From today judgments of the superior courts of England and Wales have a new, official home at The National Archives (TNA) which has now taken over the HMCTS publishing contract from BAILII.
The Case Law website at https://caselaw.nationalarchives.gov.uk is dubbed an “Alpha”. Essentially it is a work in progress and it is best not to expect too much of it at this point.
The bulk of the initial published content comprises the HMCTS judgments published by BAILII under its contract since 2003; some 50,000 judgments from the Courts of Appeal and the High Court have been inherited. There are also all Supreme Court judgments and more than 300 Privy Council judgments dating from 2014, as well as some decisions from the Upper Tribunals. TNA will not be concerned with publishing judgments from the jurisdictions of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
TNA is now adding to this corpus with a feed direct from HMCTS. It will be publishing further decisions received from courts and tribunals other than those already mentioned and is hoping to acquire a full archive of House of Lords judgments from the Parliamentary Archives. It is in discussion and negotiation with BAILII and with commercial publishers who may be willing to share some of their own content on mutually agreeable terms.
Judgments are published under an Open Justice Licence which allows republication, but “computational analysis” is not permitted. Publishers wishing to download in bulk or perform computational analysis of the archive will need to apply for a (free) transactional licence. Of course, reservations to this licence will apply to any texts acquired from BAILII or the commercial publishers which incorporate third party rights.
As regards functionality, there is no browse to speak of and, although there is an advanced search form, this is awkward to use and all results are in order of relevance – so not very helpful!
Judgments of individual courts can be addressed in the URL via their abbreviation, eg https://caselaw.nationalarchives.gov.uk/uksc.
RSS feeds are generated by adding /atom.xml to the relevant URL, eg https://caselaw.nationalarchives.gov.uk/uksc/atom.xml, though these are in order of updated date, so will be of limited use.
These functions will no doubt be refined and improved quickly in response to user feedback.
The above features are all explained in useful detail in the What to expect from this new service link on the home page.
In all of this, TNA is concerned to try to source judgments with the best possible provenance. Where judgments are received directly from the courts in question, TNA can apply its usual procedures and best practices for preserving the chain of custody and verifying an archival version. The same cannot of course be said for documents received from BAILII or commercial sources, where provenance is unlikely to have been documented in a similar way.
Once documents are verified, TNA transforms them into the Legal Document Mark-up language (OASIS LegalDocumentML). They are parsed to identify header data (the parties names and status, the judgment date, the neutral citation number). They are also enriched by identifying references to other cases and to legislative provisions. On publication, this latter markup is translated into hypertext links (eg to other cases on TNA and to legislation on Legislation.gov.uk). This link data can be used in a similar manner by other publishers to link to their own resources.
In conclusion, whilst I have outlined various shortcomings above and others may well make unfavourable comparisons with other case law services, it should not need saying that the intention of this initiative is not to replace or compete with BAILII or the commercial publishers, but to provide an official, verified, reliable, open and accessible source of court judgments. It has been a long time coming, but it is here now and we should celebrate the development and congratulate the team at TNA who have put this together within the short space of 10 months.
Nick Holmes is Editor of the Newsletter.
Photo via Piqsels.