Wealth of legal information available on the Web now, for free

I was privileged to be a participant in a workshop hosted by SAFLII at the Constitutional Court (one of SAFLII’s sponsors is the Constitutional Court Trust) yesterday.  I have mentioned SAFLII previously and only really gained a sense of what it means and the network of sites it belongs to during the course of that workshop.  The participants were professionals and academics who the organisers felt could add meaningfully to the debate about how best to assemble, organise and make available a vast amount of legal content comprising case law and legislation from 16 sub-Saharan countries (some of these countries are listed here).  Two participants were Philip Chung and Andrew Mowbray from AustLII who came to South Africa to share their experiences building AustLII and the growing network of Legal Information Institutes which are members of the Free Access to Law Movement.

Constitutional Court - 14 December 2006 - 5

What became clear as the workshop progressed is that there is already a wealth of legal content from many of the world’s major jurisdictions already available on the Web through the various Legal Information Institutes.  These LIIs include the following:

The software used to run these sites includes software that can recognise legislation references (both whole Acts and section references within those Acts) as well as other key references (for example, case citations).  The end result is intended to be a fairly comprehensive and connected database of legal content made freely available to anyone who has access to a web browser and an Internet connection.  Some of the more developed databases have the ability to reveal changes in legislation over time, among other things.

Constitutional Court - 14 December 2006 - 22

SAFLII’s mission is pretty ambitious and could have a dramatic impact on the accessibility of legal content published by African legislatures and courts to the general public.  As Justice O’Regan pointed out in her opening remarks to the participants of the workshop, what SAFLII is working to achieve is integral to the development of democracy in Africa and is a tremendously valuable initiative.

The photos in this post were taken during my tour of the court building.  If you would like to see more photos, you can see them here.  If you would like information about the magnificent art collection on display, take a look here.

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