Those who value free access to law need to respond to the increasingly global nature of legal research, and the fact that most countries still do not have effective facilities for free access to law. The free access to law movement, centred around University-based Legal Information Institutes (LIIs), is assisting and encouraging the development of free access law facilities in many countries in the developing world. While doing so, it is also creating a global network of interconnected free-access legal research facilities on the Internet. This network is becoming comparable to the global legal research facilities provided by the multinational legal publishers.
The free access to law movement is explained: its history, methods of cooperation, and Declaration on Free Access to Law. Public policies to maximise free access to law are advanced to explain why it is not good enough for governments to provide access to law through their own websites. Instead, a ‘competitive model’ is advanced, stressing the right of others to republish legal information.
The task of developing global legal research is explained through categorisation of the elements of the visible and ‘hidden’ webs of legal information, and the implications this has for tools that LIIs must develop. This helps explain the modestly decentralised global free access to law network which is emerging, based on independent national and regional LIIs, with a smaller number of ‘hubs’.
The World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII), one of the hubs of this network, is explained in detail, particularly as a locus of five strategies to advance global free access to law. It is a Legal Information Institute in its own right with a focus on international content such as the decisions of International Courts and Tribunals. It is an 'incubator' of LIIs, hosting collections of national databases which may and have matured into separate LIIs.
Third, WorldLII is an integrator of LIIs, providing not only a combined search of 439 legal databases from 55 countries (and growing by 25% per year), but also far more targeted searches such as those limited to one type of document (eg legislation) drawn from all its collaborating LIIs. More sophisticated forms of integrations are becoming possible as LIIs cooperate more closely, such as cross-LII hyperlinks, and global ‘Noteups’ of legislation and cases.
WorldLII is primarily an English language interface to all LII content, but aims to go beyond that in a number of ways. Interfaces in other languages to the shared data set will better emerge elsewhere, but WorldLII may have an interim role. Finally, WorldLII is a platform for more systematic global legal research beyond the content held by its collaborating LIIs. Its tools are the WorldLII Catalog and WorldLII Websearch providing access to over 17,000 law websites worldwide, and ‘Law on Google’ (translating WordLII's searches into Google's search language and limiting their scope to law).
Cyberspace Law | Legal Writing and Research
Date of this Version
Graham Greenleaf, Philip Chung, and Andrew Mowbray, "Emerging Global Networks for Free Access to Law: WorldLII’s Strategies" (March 2007). University of New South Wales Faculty of Law Research Series. Working Paper 16.