Cross-posted from Binary Law.
It is ironic that BAILII, which came into being to free the law, has been called out recently for restricting access to the law.
A Guardian editorial in September criticised the status quo in relation to the publication of court judgments and called for more open access. In so doing BAILII came across as the villain of the piece rather than the saviour of free law which most lawyers know it to be. Nevertheless, the editorial did raise valid questions about free and open access to case law which deserved answering. I asked Sir Henry Brooke, retiring chairman of the BAILII trustees, for his response to those questions and the resulting article is now published online on the Society for Computers and Law site.
Why does the MoJ release judgments through a contract with BAILII? Why does BAILII not allow search engines to index its judgments? Who owns copyright in judgments? Why does BAILII forbid reproduction on other sites? Sir Henry answers all these questions in some detail. But we are left with the question: Is free law enough – are we not entitled to open law? And if we do believe in open law, how do we get there?
(1) See now the expanded post in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers.
(2) See also Judith Townend and Lucy Series response to the Open Data consultation.
BAILII is fundamental to free access to UK law. It’s future is in jeopardy.
A major funder has decided not to continue funding BAILII, and there is uncertainty about the continuing provision of funding by other major funders.
A quick analysis of the current sources of funding shows that the vast majority of funding comes from a handful of large donors.
As at 31 July 2010 there were 150,128 solicitors on the Roll and in December 2009 the number of barristers in England and Wales that held practising certificates was 15,270. If BAILII was funded at just £1 per lawyer, its future would be secure. If BAILII can tap into the generosity of only 10%, then £10 per lawyer is needed.
Why not, as an individual lawyer, give £10 or more now? Or persuade your firm/organisation to stump up £10 per lawyer. Simples.
I’m disappointed that we have had so little feedback on the FreeLegalWeb pilot service to date as we had real enthusiasm for the initial concept and a good number of subscribers to the original blog, attendees at the BarCamp and signups to the Google group.
Please take just a few minutes to think about the project and how you can engage with it and help promote it and move it forward.
Firstly, please do use the site in earnest for a bit and let us know whether you think it’s a useful service with potential (for lawyer or lay users) and broadly what’s lacking or what you’d like to see from the site. Bear in mind that at this point it’s a pilot site and the principles of the project are more important than the detail of the execution.
Please give us your feedback and thoughts on the project by writing or commenting on the FreeLegalWeb blog and/or your own blog and/or on Twitter. All publicity is good publicity; if we can revive the public discussion about what we want from a free legal web, then that would be a great start. If you need help posting to the site, see the Author Guide.
We put considerable effort into trying to raise funds during 2009 but the tide of austerity turned against us and for the moment we must carry on for the love of it.
I’m more than happy to carry on developing and curating content for the site; it will be easy enough to expand it beyond the initial Housing Law focus, but it’s only worth doing that if I get your feedback and can see where we’re headed.
Robert Casalis at UniRom will continue to maintain the legislation and case law data and make some progress with developing the Citator functions which will join it all up.
Harry Metcalfe and team at the Dextrous Web developed the custom WordPress interface but we’ll need funds to develop the functionality of the site further.
As to the organisation, I’m happy to keep the ship afloat but what we really need is help with networking/marketing/fundraising. Everyone can play their part by engaging in the blogosphere/Twittersphere, but if you’re game to help seriously move this forward or know of anyone who might be interested, let me know.
A big thanks to UKSC blog for contributing their case comments to FreeLegalWeb.
UKSC blog brings together barristers at Matrix Chambers, solicitors at Olswang LLP and wider contributions from academics and other interested parties to report the work of the UK Supreme Court in a suitably 21st century style. The editors, Hugh Tomlinson QC, Matthew Ryder QC and Anthony Fairclough of Matrix, and Dan Tench, Oliver Gayner and Laura Coogan of Olswang, invite any interested parties to contribute to debates on the blog.
Their case comments are considered analyses of recent UKSC judgments from this expert panel and so represent some of the best possible legal commentary available on the free legal web.
Thanks to Rob Richards for the invitation to publish and to Elizabeth Pratt for the editing.
VoxPopuLII is a guest-blogging project sponsored by the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School. It presents the insights of a the very diverse group of people working on legal informatics issues and government information, all around the world. It emphasises new voices and big ideas.
Cornel LII is a not-for-profit group that believes everyone should be able to read and understand the laws that govern them, without cost by:
- Publishing law online, for free.
- Creating materials that help people understand law.
- Exploring new technologies that make it easier for people to find the law.
It is a small research, engineering and editorial group with collaborators including publishers, legal scholars, computer scientists, government agencies, and other groups and individuals that promote open access to law, worldwide.
I’ve been following the development of Law.Gov – a proposed distributed repository of all primary legal materials of the United States. How much in line with our thinking is this initiative and what can we learn from it?
Law.gov believes that “the primary legal materials of the United States are the raw materials of our democracy. They should be made more broadly available to enable an informed citizenry.” and that “governmental institutions should make these materials available in bulk as distributed, authenticated, well-formatted data.”
And they’ve won $2 million from Google to help them do it.
