UPDATE: Legal Information Institutes and the Free Access to Law Movement
By Graham Greenleaf, Philip Chung and Andrew Mowbray
Graham Greenleaf AM is Professor of Law & Information Systems at UNSW Australia, and Co-Founder, AustLII.
Dr Philip Chung is Associate Professor of Law at UNSW Australia and Exective Director, AustLII.
Andrew Mowbray is Professor of Law and Information Technology, University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), and Co-Director, AustLII.
Published February 2018
Table of Contents
- 1. Prior to Free Access to Legal Information
- 2. Overview: LIIs, FALM, and Free Access to Law
- 3. Initial Development of LIIs 1992-2000
- 4. The “Law via Internet” Conferences
- 5. The Free Access to Law Movement (FALM)
- 6. FALM Policies and Aims
- 7. LII Networks
- 7.1. The WorldLII Consortium
- 7.2. The LawCite Citator
- 8. Funding Models for Independent Free Access to Law
- 9. Internet Search Engines, “Open Content” and LIIs
This article surveys the group of free access providers of legal information known as “Legal Information Institutes” (“LII”s), their organisation, the Free Access to Law Movement (FALM). It is not therefore about free access to law generally, but rather about a particular group of its providers who collaborate. Each LII is linked when first mentioned but not on all subsequent occasions. This article updates a 2008 archival version, and where appropriate includes links to parts of that version that need not be repeated here.
1. Prior to Free Access to Legal Information
Since the mid-1990s the Internet’s World-Wide-Web has provided the necessary technical platform to enable free access to computerised legal information. Prior to the web there were many online legal information systems, and numerous legal information products distributed on CD-ROM, but there was no significant provision of free access to legal information anywhere in the world. Both government and private sector online legal publishers charged for access. The web provided the key element required for free public access - a low cost distribution mechanism. For publishers it was close to a “no cost” distribution mechanism if they were not required to pay for outgoing bandwidth. The ease of use of graphical browsers from around 1994, and the web’s use of hypertext as its principal access mechanism (at that time) meant that the web provided a simple and relatively consistent means by which legal information could be both provided and accessed, an attractive alternative to the proprietary, expensive and training-intensive search engines on which commercial online services largely relied. The development of free access Internet law services was based on these factors.
- Greenleaf G “Jon Bing and the History of Computerised Legal Research – Some Missing Links” in Torvund O and Bygrave L (Eds) Et tilbakeblikk på fremtiden (“Looking back at the future”) 61-75, Unipub, Oslo, 2004
- Bing J “Let there be LITE: a brief history of legal information retrieval” (2010) European Journal of Law and Technology
2. Overview: LIIs, FALM, and Free Access to Law
In many countries the first parties to exploit the advantages of the web for providing legal information, during the 1990s, came from the academic sector rather than government, and they did so with an explicit ideology of free access provision. Within a few years of the first legal information institute in 1992 the first group of such organisations became known collectively as “legal information institutes” or “LIIs”, and those expressions became synonymous with free access to legal information. An expanding group of free access to law providers started to collaborate, initially through the “Law via Internet’ Conferences every year or two from 1997, and from 2002 through an informal organisation, the “Free Access to Law Movement” (FALM).
Two distinguishing characteristic of the “LIIs” (whether or not they use that name), in the sense that the expression is used in this article, are that (i) they publish legal information from more than one source (not just “their own” information) for free access via the Internet, and (ii) they collaborate with each other through FALM membership. FALM also includes many members that differ from this description of LIIs (as discussed later).
“Legal information institute” (or “LII”), as used here, therefore refers to a subset of the providers of free access to law, namely those from across the world who have decided to collaborate both politically and technically. After 25 years of development, these LIIs, taken together, continue to be the most coordinated and among the largest providers of free access to legal information, but they are far from alone in providing free access to legal information. This article is not about “free access to law” per se, but about a particular grouping of providers of free access to legal information.
A further subset of a dozen or so LIIs, most conveniently described as “the WorldLII consortium” (as discussed later), collaborate more closely than simply through FALM membership. They collaborate (to varying degrees) through data sharing networks or portals, technical networks for security/back-up purposes, shared technical tools and a shared law citator.
3. Initial Development of LIIs 1992-2000
Three LIIs played key roles in early developments: the LII (Cornell), AustLII, and CanLII/LexUM. Further details of the history of each of these LIIs to 2008 are in the archive version of this article.
