BAILII the Charity

April 30, 2001

Laurence West-Knights QC brings readers up to date on the progress of BAILII.

Whilst as at the time of writing users may have noticed no major changes to the site, a great deal is currently happening.

First, new Trustees have been invited to join the board of the incorporated Charity, BAILII – John Mee from University College Cork, Alan Paterson from Strathclyde, Jules Winterton of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London, Paul McRandal, Resident Magistrate, Northern Ireland, and Andrew Mowbray, the co-director of AustLII. They, in combination with Lord Justice Brooke, as Chairman, Lord Saville (SCL’s newly-elected President) and myself, will be taking the project into its new and defining phase.

Secondly, now that the formal Charity exists, pledgers of funds have been asked to make good their pledges, both the far-sighted individuals and smaller contributors and the larger ones. Of the latter group, to date, the SCL, the Bar Council and Jordans the publishers have paid over their promised funds, as have many of the smaller and personal sponsors. It is hoped that the others will be in a position to make their contributions shortly, once we have satisfied any outstanding concerns they may have.

Next, it will be appreciated that the invaluable kick-start which AustLII gave to the project by setting up the site was done on a volunteer basis, one which could not be expected to last for as long as it did. Finally, AustLII decided that they had ‘done their bit’ on a free basis.

Now that the Charity is set up and funded, and operating on a proper footing, it has been able to make a substantial payment to AustLII in respect of the work during last year, and it has also made a further interim payment on account of current work, pending detailed discussions once all the Trustees are fully onboard.

The site is at present well behind on the most important cases of practical use: handed-down judgments from the Court of Appeal. These are currently being supplied courtesy of Smith Bernal, to whom the project continues to owe its considerable thanks – direct supply of such cases by the Court Service at the Royal Courts of Justice threw up all sorts of things that pilots are designed to flush out and remedy, and work is in hand on that. The process of bringing, and keeping, the site up to date will be part of the work ahead. One direct result of the project has been the new Practice Direction on neutral (or as we prefer to say ‘Court Designated’) citation. Lord Justice Brooke, SCL’s recently-retired President, wears a remarkable number of hats, and a new one is that he has now been appointed by the Lord Chief Justice as the ‘judge in charge of modernisation’ – the Charity is fortunate indeed to have him as its Chairman.

I have always said that the process of making dreams into reality is in the end a deeply practical one, and now starts the process of turning a fledgling and volunteer pilot into something which must and will be completely reliable, accurate and rigorous as to quality control.

A major part of that work will be to ensure that materials are fit to be loaded directly on to the system, and there is much to be done here, particularly in England and Wales, in helping the various sources of ‘data’ to provide materials in a consistent and error-free form. The more that this is achieved at source, the less the Charity will have to spend – both on bringing the source material into shape, and on correcting errors on the site.

Let us not forget that the SCL has been absolutely instrumental in bringing about the sea-change of attitudes surrounding free access to the law – the existence of a site on the WWW such as is now taken as read in any government paper that you will see on the subject of the future of access to law in these islands – and there is owed to the SCL a huge debt of thanks for work undertaken over many years. That said, and I always seem to end with a caveat, the Charity will continue to need all the support that SCL and others can offer – there is no room for complacency. There is still a great deal to be done, but we will get there. And when we do, I hope and trust that we will have created a lasting legacy for the future.

Laurence West-Knights QC, Joint Chairman, SCL.