10th International “Law via the Internet” Conference, Durban, South Africa, 26 – 27 November 2009 – Day 1

The 10th International “Law via the Internet” Conference, was held in Durban, South Africa, 26 – 27 November 2009, hosted by Southern African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII)

The Law via the Internet Conference is an initiative of the Legal Information Institutes worldwide that constitute the Free Access to Law Movement. The principles of the Free Access to Law Movement are described in the Montreal Declaration on Free Access to Law.

The theme of the 10th “Law via the Internet” conference was Global Free Access to Law and Developing Countries: Impact, Challenges and Networks.

Thursday, 26 November, morning sessions

The keynote speaker pointed out that the number of visitors to Uganda’s law web site from abroad shows the important role that legal information institutes can play internationally.

The morning session started then on the topic of Free Access to Law initiatives in Africa and was chaired by Janine Miller, Executive Director of the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII)

Dié Lakhsara talked about Initiatives in West and Central Africa, especially the Congo Basin Region, Mali and Mauritania. Dié Lakhsara started by pointing out the causes for the limited access to laws which comprise:

  1. unorganised and bad shape of paper archives if they exist at all
  2. legal instruments have been destroyed (e.g. in Mali 1986 by a flood, in Congo 1991 due to political problems, in Niger the first computer was stolen in 2000 and no backups were available, in Mauritania a computer virus infected both the computers in 2001)
  3. many laws remain unpublished (intentionally or unintentionally)
  4. OG staffers do not exactly know what documents are available
  5. publishing is not done on regular basis, and a backup does not always exist
  6. poor capacity building of staff
  7. most OG institutions are neglected

This situation leads to the following consequences as it

  1. stifles economic growth and development
  2. hinders women’s emancipation and underprivileged classes participation
  3. creates confusion and/or ignorance of law

In a first step to create good governance, the following is necessary:

  • collecting texts
  • weeding out contradictions between different text
  • eliminating redundancies
  • delivering access to spars texts
  • facilitating comparisons
  • allowing free access to law

Dié Lakhsara mentioned the Forrest Law Enforcement and Governance Program (funded by World Bank).

The Global Legal Information Network (GLIN) is an attempt to establish good governance in African countries. The project is a joint venture with the Law Library of Congress and includes at the moment 35 countries from all around the world. From Africa Cameroon, the Democratic Rep. of Congo, Egypt, Gabon, Mali, Mauritania and Tunisia participate at the moment. Cameroon had to stop contributing laws, as legislation was not published, so it could not be added into GLIN.

When it comes to free access to law, sustainability is the most difficult task to deal with. GLIN helps ensuring just that.

In order for a country to participate in GLIN the following criteria have to be fulfilled, which turns out to be rather difficult sometimes, mainly due to lack of finances:

  1. Authenticity (official version of document)
  2. Sustainability (mostly financial)
  3. Low cost of maintenance
  4. Regular updating
  5. Free access to all

An increasing number of online visits to GLIN DR Congo and Gabon is proof of the usefulness of such a system.

A representative from the Republic of Congo spoke about initiatives in his country. Most interesting was that the government initialised an information campaign concerning their participation in the GLIN network and the availability of the site. Both pamphlets as well as TV spots were utilised to make citizens more aware of the possibility to access the law freely.

The speaker from Congo also underlined the importance of access to Congolese law not only for citizens, but also for foreign investors.

Then Gladys Boss Shollei spoke about Initiatives in East Africa, especially the Kenya Law Reports (http://kenyalaw.org/). She mentioned the National Council for Law Reporting Act, 1995 and the establishment of the Secretariat in 2001. The Kenya Law Reports have gone from law reports to function as a legal information resource and moved beyond traditional law reporting.

The changes were largely driven by

  • changes in consumer needs
  • changes in roles and responsibilities of government departments
  • drive for corporate innovation
  • changes of technology

Some of these changes include

  • a bill tracker on kenyalaw.org
  • the digitalisation of the Kenya Law Gazette, which literally had been done by cut and paste (with scissors and tape) before
  • Bench Research Hotline: employees help in researching for legal documents which are then sent even to persons without an internet connection
  • Case Track Project: turning disorder into organised chaos and finally into order. Many cases took up to 15 years to be decided. Now cases can be registered and managed online.
  • benchmarking and knowledge transfer with other institutes from other countries, such as Botswana and Liberia
  • cooperation with governmental departments allows to improve law-making by taking advantage of Kenya Law Reports experiences

The challenge today is not only to publish legal information, but to achieve a sustainable process.

Tererai Mafukidze (SAFLII) spoke then on Initiatives in Southern Africa, especially The Southern African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII). SAFLII started as a co-operation between Wits Law School and AustLII in 2002 and expanded with the Constitutional Court Virtual Library Project in 2004 into its current shape.

Foreign investment in Southern Africa mainly focuses on commodity investment, so no direct benefits can be seen yet within the ICT sector. SAFLII filled the void of lack of transparency and made it possible to hold judges accountable.

With regards to the rule of law, access to law plays an important role. As former British colonies, many African countries inherited the British Secrecy Act with the principle of all governmental information being deemed secret until otherwise proven.

SAFLII allows access to law also in smaller African countries where it might not be economically feasible for larger commercial providers to invest in law publishing.

Interesting to note that the Department of Justice of South Africa is the biggest user of SAFLII without contributing anything financially to it.

Regarding publishing of court cases, due to the storage capacity of the Internet, SAFLII does not have to make a decision between reportable and non-reportable cases.