The Legal Information Institute was started at Cornell University Law School in 1992 with a number of databases primarily of US federal law (particularly the US Code and US Supreme Court decisions). “The LII”, as it became known, was the first significant source of free access to law on the Internet, and demonstrated that a free access service could provide both a high quality of document presentation, and very high rates of access. The LII has not attempted to develop comprehensive US State and Territory databases, but has focused on federal primary resources (Constitution; U.S. Code; Code of Federal Regulations (CFR); Supreme Court; and Federal Rules). Other resources developed by the LII include Wex, a user-generated legal dictionary and encyclopedia; an Annotated Constitution; and a Supreme Court Bulletin.
- Martin P “25 for 25: 1 Legal Academic + 1 Technologist + 1 Sun Box = An Institute?” VoxPopuLII blog, LII (Cornell), 30 January 2017
- Bruce T “25 for 25: Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away...” VoxPopuLII blog, LII (Cornell), 17 January 2017
In 2000 the LexUM team at the University of Montreal, which had published the decisions of Canada’s Supreme Court on the Internet since the early 1990s, built the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII), acting on behalf of the organisations of the Canadian legal profession. CanLII quickly became a very large multi-jurisdictional and bilingual national LII comprehensively covering Canada’s federal and provincial jurisdictions. LexUM initially used the Sino search engine but soon adopted the open-source Lucene search engine and other development tools. CanLII hosts over 300 databases, almost entirely of legislation and caselaw. Its CanLII Connects facility provides many thousands of commentaries on Canadian court decisions by some hundreds of contributors.
- Poulin D “25 for 25: So, it’s been 25 years. The LII, its descendants and their future” VoxPopuLII blog, LII (Cornell), 10 February 2017
- Poulin D “Free Access to Law in Canada” (2012) 12(3) Legal Information Management, pp. 165-172
- Poulin D “Open Access to Law in Developing Countries” First Monday Vol. 9, No 12, 6 December 2004; presented at 5th Law via Internet Conference, AustLII, Sydney, 2003
The Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) was started by two Law Schools in Sydney, Australia, in 1995. It borrowed the “LII” suffix from Cornell, as others have done since. By 1999 it had developed databases from all 9 Australian jurisdictions covering key providers of case law, legislation, treaties and some other content. AustLII’s initial significance was that it was the first attempt in any country to build a comprehensive national free access legal information system rivaling that of commercial publishers. The Sino search engine developed by AustLII was always a shared LII resource, and has been open source since 2006. From 1999 AustLII started to use its search engine (Sino) and other softwares to assist organisations in other countries, usually with academic roots, to establish LIIs with similar functionality (see “The WorldLII Consortium” below). In relation to Australasia, AustLII (including NZLII) provides (as at November 2017) nearly 800 databases, including 850,000 decisions, and 65,500 journal articles and other items of commentary. Its databases cover, as well as legislation and caselaw (from 1788), over 100 law journals and scholarship repositories, and all law reform reports and treaties. The AustLII Communities facilities include content developed and updated by organisations and user groups external to AustLII, including “law handbooks” and textbooks.
- Greenleaf G “25 for 25: AustLII 1995: What did we think we were doing?”VoxPopuLII blog, LII (Cornell), 24 February 2017
- AustLII Annual Reports 2007-
- Greenleaf G, Mowbray A, King G and van Dijk P, “Public access to law via internet: the Australasian Legal Information Institute”, Journal of Law & Information Science, 1995, Vol 6, Issue 1
4. The “Law via Internet” Conferences
The "Law via Internet" (LvI) Conferences preceded the establishment of FALM by five years, although subsequently operated by FALM. They have been the principal means by which cooperation between LIIs has been established. Conference procedures and guidelines were adopted by FALM in 2015.
The list of LvI Conferences shows that they have been held in most years since 1997, with the 17th LvI being held in 2017. Where available, links to conference programmes, and photos, are provided. The first LvI was hosted by AustLII in Sydney 1997, as were the 2nd (1999), 3rd (2001) and 5th (2003). LexUM/CanLII hosted the 4th (2002) in Montreal, which is when FALM was established and the Declaration on Free Access to Law adopted. French organisations (as FrLII) hosted the 6th (2004) in Paris, PacLII the 7th (2006) in Vanuatu; LexUM/CanLII the 8th (2007) in Montreal; ITTIG the 9th in Florence (2008); SAFLII the 10th in Durban (2009); HKLII the 11th in Hong Kong (2011); the LII (Cornell) the 12th in Ithica (2012); JerseyLaw the 13th in Jersey (2013); SAFLII/Kenya Law/AfricaLII the 14th in Cape Town (2014); AustLII once again for the 15th in Sydney (2015); Cylaw the 16th in Limassol, Cyprus (2016); and Rutgers Law Library the 17th in Newark NJ (2017).
