Building the Links between Law

March 1, 2000

The number of organisations who have come to supportthis project demonstrates that even at the end of the 20th century, access tolaw is not as easy as it should be. This is primarily because of the diversenatures of the legislating and case reporting processes – vast amounts ofinformation being produced like buckshot from a gun barrel. The Free the Lawcampaign will impose a more coherent framework upon this – siting it in onevirtual location, with one coherent interface.

However, there are other problems which lie in storeand which those who really want a ‘Free Law’ will also have to attend to.For example:

  • much of the useful law is copyrighted and is commercial property: how will the publicly available information (eg judgments) be able to integrate with the privately owned information such as case reports?
  • there is a huge amount of digital legal information about to come online, as the courts in the UK move towards online filing and handling of digital documents: what parts of this will be useful to lawyers and how can it be made accessible and meaningful?
  • the computer has for some time been seen as a potential solution to the ‘problem of legal access’ – storing, searching and publishing information – but what current IT developments are underway which might build on the great success of the WWW?
  • since we no longer live in an isolated jurisdiction, how can we integrate UK legal information with that from other countries – both common law and European.

One of the main ways of looking at these problems is tosee how we index, cite and impose a logical structure upon our law and legalinformation. The new IT technologies mean that we have to expand our methods andthinking to produce solutions for the digital legal system.

In order to examine some of these questions in aninternational framework, BILETA, supported by SCL and SCRIPT at the Universityof Edinburgh, will be holding a ‘Citations Workshop’ in Edinburgh on 11 and12 March. This will bring together those who are active in the use of, researchin and publishing of legal information. Speakers include:

  • Jon Bing, University of Oslo. Professor Bing’s early work in the field of legal information retrieval was formative, and he continues his interest in using technology to make law accessible.
  • Michael Fanning, Director of European Development at Reed Elsevier Legal Division, who was previously Director of Legal Information Services with LEXIS-NEXIS and who has wide-ranging expertise in providing legal information to the European legal profession.
  • Lynn Foster, University of Arkansas. Professor Foster is a member of the Citation Formats Committee of the American Association of Law Libraries. Her talk will relate to obstacles to citation reform.
  • Bruce M. Kennedy, University of Toledo, is a law librarian and member of the Citation Formats Committee of the American Association of Law Libraries.
  • Philip Leith, Queen’s University of Belfast, researches in IT and law and IP rights and will discuss the ownership of legal information.
  • James McMillan, National Centre for State Courts, US. James McMillan is Director of the National Center for State Courts Court Technology Laboratory and is particularly concerned with electronic filing systems.
  • HHJ Sean Overend is an English judge with a developed interest in access to legal information. He has written on citation systems, and will present one judicial view.
  • Daniel Poulin, University of Montreal, is a central participant in the Canadian neutral citation project and also a researcher in the field of IT and law.
  • Robin Williamson, Director of the digital law publishers, CONTEXT, will look at the publisher’s needs in accessing digital legal information.
  • Erich Schweighofer, University of Vienna, has a history of research and writing on citations and conceptual indexing of information in the civil law tradition.
  • Henrich Stjernquist is database manager for CELEX.

The goal of the Citations Workshop is to initiateinternational co-operation in the development of means of accessing law. Withoutthese kinds of methods, it will be more difficult to Free the Law and toencourage the linking of private and public forms of legal information. Theworkshop is open to all those who have an interest in legal information -legislators, legal academics, lawyers, judges, civil servants, legal publishers,law librarians, and information scientists researching in the field. Theworkshop will ultimately provide an opportunity to influence governmentalthinking about the important topic of legal information in the 21st century.

Fuller details are available at the BILETA Web site, information from Lesley Morrison, SCRIPT Administrator, University ofEdinburgh. Fax: 0131 650 6317; Phone: 0131 650 2014, e-mail: fee is £100 (academic) £130 (profession), including a workshop dinner atthe Duke of Hamilton’s country house, Lennoxlove. There is also a much reducedfee for students.