2. AustLII's achievements - building blocks of one pLII
AustLII's achievements from 1995-1997 fall into three categories: technical
(including content), political and institutional.
AustLII was founded on the assumption that unless we could provide a compelling
technical demonstration of how well legal information could be provided via
internet, courts and governments would not allow us to use their data.
AustLII's most significant technical achievements have been:
- The quantity of data provided, now amounting to over 3.2 gigabytes
of legal texts (before processing). There are over 50 separate searchable
nearly half a million sections of legislation, and about 65,000 cases. Given
that virtually nothing was available via internet when AustLII started this is
an achievement in itself. The provision of data in such quantities has been
achieved through large scale automated and reliable processes.
- The reliability of the AustLII service has been very high, with
very little down-time, high access speeds (relative to other internet
providers), and high levels of data integrity and security. This has been
achieved despite constantly increasing user demands on our servers (detailed
- The quality and sophistication of the data mark-up, has been very
unusual, particularly the unique provision of dense hypertext linkages (over 13
M automated hypertext links), and features such as automated `Noteups' of every
legislative section. This is discussed in `Managing Large Scale Hypertext
in the AustLII Papers.
One of half a million sections -
links in two definitions in the Telecommunication Interception Act 1987
of 39 items found in a Noteup of s7 - http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinosrch.pl?query=ta1979350+s7
of the SINO search form, with the most powerful search form chosen
- A powerful and user-friendly search engine, SINOhttp://www.austlii.edu.au/do2/form.pl],
gives a consistent search interface over disparate data, with boolean and
proximity searching, and relevance ranking of results. SINO exemplifies
AustLII's control of its own software.
A small knowledgebase, linked to other web pages containing
Part of the user interface, with a link to an AustLII statutory
AustLII was created in order to convince governments and courts to allows and
facilitate free access to Australian primary legal materials. Our `access to
law' agenda has always been explicitly political, an attempt to destroy the
restricted access to electronic legal information that prevailed from the early
1980s to the mid-1990s. The way in which this has been carried out is discussed
in detail in `The Politics of Public Legal Information'http://ltc.law.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/LegInfo/97_2gree/paper4.htm]
in the AustLII Papers.
AustLII's impacts in this area have been:
- At the practical level, we have had near-universal success in obtaining
free public access to data from government and court sources that were
often very reluctant to provide the data, or in some cases forbidden by
governments to do so. There were no free sources of legal data when AustLII
started, whereas now the decisions of dozens of courts and tribunals, and
legislation from all jurisdictions but two are available free or in the process
of being made so available.
- Creation of a public expectation of free access to primary legal
materials means that it is now much more difficult for governments or
courts to try to charge for internet access to primary legal materials. No
government or court has yet dared to charge for internet access. However, it is
premature to assume that this is irreversible. Nothing in Australian
constitutional or administrative law prevents government agencies from making a
profit from sale of such information.
- The creation of a market for legal information on the internet -
free and charged - is probably one of our achievements. AustLII's development
of a critical mass of users, particularly from law firms, demonstrated that the
internet was a viable medium for legal publishing made it easier for commercial
publishers to justify a business case. More important, the continuing existence
of `the AustLII alternative' helps ensure that commercial legal publishers
moderate their charges, particularly to sectors such as the educational market
which can realistically decide to `make do' with what AustLII provides.
- Encouragement of the development of standards is important in the
medium to long term. AustLII has taken a leading role in encouraging debate
about a `Court-designated citation standard' (sometimes known as `medium
neutral and vendor-neutral citation') within the courts, and has also joined a
committee of legal publishers to discuss the issue. We are also participating
in the establishment of a NSW Legal Information Council.
It is arguable that no other country currently has as
comprehensive a range of free access legal materials via internet as
Australia. AustLII's technical, political
and institutional achievements have been the single major contributor to this,
although others such SCALE and the NSW Law Foundation have also played vital
- A constantly expanding user-base has provided proof of the value of
AustLII to providers of data and funds, and has constituted AustLII's support
base in the community. AustLII's servers are now providing almost 2 million
hits per month (over 87,000 per business day), to over 5,000 users per day
(peaking at 230 concurrent users).
- We have established relatively stable medium term funding (ie to
2000) sufficient for AustLII's current operations, from a mix of academic
research funding (various Australian Research Council grants) and support from
`stakeholder' representatives (NSW Law Foundation, Department of Foreign
Affairs and Trade, Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, Australian Business
Chamber and others). AustLII's `stakeholder model' has proven its worth, but is
capable of greater diversification. However, stakeholder funding cannot be
taken for granted from one year to the next, and we have no certain sources of
funding beyond 2000.
- We have found a supportive University base in its Law Faculty and
University hosts because of its mix of academic research and community service.
- AustLII has obtained a great deal of public and institutional
support and goodwill (often expressed in the media, and in awards),
which is a valuable asset in influencing public policy and in obtaining
 The United States and Germany are the
other countries that could mount such a case.