Many of the conference papers are available online via the LVI Conference web sites, as listed on the FALM website. They comprise a considerable resource on legal information systems. FALM resolved in 2015 to consolidate these and other papers into one database of LvI papers on WorldLII, but this has not yet occurred. Since 2012, conference papers have also often been published in the Journal of Open Access to Law (JOAL).
5. The Free Access to Law Movement (FALM)
The Free Access to Law Movement (FALM) is a loose affiliation of free access to law providers. It meets annually if possible during the “Law via Internet” Conference, and by email between Conferences. The first sustained attempt to build some form of international network took place at the at the LII Workshop on Emerging Global Public Legal Information Standards hosted by the LII (Cornell) in July 2000, involving participants from the US, Canada, Australia and South Africa. The expression “WorldLII” was first used there to describe a collaborative LII portal. FALM was then formed at the 2002 LvI Conference in Montreal, and adopted the Declaration on Free Access to Law, sometimes called the “Montreal Declaration”, and available in 17 languages. The 2002 founding members of FALM were (in alphabetical order) AustLII, BAILII, CanLII, HKLII, Lexum, LII (Cornell), PacLII, and SAFLII (then Wits Law School), with WorldLII as their common portal. The Declaration has had some amendments since 2002 in Sydney (2003), Paris (2004), Montreal (2007) and Ithaca (2012).
5.1. Membership Growth and Geographical Scope
FALM currently has 63 members (November 2017), listed on the FALM Members page with links to each member’s website. Following its 2002 foundation, growth was initially slow (only 5 new members in the first five years), the averaged 6 new members per annum for the next seven years to 2013, and since then has slowed to an average of two new members per year.
The geographical scope of the content that these members publish is as follows: Africa (20 members); Europe (12); Asia (9); Oceania (Australasia and the Pacific) (6); North America (5); Latin America (2); and Global (9). Members in the “Global” category are based in many different locations, but the scope of the information they publish is inherently global with no geographical limitations (see “Global” classifications on the FALM Members page).
The early histories (to 2007) of the first 23 members of FALM are in the 2008 archival version "Part II: A-Z of Legal Information Institutes". No similar histories of the current 60 members are possible for this update.
The proliferation of small LIIs in countries all across Africa (although the majority are in anglophone countries) is very striking. Its 20 LIIs cover 40% of Africa’s 51 countries. The Southern African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII) (2003) publishes legal information from South Africa and seven other southern and eastern African countries (Angola, Botswana, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, and Tanzania), and some regional institutions. SAFLII also provides searches over the content of seven other LIIs from the region, giving a total of 15 countries searchable from SAFLII. The LIIs searchable from SAFLII are SeyLII (Seychelles), LESLII (Lesotho), MalawiLII (Malawi), SwaziLII (Swaziland), ULII (Uganda), Zambia LII (Zambia), and ZimLII (Zimbabwe) All seven of these LIIs use the “LII in a Box” facility developed by AfricanLII.
- Ward R “Building Free Access to Law in Africa: Some Examples of Successful Projects” (2014) 14(4) Legal Information Management, pp. 290-300
- Rainha P “The Southern African Legal Information Institute at Crossroads” Law via Internet Conference Proceedings, HKLII, 2011
- Kerr J “Mobile Access to the Law in Africa-Developing an eGrey Book for the Seychelles” (2015) J. Open Access L., 2015
In the Pacific Islands a different model has resulted in fewer LIIs than in Africa, but coverage of as many countries. The Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute (PacLII) provides comprehensive geographical coverage of legal information from all 20 jurisdictions in the region. Only three of these jurisdictions have wished to operate their own LIIs as well as being part of PacLII – SamLII (Samoa), RONLAW (Nauru) and LIS-FSM (Federated States of Micronesia).
- “PacLII - Who and What are We?” PacLII website
- Hamilton L “Social Media and the Tyranny of Distance - Pacific Access to Legal Information” (2013) 1(1) Journal of Open Access to Law (JOAL)
- Blake R “Islands in Time: The Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute (PACLII)” Proc. 4th Law via Internet Conference, Montreal, 2002
The British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII), one of the largest and earliest (2000-) LIIs, is also multi-jurisdictional, as it includes the UK, England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland, plus decisions of the highest European courts. St Helena is the only UK territory included. The content of a separate LII, the Jersey Legal Information Board (JLIB) is also included. BAILII is operated by the BAILII Trust, and based at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS), University of London.
