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
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.
Significant collections of legislation are already available on the web from
over 50 countrieshttp://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;
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 lawshttp://www.austlii.edu.au/links/DIAL_Index/Legislation/Multi-national_Legislation__Collections_/].
The Parliaments of dozens of countries have web pageshttp://www.austlii.edu.au/links/DIAL_Index/Parliaments/],
and these contain many significant resources concerning legislation and law
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.
There are also extensive collections of case law from courts and tribunals of
at least 20 countrieshttp://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
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 tribunalshttp://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 Courtshttp://www.austlii.edu.au/links/United_States_of_America/Courts/].
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 USAhttp://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.
There are over 200 Law Journals that have web pageshttp://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
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.
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 worldhttp://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 courseshttp://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.
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
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
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.
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 availablehttp://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.
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
 See Chapter 3 for details of the Internet's
 provides links to these jurisdicitons.
 See (Hieros Gamos list) and (Warwick