BAILII is a non-profit making charitable trust which provides a growing amount of primary and secondary legal material which can be browsed by the user and/or located by using the BAILII search engine. The service is a major tool for legal research and its development is of substantial importance to the practice and teaching of law.
BAILII relies on charitable funding to maintain the service and to enable us to enhance and extend our services to the academic community, legal profession and general public. The BAILII Trustees are a mixture of senior members of the judiciary, legal academics, and experienced legal practitioners.
BAILII’s recent user logs indicate that at least 152 academic institutions in the UK are linking to BAILII. Much of the educational activity is within electronic learning environments, eg blackboards, course reading lists with links to BAILII, distance learning programs, etc. We are currently averaging from all types of users about 450,000 page views per week.
The OpenLaw project
An example of what BAILII can achieve with continued support was the OpenLaw project. Over a two year period, in order to support legal teaching in collaboration with academics, librarians, and special interest groups such as the Society of Legal Scholars and through review of subject syllabi, we identified and added to BAILII judgments that are important in the core teaching areas of law. We sourced, scanned and converted over 2,500 judgments identified in this way.
Although the OpenLaw project itself is now closed, BAILII is still negotiating with legal publishers for the “freeing up” of more historic judgments for publication. In this past year the Scottish Council of Law Reporting gave us permission to publish approximately 600 Scots law judgments that are frequently cited in judgments and are important in the core teaching areas of law.
The Legal Information Institutes
BAILII is part of an international community of Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) and actively participates in achieving the common goals of this community:
- to promote and support free access to public legal information throughout the world, principally via the internet;
- 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;
- to help each other and to support, within their means, other organisations that share these goals
(see the WorldLII Declaration).
The incomparable free-access international citator LawCite, launched by CommonLII on 1 December 2008 as a collaborative project of LIIs, is a demonstration of the value of this community.
LawCite is an automatically-generated international legal case citator. It is something you use to locate judgments and to see how these have been subsequently dealt with and commented upon – perhaps throughout the world. In many ways, LawCite is similar (but is in a slightly different space to) the editorially produced commercial legal citators.
LawCite is being built as part of a three year project that is funded by the Australian Research Council in co-operation with a number of Australian courts and other commercial and non-commercial organisations. It is being developed at AustLII in collaboration with a number of other members of the Free Access to Law Movement, in particular BAILII, HKLII, PacLII, SAFLII, NZLII and CYLAW.
Some of LawCite’s features include:
- It is free. The code that it uses is also open source and is freely available for non-commercial use.
- It is automatically maintained and so is always up to date. New cases are generally available within 24 hours of publication on any collaborating LIIs and availability via WorldLII.
- It is comprehensive and consistent. LawCite includes all references to all decisions that it can identify. There is no editorial decision-making as to what is included and what is not.
- It is international. Over 15,000 law report and journal series are currently indexed with over 2 million cases and law journal articles in the database from around the world. The current emphasis is on common law countries, but this is being gradually extended to include civil law jurisdictions as well.
BAILII is currently tuning this tool to be even more relevant to the jurisdiction covered by BAILII.
Historic English reports from Justis
On the same launch day as Lawcite another collaborative effort between CommonLII and the legal publisher Justis was launched, namely the database of English Reports 1220-1873, for the first time giving the world free access to the very depths of common law legal history.
With the exceptions of one-off funding for specific projects or cooperation with outside organisations on such projects, BAILII takes care to operate within a budget defined by the amount of sustainable ongoing sources of funding. This to a certain extent keeps our main efforts in a fairly well-defined area of operation as set out in our initial mission statement: “building and operating an interactive database of full text primary and secondary legal materials”.
Within the exception of funding for specific projects or outside cooperation on such projects lie the possibilities of expanding the scope of BAILII. The OpenLaw project has successfully made available many important historical legal cases. BAILII seeks to provide more supplementary legal materials.
We have also dipped our toe into including secondary materials, for example, we have created databases with the cooperation of the Law Commission, the NI Office of Law Reform and the NI Law Reform Advisory Committee. Several legal textbooks and two journals are now available on BAILII and we are now considering another project to provide a substantial archive of case commentary. The BAILII system, using standard citations, creates hyperlinks between documents on BAILII, so the addition of relevant secondary material will automatically enhance the usefulness of BAILII in elucidating the law.
This ties in with Richard Susskind’s vision to develop “a corpus of [UK] law like no other: a resource readily available to lawyers and lay people; a free web of inter-linked materials; packed with scholarly analysis and commentary, supplemented by useful guidance and procedure; rendered intensely practical by the addition of action points and standard documents; and underpinned by direct access to legislation and case law” (Times Online, April 11, 2006).
The degree to which BAILII, within its resources, can be part of this is as yet untested but we will at the very least continue to provide the necessary backbone of primary materials for any new web venture, as we do now for so many websites, blogs, wikis etc. And as always BAILII is available to cooperate with projects that add to the effort towards achieving these aims.
Joe Ury is Executive Director of BAILII.