- Ury J “Ten years of BAILII”Internet Newsletter for Lawyers, May 2011
- Leith P and Fellowes, C “Enabling Free On-line Access to UK Law Reports: The Copyright Problem” International Journal of Law and Information Technology, Volume 18, Issue 1, 1 March 2010, Pages 72–93
- Leith P “BAILII – Towards a National Law Library?” Legal Information Information Management Volume 7, Issue 1, March 2007 , pp. 42-45
- Joint Evening Meeting - Free the Law (transcript) 2000 (1) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT)
The smallest FALM footprints are in Latin America, with only two members, and in the Caribbean, Middle East and Central Asia, where there are no members.
- F Galindo “Free Access to the Law in Latin America: Brasil, Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay as Examples” in Peruginelli and Ragona (eds) Law via the Internet: Free Access, Quality of Information, Effectiveness of Rights (European Press Academic Publishing, 2009)
5.2. Membership Criteria and Types of Members
Initially, the criteria for FALM membership were not defined, but essentially involved adherence to, and support of, the Declaration and activities similar to (but not necessarily identical with) existing members. In 2015 formal membership criteria were adopted by FALM. They state that FALM members are involved in significant activities facilitating free access to one or more types of “public legal information” (PLI). Members must fall within one or both of those who are free access (re‐)publishers of PLI, and those who facilitate other organisations to (re‐)publish PLI for free access. Detailed criteria for each of these categories, with examples, are given.
Members who fall within the category of facilitating free access publication by others include Institute of Legal Information Theory & Techniques (ITTIG) in Florence (the first such FALM member), Publications Office of the Netherlands (UBR|KOOP) (major developer of European neutral citation standards), CIRSFID in Bologna (developers of the Akoma Ntoso standards, described as “XML for parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents”), UAB Institute of Law & Technology (IDT) in Barcelona, Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI), Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations (Cardiff Index), LexUM (long-established Canadian developer of free access resources) and Taiwan Legal Information Institute (TaiwanLII) (comparative law research and translation tools). Most of the FALM members in this category come from the civil law tradition (and mainly from Europe as well).
By comparison, most of the FALM members involved in large-scale publishing of free access content come from the common law tradition (both US and UK varieties). Many are mentioned elswhere in this article, but other signficant examples include The LawPhil Project (LawPhil) (free access to Philippines law since 2001), Laws of South Africa (legislation), and KenyaLaw.
All members must also comply with nine other general criteria, of which the most important are that “if a Member publishes PLI, then all PLI it publishes should be available for free access”, “a member must not impede others from obtaining public legal information from its sources and publishing it”, and members must be organisations, not individuals, and apply on the basis of current activities, not proposals. These criteria rule out publishers that have paid services, as well as free PLI services (“freemium” models), publishers of monopoly-based “authorised reports”, and government bodies and courts that restrict free access republication of some PLI (no matter how much they otherwise publish for free). Lack of impediments to republication of government information, or freedom to republish official sources, has always been at the heart of LIIs and FALM.
The initial membership of FALM was drawn primarily from LIIs based in academic institutions, and such members still amount to more than half of FALM’s 63 members. Membership later expanded to include some government-based members (eg the Kenya Law Reports, a semi-government body), and a few commercial organisations (eg Lexum, the Canadian company which built and maintains CanLII). Other examples of such memberships are in the formal membership criteria, as are the above-noted impediments to many such memberships.
Membership of the FALM is normally by invitation, with members nominating new candidates, although self-nomination is rare but possible. Consensus of existing members is required, but will now be guided by the formal membership criteria. Nomination procedures were also adopted in 2015. There is an in-person FALM meeting held conjointly with each LvI Conference, and since 2011 Minutes and meeting photos have been published. Otherwise, FALM operates via an online mailing list of members. The FALM Secretariat of nine or less members, consisting of three past and future conference hosts, an editor of the FALM-affiliated Journal of Open Access to Law (JOAL) and four or five co-opted members manages FALM business between LvI meetings, guided by a set of Administrative Procedures. Any substantive decisions must be ratified by the members’ mail list.
5.3. Free Access to Law Outside FALM, and Future Prospects
At the time of formation of FALM in 2002, its handful of members still provided a large proportion of the free access to legal information available globally. By the 2008 archival edition of the this article, it documents how this had already changed radically, mainly because of the explosion of government provision of free access to legal information, such that FALM “only includes a minority of the organisations who are potentially its members.”
