Citations and Access to Judgments Workshop

April 30, 2000

Dr Philip Leith of Queen’s University Belfast is Chair ofBILETA and an SCL Council Member.

On 11 and 12 March a Citations Workshop was held in Edinburgh, organised byBILETA with the support of the SCL Scottish Group and SCRIPT at the Universityof Edinburgh and with sponsorship from Carfax Publishing, Lawtel and ReedElsevier.

BILETA are conscious of the problem of access to primarylegal information – particularly that of making the law accessible and coherent.One of the particular concerns which has arisen recently has been caused by thewealth of law which is becoming available on the Internet. Judgments are beingproduced and made available online and yet are subject to little coherentindexing. This is a particular problem when judgments – as is happening more andmore – are available across jurisdictions. For researchers, as well aspractitioners, the difficulty of citing these judgments requires a solution.

As part of BILETA’s support for the ‘Free the Law’campaign, we gathered together an eminent international group of experts todiscuss the subject of citations and electronic legal information. The expertsincluded judges, reporters, lawyers, academics and legal publishers. Topicsdealt with included neutral citation systems, intellectual property rights andnew technological developments in handling legal information. This reportconcentrates upon the first of these aspects – producing a ‘model’ system ofidentifying judgments which can be used and implemented trans-nationally.

Judgments are particularly problematical due to severalfactors:

  • many are unreported by the traditional legal publishers
  • the same judgment may be reported in more than one print or electronic location
  • courts are not always aware that judgments will be read outside their own jurisdiction
  • there may be several instances of a judgment, the last of which is the valid document.

The Citations Workshop therefore considered these matters andsuggests that courts who wish to encourage access to their judgments shouldconsider following ‘best practice’ in appending a neutral citation to theirjudgments and also consider numbering paragraphs within each judgment.

The addition of a vendor and medium neutral citation does notaffect the judgment in any way – it simply adds an identifying method which canbe utilised by researchers, lawyers or publishers. It is a relatively simpletask which enormously improves the accessibility of that judgment – in futureyears, or in other jurisdictions, the judgment can be specifically referred towith ease.

Paragraph numbering also offers huge advantages for smalleffort. The same document can be viewed in different versions in print or onscreen and the reader can be guided to the same element within the judgment inall these different viewing forms. The addition of paragraph numbers can behandled automatically by most word processing software by means of‘templates’.

Finally, we suggest that courts should consider setting up aRegistry for decisions. This location would hold a digital copy of the finalversion of an approved judgment, which would be accessible in electronic format.There are several ways in which this might be done, but which are not dealt withhere. However, it should be noted that any Registry may be physically within thecourt or outwith the court. A Registry offers the court confidence that anyjudgment being cited will be the correct version of the judgment.

A formal resolution on the matter, which indicates bestpractice for the courts, was decided by the Workshop. Its full text can beviewed at