contribution of the author of the XML markup (metadata) … [it] imposes little or no constraints on data, letting the legislator write and organize the text matter as wished, but imposes a number of constraints on the metadata, forcing the markup author to provide all bits of information that are necessary to manage and organize the document.” (Method; archived)

    “Akoma Ntoso makes an explicit and complete separation between the role of authors (who take the responsibility for the content in terms of sentences, words, and punctuation – e.g. sponsor of an act) and that of editors (who physically write the text on the mandate of the author – e.g. attorney – and decide and organize the final layout and publication of the document).” (OASIS standard; archived)

    “The official [i.e. natural language] form is the guarantee of authorial intention”, separate from the “editorial process” of marking-up the text, naming elements, and adding metadata in the AKN version (OASIS standard; archived)

  • AKN’s core ontology (the ‘General Schema’) includes elements of most kinds of legal document out-of-the-box.

    “Akoma Ntoso explicitly supports each major type of document with specific provisions for individual characteristics.” (“legislation, debate records, parliamentary questions, judiciary proceedings, judgements etc.”) (OASIS standard; archived)

    “Names are used to associate the document representations to concepts so that documents can be ‘read/understood’ by a machine, thus allowing sophisticated services that are impossible to attain with documents containing only typographical information, such as documents created in word-processing applications… In Akoma Ntoso there are almost 310 different element names to select from, covering a large majority of situations encountered in any legal document.” (OASIS standard; archived)

  • The General Schema is applied to all documents and can be extended with ‘custom schemas’ that include new concepts and metadata.

    ”[The General Schema defines] the vocabulary of elements and attributes, as well as the minimal set of constraints that all AKN documents must adhere to” (Schema; archived)

    It is “fully descriptive, not binding the legislator but only the author of the markup, allowing him to describe as precisely as possible the actual structure of the document as approved and emanated by the Parliament” (Method; archived)

    “…the ontology is designed to be extensible so that parliaments and courts with different, or more specific metadata needs may add extra elements and qualifiers to meet their own requirements”, using namespaces particular to individual jurisdictions (on the latter, see Metadata conventions; archived)

    ”[Custom schemas] provide more constraints over the same vocabulary of elements and attributes depending on the wishes of their designers” (Schema; archived), e.g. to check “whether the document actually conforms to the existing legal drafting guidelines in each individual country” (Method; archived)

  • Designed to be interoperable across jurisdictions.

    “Although each Parliament and court system has its unique characteristics, all parliamentary democracies have a number of characteristics in common: Actors, Structures, Procedures, Acts and Information Processes are in many ways comparable. Akoma Ntoso defines common building blocks for these concepts in a single model that can be applied to all (or, at least, most) parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents.” (What it is; archived)


Substantiation of claims & potential issues

  • Akoma Ntoso’s default set of concepts may be inappropriate or insufficient for a specific jurisdiction or context of application. If left untailored, this could have implications if these are relied upon by other computational law systems that rely on document structure for their functionality (e.g. search).
  • Maintenance of Akoma Ntoso documents will be required to ensure that any relevant changes in the natural language meaning of a document (perhaps due to judicial interpretation) are reflected in the machine-readable tags embedded in it.
  • Maintenance may be required to ensure cross-references between documents are kept up to date, for example following legislative amendments or repeals. This is especially true where other computational systems rely on Akoma Ntoso tagging as an authoritative statement of the relationships between legal texts.

AKN representation

  • An example of of AKN representation can be found in Figure 1 below:

Figure 1: AKN representation of part of the Scotland Act 1998

Figure 1: AKN representation of part of the Scotland Act 1998

  • There are examples of many more legal documents from different juristictions and in different languages can be found on the official website.
  • AKN representation are used in various application, e.g. LEOS.
  • While the language is created to be able to format a wide range of legal documents, depending on purpose of coverting the documents into machine-readble format, such specific markup language might not be appropriate.


OASIS standard documents (v3.0, 2018)

Papers and chapters

Code repository

XML schemas (following standardisation, these are outdated):


How might the end-user assess effectiveness?

The OASIS standard (archived) provides full detail of how AKN representations can be implemented, independently and as part of some other system that will generate, process, and manipulate them. Whether or not a system that uses AKN, even implemented according to the standard, otherwise does what it says it will do is a separate question. The ‘proof’ will come from what is done with AKN: the tools that are built with it, and the subsequent affordances that the AKN representations provide.


What form does it take?




Re Component

AKN is “an open standard for data format”, which is distinct from the tools used to create documents that meet that standard. Such ‘editors’ will use AKN as a central component of their functionality (Method; archived), the editor being itself a Standalone system or Application (a prime example being LEOS), or perhaps another component (plugin) used in an application such as Word.

Note that the affordances of these applications differ from AKN itself; for example a ‘converter’ tool that automatically infers the structure of a standard legislative document before converting it to AKN (Method; archived)

Re Combination

The AKN ontology covers many generic concepts but can also be tailored to suit the vocabulary, concepts, and document types of a particular domain or context (as in e.g. AKN4EU and AKN4UN):

“To provide an implementable baseline for parliamentary, legislative and judiciary systems in institutions. It is envisaged that this will lead to one or more systems that provide the base layer of software “out of the box” that can then be customized to local needs.” (Method; archived)


Is it in current use?

The European Commission’s legislative drafting tool LEOS uses AKN as the underlying document format. The UK’s website publishes new statutes directly in AKN, e.g. (see the same in human-readable format at

Many other legislatures, executives, universities, and libraries are using it across the world (see Use cases; archived)


The creators

Created by



Started by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, originally intended as “a set of standards and guidelines for e-Parliament services in a Pan-African context” (M. Palmirani and F. Vitali. “Akoma-Ntoso for legal documentsLegislative XML for the semantic Web (Springer, Dordrecht, 2011))

Now actively developed by academics at University of Bologna (Luca Cervone, Monica Palmirani, Fabio Vitali).



Background of developers

Italy (University of Bologna), but historically the project was founded to assist e-government in African states.

Target jurisdiction

In principle all, including domestic, supra- and inter-national. Includes basic legal concepts and vocabulary but is extensible.

Target legal domains

In principle all that are covered by the defined document types (though these are extensible).



AKN is made available as an open standard, accessible to all (OASIS standard; archived). In principle anyone can write an AKN-compatible document, without any requirements in terms of permission or licensing. In this sense AKN is much like other XML-based technologies, such as HTML.

Other applications which integrate the AKN standard as a component will likely have differing license requirements.


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