As at the end of 2017, the Free Access to Law Movement still only includes a minority of the organisations who are potentially its members, and whose involvement could make it more significant both politically and technically, and it is a decreasing minority. The geographical scope of the FALM is as yet far more limited than the spread of free access to law as an idea and a reality, being concentrated on the Anglophone and Commonwealth countries, plus limited parts of the francophonie, and some parts of Asia. While Africa is well-covered (mainly but not solely from anglophone countries), Latin America, the middle East, and the states of the USA are not yet involved to any significant extent. FALM has made some headway in civil law countries in the EU, but little beyond that. While the global expansion of free access to law should be counted as a success for the ideals and the influence of FALM, it is also a challenge for a movement which is potentially global but only to a limited extent in practice. Whether FALM and the development of independent LIIs has yet reached its maximum impact depends largely on FALM finding ways to increase both its membership and its significance, while retaining its goals.
The principal aims of FALM remain those set out in the Declaration on Free Access to Law. They are both demands for free access, and aims of mutual cooperation and standard-setting.
6.1. Demands for Free Access – What They Mean
The core value of FALM is the demand in the Declaration that civil society organisations, such as LIIs, “have the right to publish public legal information” and the complementary demand that “government bodies that create or control that information should provide access to it so that it can be published by other parties”. These are not just policies, but assertions of rights and demands addressed to public authorities.
According to the Declaration, public legal information (PLI) “means legal information produced by public bodies that have a duty to produce law and make it public. It includes primary sources of law, such as legislation, case law and treaties, as well as various secondary (interpretative) public sources, such as reports on preparatory work and law reform, and resulting from boards of inquiry. It also includes legal documents created as a result of public funding”. The Declaration adds that “publicly funded secondary (interpretative) legal materials should be accessible for free but permission to republish is not always appropriate or possible. In particular, free access to legal scholarship may be provided by legal scholarship repositories, legal information institutes or other means”. The breadth of PLI creates the very broad agenda for free access that is the basis of FALM.
Other aspects of the Declaration are that FALM members should provide “free and anonymous public access” to PLI, where “anonymous” can be taken to mean “free from surveillance”, whether surveillance by LIIs themselves (via logins or other means), or by targeted advertising through search engine surveillance. “Free access” here means “free as in freedom”, not only “free as in beer”.
The brief policy aims stated in the Declaration have been expanded upon by other organisations that have goals consistent with FALM, and the Declaration has adopted and included two sets of these more sophisticated statements by its 2012 amendment: “The parties to this Declaration also support the principles stated in the “Guiding Principles” on State obligations concerning free access to legal information developed by an expert group convened by the Hague Conference on Private International Law in October 2008, and the “Law.Gov principles” for “the dissemination of primary legal materials in the United States” developed in 2010 by Public Resources.org.” These principles are explained in:
- Greenleaf G, Mowbray A and Chung P, “The Meaning of “Free Access to Legal Information”: A Twenty Year Evolution” (2013) 1(1) Journal of Open Access to Law (JOAL).
6.2. Co-operation and Standards
The second main aim of FALM is the provision of assistance by its members to organisations who wish to provide free access to law in countries where that has not yet occurred. This has very often been successful, as discussed elsewhere in this article. FALM members also provide mutual support to organisations already providing free access to law who wish to join FALM. The Declaration recognises “the primary role of local initiatives in free access publishing of their own national legal information”.
A third aim stated in the Declaration is that of collaborative networking of LII resources: “All legal information institutes are encouraged to participate in regional or global free access to law networks.” As the Declaration puts it, the aim is “To cooperate in order to achieve these goals and, in particular, to assist organisations in developing countries to achieve these goals, recognising the reciprocal advantages that all obtain from access to each other's law.”
The main activities of FALM, in light of these aims, have been sharing of software, technical expertise and experience on technical issues and on policy questions such as privacy issues.
6.3. “Neutral Citation” Standards
A signficant achievement of FALM’s members has been to encourage and initiate the adoption of a common standard for citation of court decisions across much of the common law world, and in some other jurisdictions as well.
In common law countries, there is widespread common usage of the same, or similar type of “neutral citation”, also sometimes called a “LII citation”, applied to decisions at the time the court or tribunal first makes them available. The most widely-used format is “[<year of publication>] <designator> <sequential number>”. The “designator” is an abbreviation for name of the Court or Tribunal (either designated by it, or applied by the LII with its agreement – see AustLII example), and the sequential number is that of the decisions available for publication from the Court for that year. So “ HCA 1” was the first decision of the High Court of Australia for 1998 released for publication (and in fact the first decision published using this system). This method of neutral citations for decisions published on most LIIs and is used, for example, by AustLII, BAILII, PacLII, SAFLII, and NZLII, and for the case databases originating on CommonLII, AsianLII and WorldLII, and a similar neutral citation method is used by CanLII. In Australian, UK, Irish, and Singaporean Courts, and New Zealand’s Supreme Court, this method of citation has been adopted officially by the Courts. The expressions “neutral citations” or (in most cases) “Court-designated citations” can be used to describe these citations. Whether or not they have been officially adopted by courts, most LIIs have also unilaterally applied neutral citations to the decisions they publish, as publishers usually do, and in some cases have retro-fitted them to collections of old cases.
