It’s the norm to pay for legal information, through legal databases (eg. LexisNexis, Westlaw, HeinOnline) and paid for services (eg. Courtserve). But there is a strong case for improving the Ministry of Justice’s handling of courts data and judicial information and opening information to all. As I have argued before, the closed and costly nature of courts data is restricting legal research and analysis – as well as public access to legal information.
If it is to achieve the government’s goals for open data, the MoJ needs to sharpen up its act and end data monopolies that restrict the use of particular legal data sets to a single organisation. But it’s not a completely bleak landscape. There are a number of excellent resources outside the legal paywalls.
I have put together a list of ten of the best, albeit with the inevitable disclaimer that my choices are subjective and related to my research interest in privacy and defamation law. Please share your own recommendations in the comments below the post.
Anyone interested in discussing the case for open digital justice further can join the Google group at this link.
1. Bailii. While I do not agree that Bailii should have exclusive rights to court judgment data, the organisation does provide an invaluable service to lawyers, legal researchers and the general public. Numerous legal bloggers are supporting its ongoing appeal for funds. As Nearly Legal says, “[It] remains astonishing that without Bailii, there would be no free public access to the higher court judgments which form the law, save for the Supreme Court“. The site can’t be searched by Google and its RSS feeds are limited, but it provides an indispensible data store, with cases categorised by court and year.
2. Supreme Court. Since its creation in 2009, this court has been more accessible to the general public and it has televised some cases. This page offers a table of cases, ordered by Hand-down date, Neutral citation, Case ID or Case name, with PDF summaries and judgments. Another page lists current case names, summaries and details about the stage each case is at.
3. 5RB. It offers commentary and reports on media related cases. Best of all, you can view cases by topic, barrister and year (a judge search option would make this feature even better). More than one option can be selected at a time: this search reveals defamation cases in 2009, beginning with the letter ‘W’.
4. One Brick Court. Its cases and news pages, with RSS feeds, are extremely useful for tracking media and information law, particularly privacy and defamation.
5. Out-law.com. An old-timer in online digital resources. Since its birth in 2000, it has built up a solid database with legal explanations and news updates. Its numerous guides cover copyright, cookie law, user-generated content and data protection, as well as many other topics.
7. Legislation.gov.uk. If only the equivalent existed for case law. Admittedly, as UKHR blog editor (and barrister) Adam Wagner points out here, the site only guarantees up to date legislation until 2002, but it’s an excellent statutory law resource nonetheless, searchable by legislation title, year and number.
8. Free Legal Web. Founded by Nick Holmes in 2008, the site’s aim is to “join up” the free legal web. It’s currently in beta, with a housing law pilot. Users are encouraged to help classify the existing case law. At the moment, its case search results link to Google, Bailii and LawCite. Its archive of articles are listed here, and categorised by topic. More information about its plans for development and a call for feedback can be found here.
9. Whatdotheyknow.com. MySociety’s site provides a superb way of tracking FoI requests made to the Ministry of Justice and its agencies (as well as other government departments). It provides a simple way to submit, as well as browse, requests. It helps you administrate your requests, prompting you when a response is made or your submission has been ignored. Best of all, it opens up information acquired by FoI to all.
10. Electronic Frontier Foundation. The only US-based site on this list, but an important inclusion because it shows the kind of resource that could be developed in the UK. Its special projects include detailed guides to the legal position for bloggers and coders.
Picture: Mandiberg on Flickr.