Russell Allen, 22 August 2001
My suggested essay topics ...
If you want to suggest your own essay topic ...
- See the Objectives and Assessment Statement for the formal
requirements for the Research Essay. Make sure you read them carefully.
- If you wish to write on one of my suggested essay topics, you do
not need to have the topic approved by me. See the list of suggested topics
below. The only exception (see below) is if you have written an essay on a
similar topic for another subject, in which case you do need my approval.
- If you wish to write on any other essay topic of your own choice,
you must obtain my approval in advance. Please email me with a suggested topic,
and I will approve it (or not) or suggest amendments. Please ensure that you
get my approval before classes end on 26 April.
- Remember that this is a research essay. Merely discussing what is
in the Reading Guides (ie 'covered in class') is not sufficient, as you must
read further than the Reading Guides and the required reading listed therein.
You must try to find other leading resources on the topic under discussion.
At the least you must follow up suggested reading (ie not prescribed) in the
relevant parts of the Reading Guide, significant papers referred to in the
articles you have read, and relevant items listed in the AustLII
Index: Computerisation of Law and in the Computerisation
of Law Resources database. But you are welcome to use whatever sources
- The essay is due on Monday 20 May 2002.
My suggested essay topics ...
Any of these topics may be chosen with no further approval required.
Topic 1 - Evaluating legal web sites
Various methods of evaluating legal web sites have been put forward, including
Evaluation Criteria for
the 2000 AIJA Website Competition,
criteria. No doubt there are other criteria worth considering.
Taking into account other criteria that have been put forward, you are
to propose and justify your own comprehensive set of criteria for evaluating
a legal web site. You must take into account both the hypertext and text retrieval
aspects of sites in any evaluation, as well as any other aspects that you consider
relevant. In particular, you must propose how to evaluate the effectiveness
of the text retrieval features of a site.
In the second half of the essay, you are to apply your analysis to one
legal web site chosen by you.
Topic 2 - Internet legal research
Assume that you are conducting legal research where relevant material might (or
might not) be found anywhere in the world on the internet.
What are the reasons why effective legal research via the internet is difficult?
Identify the main proposed solutions to this problem, and analyse them critically.
One (but only one) obvious place to start is the materials in the Reading Guide
research on the internet.
Topic 3 - Legal inferencing
In 'Electronic Service Delivery: Achieving Accuracy and Consistency in Complex
Transactions' - http://www2.austlii.edu.au/cal/secure/Johnson1.html
- Peter Johnson of SoftLaw proposes the extensive utilisation of rule-based systems
in public administration, including in direct interactions with members of the
public. At one point he says:
Rulebase systems provide an opportunity for agencies to replace data
collection based on generic paper forms with far more dynamic and effective
electronic processes. They can provide intelligent, interactive, tailored data
collection processes, which collect more detailed and more relevant data in
less time than it takes to complete a generic form. They will be far easier
for the user to navigate than a conventional form. And at the end of the data
collection process, the user actually gets the result. An appropriate rulebase
system will conduct an intelligent dialogue with a user. It will investigate
the legislation directly, asking questions of the user. As each question is
answered, the system will draw any conclusions possible from that conclusion.
In 'Logic Programming - An Assessment Of Its Potential For Artificial Intelligence
Applications In Law' Journal of Law and Information Science (1991) vol
2 no 2 - (was at http://law.uniserve.edu.au/law/pub/compute/logic/
- may now be some problems with this address) Robert Moles attacks the assumptions
of this 'Imperial College Group' concerning 'the rule-based nature of law', arguing
they are based 'on a lack of awareness of the dynamics of the legal order and
the factors associated with legal interpretation'. His paper was the subject of
a subsequent spirited debate about 'logic programming'.
What bearing (if any) do the types of criticisms raised by Moles have
on Softlaw's approach? What other criticisms (if any) would you make of the
approach taken by SoftLaw?
Topic 4 - Litigation support systems
In discussing Electronic Appeal Books (EABs) in their Final Report to the Council
of Chief Justices of Australia and New Zealand on the Electronic Appeals Project
(1998), Jo Sherman and Allison Stanfield say
It is necessary, when considering an EAB, to avoid constraints imposed
by the current hard copy medium. Indeed, simple automation of the paper based
model will not necessarily bring quantum improvements to work processes, nor
will dramatic cost efficiencies necessarily follow. An even greater danger is
that a literal and rigid automation of the hard copy appeal book without any
lateral thinking and a certain amount of redesign could, in fact, magnify the
inefficiencies of hard copy appeal books. Why automate inefficiency ?
In light of this comment, examine the potential use of the internet in relation
(i) criminal trials and criminal appeals; or
(ii) civil matters, both at first instance and on appeal.
Your essay should identify both the strengths and the weaknesses of the
internet as a means of improving the litigation process.
Topic 5 - Access to legal information policies
You are commissioned to prepare a report for an Australian State government which
sets out and justifies the policy that the government should adopt in relation
to the provision of legal information originating from organs of the State, including
its Courts and Tribunals (in relation to their decisions), the Office of Parliamentary
Counsel (in relation to legislation) and its Law Reform Commission (in relation
to its reports).
Your report must take into account the public interest generally, but
also such specific matters as the protection of the revenue of the State and
how the costs of providing access are to be met. Your report must deal with
the provision of data to commercial legal publishers, to those who wish to use
it for non-commercial purposes, and to the public (either directly or indirectly).
You are also required to define the proper extent of the various State agencies'
obligation to add value in any form to the data it provides, and to adopt and
adhere to standards concerning data provision, citations etc.
You are instructed to prepare your report irrespective of any current
practices in the provision of information by the State. You are to take a fresh
If you want to suggest your own essay topic ...
You must send me an email proposing the topic, and obtain my approval. If we can't
reach agreement on a topic, then you must do one of the 5 topic above (a choice
out of 5 is not too bad as a default option!).
Guidelines for developing your own essay topic
An essay should have the following elements:
- The topic should be broad enough to require you to write about a substantial
cross-section of materials from at least one of the Reading Guides (topics).
- The topic should be of complexity and difficulty equivalent to the topics
I have listed above.
- Topics concerning legal issues somehow related to the course subject matter
(eg 'liability for ...') are not acceptable.
Some other sources of ideas for your own essay topics
Here is a short list of other subject areas from which topics could be developed
for approval . These are not approved topics, merely starting points for you to
develop your own topic of sufficient scope and difficulty which conform to the
- Development of standards for computerised legal information.
- Legal inferencing systems based on case-law (Note - There are a lot of
complex articles on this topic.)
- The relationship between legal theory (jurisprudence) and legal inferencing
systems (Note - there is a large literature on this.)