- Mowbray A, Greenleaf G and Chung P “A Uniform Approach for Vendor and Media Neutral Citation - the Australian Experience”, Citations Workshop: strategies for accessing law and legal information Edinburgh, Scotland - 11th & 12th March 2000
- Wikipedia “Case citation” – see references to “neutral citation” and examples from many jurisdictions.
The Declaration encourages FALM members to participate in networking of LII data. BAILII, PacLII and SAFLII were multi-country regional LIIs from inception, but did not involve material from other LIIs. However, each gradually developed the capacity to make searchable data from some other LIIs in their regions. Lexum developed with partner organisations a number of francophone and African LIIs, and at one point Droit Francophone (2003) had content concentrating on West and Central Africa, with some content derived from a separate LII, Juri Burkina. However, this project did not continue. Another early multi-country (but not multi-LII) approach was the Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), operated by the US Library of Congress to 2012 (see 2008 archival version: GLIN) which included content from 40 countries, particularly those in Latin America, but closed in 2012.
As yet, the most durable multi-LII networks have been based on common law jurisdictions. The World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII) (2002) was the first multi-LII site, initially making searchable data from all the founding members of FALM. AustLII subsequently developed the Commonwealth Legal Information Institute (CommonLII) (2005) covering Commonwealth and Common Law countries, and the Asian Legal Information Institute (AsianLII) (2006) combined data from CommonLII’s 8 Asian common law countries, with PNG (from PacLII) and Hong Kong (from HKLII) with databases from 17 additional Asian countries. All of these developments also expanded the content searchable via WorldLII.
AustLII therefore collaborates with many other LIIs, all of which are FALM members, in order to operate these three portals (CommonLII, AsianLII, and WorldLII) via which the content of the relevant LIIs, plus other content located on the portal, can be searched from the one location. The user’s search results then take the user to documents located on the separate LIIs. The LawCite citator (discussed below) is in effect a fourth collaborative portal. AustLII operates these four portals, and builds and maintains numerous databases or other content on each of them. However, all of the portals (and particularly CommonLII) are primarily effective because of the depth and breadth of content provided by the other collaborating LIIs.
There are fourteen LIIs (excluding the portals themselves), whose content is searchable via WorldLII and (except where noted) CommonLII, collaborate directly in providing over 80% of the databases searchable via these portals. They are listed below (in alphabetic order).
- AustLII (1995-) – The Australasian Legal Information Institute, covering all Australian jurisdictions, is included.
- BAILII (2000-) – The content of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute is included from all jurisdictions it covers (see above) except at present Jersey (due to technical reasons).
- CanLII(2000) – CanLII’s 300 databases of cases and legislative items from all Canadian jurisdictions are in the process of being made searchable via CommonLII and WorldLII.
- CyLaw (2004-) – CyLaw, operated by the Cyprus Bar Association, is comprehensive of Cyprus law (most databases in Greek).
- HKLII (2001-) – The Hong Kong Legal Information Institute, based at the University of Hong Kong provides comprehensive HK legal databases, and is searchable in English and Chinese. HKLII is also searchable via AsianLII.
- LII (Cornell)(1992-) – The Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School, the first-established LII, has some of its databases searchable via WorldLII (not CommonLII) including the US Code.
- LiberLII (2011-)– The Liberia Legal Information Institute was developed jointly by AustLII and Liberian non-profit organizations (with USAID funding), and is maintained technically by AustLII, with periodic updates. It contains the complete Liberian Code and all Supreme Court decisions since 1861. Its databases are searchable via WorldLII (not CommonLII).
- NZLII (2005-) – The New Zealand Legal Information Institute, operated by the University of Otago in partnership with AustLII has comprehensive coverage of NZ law. Its content is also searchable via AustLII.
- LII of India (2007) – The Legal Information Institute of India contains 159 databases from all Indian jurisdictions, including over 900,000 decisions. It is operated by AustLII (with Australian funding and policy support from Indian academic partners). LII of India is also searchable via AsianLII.
