[Previous] [Next] [Up] [Title]

2.1. The potential `world law library' on the Internet

The Internet's World-Wide-Web (`the web') provides a unique opportunity for lawyers and legal researchers from all parts of the world, but particularly those from developing countries, to obtain access to a world-wide law library at very low cost. `The web' has only become an important part of the Internet since 1994 (due to the development of good browsing software which can display graphics), even in North America. In most parts of the world, access to the web has only become popular since 1996. Only a small percentage of countries in the world no longer have any international connection to the Internet, and few of those are members of the Asian Development Bank

Despite its recent development, the web already contains an astonishing variety of legal materials from dozens of countries. Legislation-related materials are detailed later in this Report in the discussions of the DIAL Prototype, but an overview of the whole range of legal materials available via the web is provided here as necessary background to discussions of the value of access to the these materials by the target audiences in the Bank's DMCs, and also as background to the discussion later in this Chapter of the difficulties of locating these materials with existing research tools.

2.1.1. Types of legal information available on the web

The following categories and lists provided within them give a general view of the range of materials already available on the web. They are not comprehensive, as research tools to provide comprehensive lists do not yet exist. Some of the lists have been created as part of the development of Project DIAL prototype and would otherwise not have been available.

Furthermore, these resources have only been created within the first few years of the web's development, with the majority of them having been created within the last eighteen months. It is reasonable to expect that what exists now will only constitute a small percentage of the legal resources that will exist on the web by the year 2000.

Legislation-related materials (emphasis of this project)

Significant collections of legislation are already available on the web from over 50 countries[11]http://www.austlii.edu.au/links/DIAL_Index/Legislation/]: including Argentina; Australia; Austria; Belarus; Belgium; Brazil; Cambodia; Canada; China; Costa Rica; Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Guatemala; Hong Kong, China; India; Indonesia; Ireland; Israel; Japan; Kazakhstan; Lithuania; Malaysia; Mexico; Mongolia; Myanmar (Burma); Netherlands; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Norway; Peru; Philippines; Portugal; Romania; Russian Federation; Singapore; Slovenia; South Africa; South Korea; Spain; Sweden; Taipei, China; Thailand; Turkey; Uganda; United States of America; United Kingdom; Vietnam; Zambia.

The full text is available on the web of all legislation from almost all the jurisdictions of the USA, Canada, Australasia, many Latin American countries and some European countries (such as Norway and Germany), and extensive collections from many other European countries (such as the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Portugal). Substantial collections of legislation are available from many developing countries, including India, Turkey, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Vietnam, Zambia, China, Mexico and Israel.

In addition, there are sites which provide legislation from countries world-wide in areas such as constitutional law, food and agriculture, Labor law, environmental and central banking laws[12]http://www.austlii.edu.au/links/DIAL_Index/Legislation/Multi-national_Legislation__Collections_/].

Parliamentary information about legislation

The Parliaments of dozens of countries have web pages[13]http://www.austlii.edu.au/links/DIAL_Index/Parliaments/], and these contain many significant resources concerning legislation and law reform[14]http://www.austlii.edu.au/links/DIAL_Index/Parliaments/]. In some cases such as the US Congress and the Australian Parliament, extensive `Bills Digests' analysing each Bill presented to the Parliament (prepared by Parliamentary staff or Parliamentary libraries) are available on the web.

Case law

There are also extensive collections of case law from courts and tribunals of at least 20 countries[15]http://www.austlii.edu.au/links/World_Courts_Index/]: Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Estonia, France, Germany, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Senegal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Zambia, and decisions of various international courts and tribunals.

At present, the availability of decisions is principally from North America and Australia and European courts in both Eastern and Western Europe, but also courts from developing countries including India, Malaysia, Korea, Brazil, Senegal and Zambia are making decisions available. Many courts in other countries also have home pages on the web and are moving toward the provision of decisions.

The quantities of decisions available from some countries are very substantial. There are over 75,000 Australian decisions available for free access in full text from 24 courts and tribunals[16]http://www.austlii.edu.au/databases.html], and many more are available on commercial publishers sites for paid access. Australian High Court decisions since 1947 are available. In the USA, free access is available to the decisions of the Supreme Court, all Circuit Courts, and most State Courts[17]http://www.austlii.edu.au/links/United_States_of_America/Courts/].

Law reform reports

Law reform commissions and similar bodies are starting to make their reports and working papers available via the web, and there are already very extensive collections of reports available from national and regional law reform bodies in Australia, Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the USA[18]http://www.austlii.edu.au/links/DIAL_Index/Law_Reform/ ]. The extent of specialist law reform reports from special commissions, government agencies and other specialist bodies is vast, but is difficult to locate in any systematic way.

Law Journals

There are over 200 Law Journals that have web pages[19]http://www.hg.org/journals.html] (the list is an Annexure to this Chapter), and in the case of many of these the full texts of the journals are available on the web. Increasingly, law journals publish as `web journals' so that they are not available in print at all.

Specialist research centres

There are research centres at Universities and elsewhere which provide very large specialist collections of materials in areas such as constitutional law, environmental law, central bank laws, labour law, trade law, the law of the sea and human rights.

Expert commentary by academics and law firms

In addition, there are other expert sources of legal commentary and interpretation on the World-Wide-Web `home pages' of law firms and individuals (particularly legal academics). This is a form of publication that is unique to the World-Wide-Web, and it makes a vast body of expertise available world-wide. For example, the Jurist system provides access to the home pages of over 100 law professors from around the world[20]http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/home_pgs.htm], many of which contain articles and reports by those professors, including copies of their articles published in law journals, and otherwise unpublished work and work-in-progress. Also, law firms are increasingly publishing conference papers delivered by their partners, and background reports on areas of law in which the firm claims expertise, as a means of demonstrating the firm's abilities to the public.

