This page reflects the position as was up to December 2012.
We have a thriving web of free-access legislation, judgments and other materials on OPSI, the Statute Law Database, BAILII and government websites, and thousands of useful free guides, articles and updaters published by solicitors, barristers, law firms and private and third sector law publishers. But it is incomplete and unreliable and it is not joined up – it is not practically accessible.
FreeLegalWeb is a project designed to deliver a web service that joins up and makes sense of the law and legal commentary and analysis on the web, providing a substantially more reliable, useful and efficient service to both lawyers and the community at large than is currently available.
The law is not practically accessible: it is difficult to identify, obtain and understand legal resources, and they are frequently out of date. Whilst it is reasonable to expect legal advisers to invest in the necessary services to inform themselves, commercial services are becoming increasingly unaffordable for the less affluent law practices and third sector advice bodies. For the non-lawyer, the law is all but impenetrable and solving legal problems and resolving disputes is in practice affordable only to the rich or those who are eligible for some kind of state support.
FreeLegalWeb will develop and provide a free access web service that will use modern technologies and networking techniques to acquire and encourage ongoing user-generated content and combine this guidance with better, joined-up access to the law itself as published on public sector and other public access sites.
FreeLegalWeb will benefit all who require better, affordable access to the law and legal guidance, providing a wide-ranging public and community service:
- It will benefit lawyers and other advisers in the private and third sector, providing more affordable access to the law and legal guidance.
- It will benefit the public sector, supporting the government’s Access to Justice and Digital Engagement agendas and helping departments and agencies deliver in their key policy areas.
- It will benefit the public generally by simplifying access to the law.
The project was initiated by Nick Holmes of infolaw and is now supported by numerous individuals and organisations who have already given time and effort to help develop the original concept. Participants who have contributed thus far include solicitors and barristers, law students, public and private sector legal information specialists and several connected with the mySociety information democracy project. Most of these already publish law or law-related materials themselves.
FreeLegalWeb is a Community Interest Company with the following objects:
To facilitate efficient free public access to primary law sources and legal procedures and to accurate and reliable expert legal commentary and other resources and promote a better understanding of the law by the public by providing an internet service using appropriate technologies inter alia to
- Leverage maximum value from legislation, judgments and other public information
- Enable and encourage the contribution of authored materials
- Organise and interlink these resources
- Enable and encourage the participation of users
Nick Holmes is a publishing consultant specialising in the legal sector. He is Managing Director of publishing services company infolaw Limited and webmaster and principal consultant for infolaw. He has experience since 1978 in law publishing, specialising in the processing and management of legal data and resources. He consults on all aspects of legal information publishing and the use of the internet by lawyers. His company infolaw provides a range of legal information and publishing and marketing serives for lawyers and their suppliers. He founded the FreeLegalWeb project in October 2008.
Robert Casalis de Pury is Managing Director of UniRom Systems Ltd, with wide experience in management consultancy, publishing and knowledge management. A Cambridge graduate, fluent in French with a broad multi-disciplinary technical background, developed from a range of jobs in the oil service industry and more recently in the publishing sector. He has experience co-ordinating multidisciplinary technical teams, providing business solutions. His company UniRom is a specialist publishing and knowledge management services business primarily focussed on the legal and STM sectors.
The idea has the full support and co-operation of the Cabinet Office, via its Digital Engagement Team. FreeLegalWeb was one of 14 winners in the Power of Information Task Force’s recent ShowUsABetterWay competition which sought the best ideas for leveraging public information. Of the 14 winners, FreeLegalWeb is one of only three that are not geo-based and the only one that directly addresses the needs of a professional community (as well as the needs of the public sector and the lay community). The Digital Engagement Team has assisted in moving the project to its present Beta Release stage.
OPSI has been facilitating the project as part of its POI brief and also as regards the provision of data and know how in relation to legislation. OPSI is now also contributing funds for ongoing development.
BAILII has been facilitating the project as regards the provision of data and know how in relation to judgments.
The project also has the strong support of Professor Richard Susskind whose vision of “a Wikipedia of English law” articulated in 2006 provided the inspiration. FreeLegalWeb will help empower citizens and provide an accessible legal information system — two of the core building blocks in improving access to justice Susskind describes in his recent book The End of Lawyers?
Other significant supporters include the Open Knowledge Foundation and mySociety.
The proposed service
In essence, the FreelegalWeb service will:
- Provide guidance on the law via a user-generated database of articles
- Act as a hosted publishing platform for lawyers to showcase their expertise, with full author control over article management and licensing
- Give an indication of the authority of articles by profiling authors
- Automatically connect articles to primary law resources
- Maintain a comprehensive citations database, automatically updated from public access sources
- Provide direct access to relevant primary law and all related resources via a Citator
A number of organisations and individuals are already voluntarily contributing time and effort to developing the first phase of the project.
Amongst data providers we have the co-operation of OPSI in respect of legislation resources and of BAILII in respect of judgments meta data. We will be seeking the co-operation of other law report publishers to obtain meta data so that we can build as complete an index of all published law (whether on- or off-line) as possible and where appropriate build links to their resources.
CaseCheck has agreed for us to syndicate its extensive database of case summaries which now includes case summaries from Law Brief Update.
A significant part of the project is to encourage ongoing user-generated content. Most legal authors write for the recognition, not the money (if any) and all those who publish free access legal articles do so for the exposure and “Google juice”. FreeLegalWeb will provide authors with an easy to use publishing platform for creating and maintaining their publications, for showcasing their expertise and for gaining professional recognition. Many authors do not currently have such a platform readily available. For those that do already publish articles on their own website or that of an affiliated organisation or other third party publisher, FreeLegalWeb will offer an alternative, complementary channel for promoting their expertise.
A number of Housing Law authors have been invited to contribute and are providing the core content for the initial Beta Release.
See the Contribute pages for fuller information about contributing content to FreeLegalWeb.