- PacLII (2001-) – The Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute, the principal source of legal information from twenty jurisdictions in the Pacific Islands and Papua New Guinea, is operated by the University of the South Pacific School of Law in cooperation with AustLII (which provides access to its databases outside the Pacific). It includes content from three other regional LIIs (see above), which is therefore also included in CommonLII and WorldLII. PacLII’s Papua New Guinea databases are also searchable via AsianLII.
- SAFLII (2003) – The Southern African Legal Information Institute provides databases from eight southern and eastern African countries. However, CommonLII and WorldLII cannot at present search the content of the other seven African LIIs searchable via SAFLII (see above).
The number of databases from each of the LIIs listed above which are searchable via each of the three portals is set out below (as at December 2016). Other FALM members also assist in providing data which is searchable via the portals. For example, ITTIG regularly provides updates to the DoGi database of legal scholarship data. Philippines law from the LawPhil Project (2001-) republished on AsianLII includes over 50,000 decisions of its Supreme Court.
The basis of WorldLII’s structure (and that of CommonLII and AsianLII) is a combination of (a) a “distributed” model in which most data is located on a number of independent and physically remote collaborating LIIs (wherever possible), with a central index updated by regular data synchronisation (replication using rsync); and (b) a “centralised” model as a host for databases only where a collaborating LII is not available but where necessary databases are replicated on the central host, most often by web spidering. On this model, searches over the locally stored concordances at AustLII produce rapid search results, and users then returned to the databases on the originating LII.
The scope and coverage of WorldLII, CommonLII and AsianLII can be seen from the following table which summarises the number of databases searchable via each of them, and on which LII they are located, as at 31 December 2016. The “Countries” column indicates the number of countries that each LII adds to the total number of countries represented. During 2016, the total number of databases available for searching via WorldLII increased to 2,070. AustLII maintains over 700 of these databases, on seven LIIs (marked *), in addition to the 588 Australian databases on AustLII.
The number of databases searchable via WorldLII was not recorded for its first few years from 2002, but since then, the rate of expansion of searchable databases has been relatively steady, growing from 450 in 2005 to 2070 in 2016. This expansion is likely to continue, particularly as more of CanLII’s databases become searchable via WorldLII.
This LII networking, incomplete though it is, offers very substantial content and facilities not available from commercial legal publishers. Furthermore, the global network the LIIs have built compares well with its two commercial counterparts (the international portals of LexisNexis and Westlaw) in terms of global scope, though not necessarily in depth for individual countries.
- Chung P, Greenleaf G and Mowbray A “Models for a Global System for Free Access to Legal Information: The WorldLII Approach”, Chapter in Stephan Weth and Samuel van Oostrom, eds. Festschrift für Maximilian Herberger, juris GmbH, Saarbrücken 2016, p. 193ff.
- The 2008 archival version provides earlier histories and references for these LII networks.
Another aspect of the collaboration between LIIs involved in the WorldLII consortium is the free-access LawCite citator, located on WorldLII and on other LIIs that wish to use it. LawCite currently contains index records of the citation histories of over 5.5 million court decisions, law journal articles, law reform documents and treaties. The citator is international, containing citation records in significant numbers from court decisions in 75 countries (primarily but not exclusively from common law countries). The LawCite citator and the databases from which it is generated have been built by entirely automated means without editorial intervention, using data mining techniques based on heuristic recognition of citations in source documents. The LawCite software is developed by AustLII, and the data mining which it creates is done on AustLII’s servers. The “back end” databases are also used in the mark up processes of collaborating LIIs that choose to use AustLII’s mark-up software, adding links to cases or articles on other LIIs, or to LawCite citation records. Citation analysis of case law on CanLII demonstrates the potential for research using accessible citation data.
· Mowbray A, Chung P and Greenleaf, G “A Free Access, Automated Law Citator with International Scope: The LawCite Project” European Journal of Law and Technology (EJLT) (2016) Vol 7 No 3
- Neale T “Citation Analysis of Canadian Case Law” Journal of Open Access to Law (JOAL) Vol 1, No 1 (2013)
The European Case Law Identifier (ECLI), developed substantially by UBR|KOOP from the Netherlands (a FALM member) is a very different approach to networking of free access legal information, using standardised citation data to facilitate this. The ECLI Search Engine is now available on the European e-Justice portal, giving access to more than five million (multi-lingual) court decisions from twelve European jurisdictions and regional courts.
