Research Essay Topics - 2002

Russell Allen, 22 August 2001
  • Formal requirements
  • My suggested essay topics ...
  • If you want to suggest your own essay topic ...

  • Formal requirements

    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, and Robinson's 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 on Legal research on the internet.

    Topic 3 - Legal inferencing

    In 'Electronic Service Delivery: Achieving Accuracy and Consistency in Complex Transactions' - - 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 - 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 to either:
    (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 view.

    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:

    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 guidelines above.