Law.gov defines primary legal materials as “documents of primary authority issued by governmental bodies, such as court opinions, statutes, and regulations. They also include the supporting documents and other media issued and maintained by those bodies, such as dockets, hearings, forms, oral arguments, and legislative histories.”
How does this square up to our thinking?
First, of course, we agree that primary legal materials should be more freely available in bulk as distributed, authenticated, well-formatted data!
In the UK we are fortunate that statutes and regulations are now thus freely available from legislation.gov.uk. There is a way to go in bringing it all up to date, but the National Archives (incorporating OPSI) have done a fantastic job delivering this now as open, linked data.
As to court opinions, unfortunately …
There is no definitive view on whether court judgments are Crown copyright. Although OPSI, following advice from the Treasury Solicitor, take the view that copyright in court judgments rests with the Crown, in that judges are officers or servants of the Crown and their judgments are delivered in the course of their duties, this is not a universally held view and it can be argued that judges act independently of the Crown and that copyright in court judgments rest with individual judges. (Bar Council)
Nevertheless, BAILII has done a grand job cajoling the courts and others and building a free access resource which may be lacking in its archives but which is as comprehensive as possible in its ongoing accessions.
But, while the free availability of these primary legal materials may ultimately “enable an informed citizenry”, it is up to third parties to make this happen – to extract value from and add value to the primary data.
As to what Law.gov means to its US audience, there’s a great post by Jason Wilson on his rethinc.k blog, with loads of links to related discussion about the “cool tools” that will be deployed to mine these materials.
But what’s lacking from the discussion is the role of secondary legal materials – the articles, commentary and analysis that make sense of the raw law and that are essential to inform the citizenry.
Since late July we have a shiny new official home of UK legislation at legislation.gov.uk which replaces the two current services at OPSI.gov.uk/legislation and statutelaw.gov.uk. Some functionality currently available on SLD is not yet available on legislation.gov.uk, including full content search, geographical extent and point in time advanced search options. This functionality will be added in a series of releases and once all features of the new service have been implemented the two predecessor sites will be withdrawn. Already OPSI legislation URLs are being redirected to the equivalent legislation.gov.uk resources.
legislation.gov.uk combines and integrates:
- the “as enacted” versions of legislation from OPSI, immediately on enactment
- the revised versions of legislation from the SLD, as and when available, complete with all versioning and annotation information
- the tables of effects data maintained by the SLD, linking past legislative provisions to relevant amending provisions
- the explanatory notes, integrated with the relevant legislative provisions
The interface provides simple and direct browse access to legislation by type, year and number and simple or advanced searches to locate matching legislation. The point-in-time features are not yet fully implemented, but just tag a date on to the end of a URL in the form /yyyy-mm-dd for a point in time view.
Any piece of legislation or legislation fragment can be addressed reliably and simply via the URI scheme and any list of legislation can be delivered as an Atom feed.
The service is delivered by the the National Archives (of which OPSI is part) with John Sheridan, Head of e-Services and Strategy at the helm. John describes the development in an article on VoxPopuLII from the Cornell LII.
We had two objectives with legislation.gov.uk: to deliver a high quality public service for people who need to consult, cite, and use legislation on the Web; and to expose the UK’s Statute Book as data, for people to take, use, and re-use for whatever purpose or application they wish.
There’s more about the technical project and the people behind it from Jeni Tennison, technical lead and main developer (at TSO).
With the new service up and running we can now more reliably and precisely tap into and leverage legislation resources using its API.
Congratulations to John, Jeni and team and thanks and for their support and encouragement for FreeLegalWeb.
You may be aware that a couple of weeks ago FindLaw UK launched. FindLaw is a Thomson Reuters Business and we could thus dismiss it out of hand as a cynically commercial site; but it has been competently and professionally put together.
FindLaw professes to help “consumers” understand the law:
Looking for legal information? In legal trouble? Learn About the Law is your starting place for help understanding the law. An online resource for up-to-date legal information about common topics such as will preparation, divorce and “no win, no fee”; and specific legal issues related to child custody and redundancy.
However, most of their articles are straight copies from direct.gov or other public sector websites, giving fairly basic advice on “life events”. And while there’s some value in the selection and presentation of these articles, they don’t go very far in helping one understand the law.
The FindLaw “Solicitor” blog is competently written legal news and the forum elicits sensible answers from the FindLaw team.
But ultimately FindLaw UK is designed to churn out “good” content which will be well regarded by Google, attracting punters who won’t find answers on the site but many of whom will ultimately use the Contact Law (or other) service on the site thus earning FindLaw commissions.
I’m uninspired but I think we can learn something from what they present to their particular market niche. What do you think?
A warm welcome to Andrew Keogh who has kick-started the Criminal Law channel here.
Andrew is a solicitor specialising in criminal law. He is the author of a number of leading texts and is part of the Blackstone’s Criminal Practice editorial team. Andrew also publishes CrimeLine Updater, a free weekly criminal law update. For more see the CrimeLine site.
Andrew is contributing to FreeLegalWeb original case notes and articles. He has also offered the content of the extensive CrimeLine Wiki that developed on his site. Direct public access to that has now been withdrawn but we’re hoping to find appropriate ways to plunder its resources.