- Van Opijnen M “Gaining Momentum. How ECLI Improves Access to Case Law in Europe” Journal of Open Access to Law (JOAL) Vol 5, No 1 (2017)
- Van Opijnen M and Ivantchev A (2015) “Implementation of ECLI - State of Play” in Rotolo A. (eds) Legal Knowledge and Information Systems - JURIX 2015, Braga, 2015.
8. Funding Models for Independent Free Access to Law
The main constraining factor on the non-government (“independent”) LIIs involved in large-scale free access publication is funding: their systems are free to use, but not free to build. Every LII looks after the funding of its own system. The models on which LIIs are funded vary a great deal, depending on the scope of their operations. AustLII has a “multi-contributor” model, with over 250 institutional contributors, plus individual contributors (mainly lawyers), and also obtains competitive academic research and infrastructure grants. BAILII is similar in having multiple contributors, though fewer.
The LII (Cornell) annually solicits funds from the public, and also used an advertising model for some years but then abandoned it. Most LIIs have had a considerable deal of academic funding and academic institutional support (including HKLII, PacLII, AustLII, LawPhil and BAILII). CanLII is funded primarily by the Canadian legal profession, whereby every Canadian lawyer provides over C$20 per year via their professional associations. Other LIIs have not been able to replicate this approach. International aid and development agencies have made significant contributions to the development costs of PacLII, SAFLII, AfricanLII, Droit Francophone, AsianLII and WorldLII. Strategic alliances with some legal publishers have helped AustLII. CyLaw originated as a personal project, but has subsequently received funding from the legal profession and the government. NZLII still lives on “the smell of an oily rag” (a NZ expression) and help from other LIIs, while it searches for longer-term funds. Kenya Law Reports has moved from a model combining government funding with subscription income to one which does without subscriptions and is fully free access. There is no single source likely to fund global free access to law long-term, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It has been done with ever-widening scope for over two decades in many parts of the world. There is not one formula, but as with many other aspects of open content, there are many non-business models by which numerous stakeholders can be engaged.
Government-based FALM members face different funding challenges. For example, the US Library of Congress GLIN system obtained government funding for many years, but did not survive losing that funding in 2012, and has not yet been revived. While there are many individual courts and legislatures that publish their own output for free access (often from their own budgets), there are relatively few governments willing to fund multi-sourced free access national legal information systems (the usage of “LII” in this article), and they are mainly from Europe and some in Latin America. In many developing countries, there are no funds available for development of online legislation or case law unless it is provided by international aid agencies such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, CIDA or AusAID. The World Bank has funded major free access systems in Sri Lanka and Mongolia. The sustainability of these free access facilities, particularly in terms of updating data, often becomes problematic once the initial aid funding ceases. Where this happens, engagement with the FALM members, and the assistance they can provide, may be valuable. In the past, aid and development agencies have often invested considerable funds into national legal information systems, without requiring that free-access systems be developed, and sometimes requiring to the contrary that they adopt “pay for use” models in the hope they will become self-funding. FALM and its members need to help convince aid and development agencies that free access models can be more sustainable, and socially beneficial, in developing countries than closed “pay for use” models.
- Greenleaf G “AustLII’s Business Models: Constraints and Opportunities in Funding Free Access to Law” in Free Access, Quality of Information, Effectiveness of Rights, G. Peruginelli, M. Ragona, eds., European Press Academic Publishing, 2009.
- Moncion I and Poulin D “Free access to law – is it here to stay?: global study on the sustainability of free access to law initiatives; IDRC final technical report” IDRC Digital Library, 2011
9. Internet Search Engines, “Open Content” and LIIs
As a result, general search engines such as Google cannot search most case law found on LIIs. Networking of LIIs can also add many forms of organisation of the data shared between LIIs that general search engines don’t yet provide, such as various forms of restricting the scope of searches (eg searching only legislation from many jurisdictions). “Free access” therefore does not necessarily mean “free to be found through any search engine”. Searching individual LIIs, or LII portals, provides content additional to the use of general search engines.
Acknowledgments: This article represents the views of the authors and not those of any organisation including AustLII and the Free Access to Law Movement. Parts of this paper are derived from the from the following sources: the original GlobaLex 2008 archival version; G. Greenleaf “Free access to legal information, LIIs, and the Free Access to Law Movement”in R. Danner, and J. Winterton (eds.) The IALL International Handbook of Legal Information Management. Aldershot, Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2011; andP. Chung, G. Greenleaf and A. Mowbray “Models for a Global System for Free Access to Legal Information: The WorldLII Approach” in Stephan Weth and Samuel van Oostrom, eds. Festschrift für Maximilian Herberger, juris GmbH, Saarbrücken 2016, p. 193ff.