In addition, Jurist provides links to the `course pages' of almost 200 University law courses[21]http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/cour_pgs.htm] covering these subjects: Administrative Law; Business Associations; Commercial Law; Constitutional Law; Contracts; Criminal Law; Cyberspace Law; Environmental Law; Financial Law; Health Law; Intellectual Property; International and Comparative Law; Law and Economics; Legal Education; Legal History; Legal Process; Legal Research & Writing; Legal Theory; Private Law; Property/Estates & Trusts; Public Law; Torts. Many of these course pages include articles, reading guides and lecture notes which constitute a significant body of subject expertise.

2.1.2. Geographical spread

The geographical diversity, and concentrations, of law available on the web are apparent from the preceding paragraphs. The largest collections at present are available from the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, Norway, and some other European countries, predominantly in English but with large collections in European national languages . The next most significant areas of concentration, particularly in relation to legislation and case law, are from quite a number of Latin American countries, in Spanish and Portuguese.

The availability of legal information on the web from developing member countries of the Bank is also growing rapidly, with significant collections of information already available from India, China (including both the central government and the Hong Kong SAR), Vietnam, Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore. There are major collections available in both English and in Asian languages.

2.1.3. Free and 'pay for use' access

In most of the examples given above, access to this legal information is free, other than the telecommunications costs. While commercial legal publishers are starting to put `pay for use' legal materials on the web, this is in its infancy, due in part to the lack of maturity of Internet payment mechanisms. These commercial legal resources are at this stage outnumbered by the free-access legal materials that are made available by Parliaments, governments, courts, and `public legal information institutes' (often University-based) which are being developed around the world.

There are significant `pay to use' law collections coming onto the web in all parts of the world. Such sites are probably just as common in developing countries - where they exist, for example, in India, China, Malaysia and Singapore - as they are in North America or Australasia. The question of whether sites are free access or `pay for use' does not make a fundamental difference to the question of the difficulty of carrying out legal research, or the need for indexing and search mechanisms to provide access to these materials (whether the user has to pay to access the material once found is a separate issue). However, it does make a considerable difference to the likelihood that users in developing countries will use the materials unless the prices for access are reasonable and the mechanisms for payment convenient (particularly for overseas materials). An intermediate position between traditional free access law sites and `pay to use' sites is sites which provide free access but obtain revenue for advertising. This model has become increasingly popular on the Internet, and does not provide obstacles to access by users in DMCs.

It is difficult to speculate about the long-term balance which will arise between free access and `pay to use' law sites. Free access sites are still increasingly rapidly, faster than `pay to use' sites, particularly as many commercial information providers have been attracted to the advertising model. The prospects for extensive free access to world-wide legal information by users in DMCs are not diminishing because of the commercial use of the web. In the longer term, as users and providers become more sophisticated in the use of Internet payment mechanisms, the provision of reasonably priced access may also be attractive.

2.1.4. Delivery of legal information via the web

In addition to its benefits as a research tool, the benefits of the Internet as a delivery mechanism for new decisions and legislation must also be stressed. The United States Supreme Court has for some years now used the Internet to distribute its opinions as they are handed down. The decisions of the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords are available within a day. The decisions of the Australian High Court are available within hours. The Internet provides the potential for the decisions of any courts to be available anywhere in the world within hours of being handed down, and for any legislation to be similarly available within hours of its passage through Parliament. Of course, for such materials to be available within days or weeks, or at all, would be a revolutionary improvement for most potential users.

Other courts have been quick to perceive the value of this delivery mechanism for the administration of justice. The United Kingdom Court of Appeal commented in Bannister v SGB plc 22http://www.open.gov.uk/lcd/order17.htm, its first decision to be published on the Internet:

If this country was in the same happy position as Australia, where the administration of the law is benefiting greatly from the pioneering enterprise of the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AUSTLII), we would have been able to make this judgment immediately available in a very convenient electronic form to every judge and practitioner in the country without the burdensome costs that the distribution of large numbers of hard copies of the judgment will necessarily impose on public funds.

2.1.5. Legal information available via Internet e-mail and News resources

This Report concentrates on legal information available via the World-Wide-Web, since the main emphasis of Project DIAL is on availability of legislation and legislation-related resources. However, there are a many e-mail discussion lists and some Internet News groups that discuss legal topics. Directories of these are available[23]http://www.hg.org/listservs.html]http://www.law.warwick.ac.uk/ncle/html/discuss.html]. The DIALogue Discuss e-mail discussion list proposed as part of Project DIAL, and the existing LAW-DEV list for discussions of issues in development law are discussed in Chapter 7.

2.1.6. Conclusions

It can be seen from the preceding discussion that the World-Wide-Web provides a unique opportunity for lawyers and legal researchers, no matter where they are located, to obtain affordable access to at least the basic elements of a world-wide law library - legislation, decisions of major courts, law reform reports and some expert commentary. This is a dream beyond the reach of all but the most well-resourced conventional (`print') law libraries of the world. For most of us, in both the developed and the developing world, it is the future of legal research.

[10] See Chapter 3 for details of the Internet's world coverage.








[18] provides links to these jurisdicitons.





[23] See (Hieros Gamos list) and (Warwick list)

[Previous] [Next] [Up] [Title]