Courts in Africa do have computers nowadays but they are not necessarily networked. They are also afraid of sending pdf documents electronically as they fear that SAFLII will alter the documents. They are unaware of the fact that also pdf documents can be altered. There is no general register for delivering judgements in Southern Africa, quite often the judges decide on their own way. In addition, IT skills are still scarce in Africa.

The policy issues that have to be addressed include privacy (there is no uniformity yet), African iParliaments and a PSI Directive type of legislation.

Thursday, 26 November, afternoon sessions

In the afternoon, the session on Standards for Presentation of Legal Information was chaired by Daniel Poulin, LexUM Project Director at the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII).

Professor Peter W. Martin, Cornell Law School, spoke about Openness to third-party additions essential to meaningful public access. He also runs the website http://access-to-law.com/.

Acccording to Peter Martin, the access barriers to law include:

  1. law’s specialised language and conceptual barriers
  2. confusion over which is the authoritative law making body for a specific question (national, regional, local)
  3. the general purpose of the information finding tools, such as Google, Bing, AltaVista, which makes them rarely lead you to the right site
  4. the incompleteness of online collections
  5. connecting decisions with earlier decisions
  6. the need to integrate output from two different branches of government

Editorial additions and commentary play a critical role in increasing access to law. There is a need for third party value-adders, e.g. Maine Equal Justice Partners (MEJP)

The features that would enable value-adders are:

  1. openness to search and linking
  2. enduring citation derived addresses (using algorithms based on standard form of neutral citations)
  3. openness to external search links
  4. version identification and retention (e.g. https://www.revisor.mn.gov/)
  5. hospitable licensing term

The ways of encouraging value-adders include:

Then Fabio Vitali, Dipartimento di Scienze dell’Informazione, University of Bologna, spoke about the XML Modelling of Judgments with Akoma Ntoso. Akoma Ntoso means “linked hearts” in the language of the Akan people of West Africa and is a symbol of understanding and agreement. Akoma Ntoso is a set of common XML standards that allow to exchange and reuse parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents more efficiently. It is an initiative of “Africa i-Parliament Action Plan“, a programme of UN/DESA.
The metadata included in the standard is descriptive (date of publication, nature of case, name of chancellor, etc), classfication (matter of the case, values out of domain-specific thesauri), lifecycle (history of document) and workflow (first order, appeal).

Akoma Ntoso also takes advantage of citations, semantic annotation and ontologies.

Professor Mario Ragona, Research director at ITTIG-CNR, presented A multilingual approach for promoting worldwide open access to law. He emphasised the importance of mapping thesauri in order to enable cross-language retrieval and mentioned the OPOCE Call for Expression of Interests regarding a multilingual thesauri.

Daniel Poulin commented on the focus on terminology of law and not language of law.

Caterina Lupo, CNIPA (National Centre for ICT in the Public Administrations), spoke about A proposal of a cross border legal documents identification scheme. There are several ongoing European and international initiatives on identification of legal sources, the goal is now to introduce a common open-standard to be able to connect these different legislations.

In this respect the international URN:LEX Scheme was suggested, which aims at providing a cross-collection and cross-country references. URN:LEX uses work, expression and manifestation for local-name scheme within the country tag. In its work level scheme URN:LEX uses authority, measure, detail and annex, and in the expression schema version (e.g. consolidated) and language. The manifestation schema then includes format, publisher, component and feature.

More information on http://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-spinosa-urn-lex-00

Thursday, 26 November, panel session

In the panel discussion on Open Access solutions for cross-disciplinary research, Robert Kirunda stressed the importance of finding a balance between the skills and access needs of a law student, an experienced law professor and a practitioner who has not much time. The new micro-generation uses Blackberry phones and rather read and write on Facebook than read the newspaper.

Tom Bruce, Director of Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School, then spoke about the proposal for a journal on legal information. Questions arising in this context include the possible target audience, functions, format, etc. One of the main benefits would, of course, be cross-fertilization.

Pompeu Casanovas,IDT – Institute of Law and Technology, continued speaking about the benefits of a journal. Especially visibility and increased transparency would be main advantages. Many researchers are investigating several topics but are not always aware of each other. The world is becoming more hybrid. Journals mostly reflect result of somebody’s work, but not the process. Casanovas also mentioned a project on new forms of publishing science.

Tom Bruce asked where researchers search for new information at the moment. It seems blogs are the place to go to. I mentioned the difficulty of using blogs in doctoral theses due to their acceptance as references. In conclusion I suggested initiating a mixture of journal, blog and social network in order to enhance visibility as Pompeu Casanovas suggested earlier.

Daniel Poulin, LexUM Project Director at the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) suggested a journal in line with First Monday. First Monday is being published every first Monday of the month, has broad focus on ICT, the Internet and social and legal impacts. There are no size limitations for contributions and the process is fast.

John Joergensen, Rutgers School of Law – Camden, emphasised the importance of a platform for articles in a specific niche such as legal informatics that might not fit into other legal journal publications.

Enrico Francesconi and Ginevra Peruginelli, Institute of Legal Information Theory and Techniques (ITTIG), had joined the discussion via Skype and shared the goal of building up an infrastructure for peer-reviewed ways to share knowledge.

A common consensus was the importance of not falling outside of credibility. The goal of a journal would be to share knowledge fast and reliable.

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About iinek

Doctoral Candidate in Legal Informatics at Stockholm University, Sweden View all posts by iinek

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