Reading Guide: Hypertext and Retrieval
4. Applications to law of hypertext and text retrieval

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In this Part, we first look at three case studies of the development of large-scale legal hypertext and text retrieval systems, and then turn to a number of systems with special features relating to legislation and to case law.

4.1. Building large-scale legal hypertexts: Case studies

[This Part is complete for 2000 ]

Lawyers were one of the first professions to make extensive use of hypertext, from the late 1980s, and they may have done so more in Australia than anywhere else. DiskROM's CDs of hypertext Australian legislation were available from the early 1990s. The Guide (UK) hypertext software was used for legal applications from the late 1980s.

Andrew Mowbray's 'Hype' component of the DataLex software was first used in a demonstration at the 1989 'Laws of Australia' inaugural conference - as a dial-up system using a text-based interface. The automation techniques used with Hype later became the basis of AustLII's hypertext markup.

There are three main approaches that can be taken to creating very large legal hypertext systems where rich interlinking of documents is desired:

In practice, few web publishers would use only one of these approaches. For example, AustLII encourages document creators to standardise their document creation as much as possible (while falling short of HTML or SGML tag insertion). Butterworths online employs some automated means as well as a high level of editorial control.

There is no available survey article which gives a history of hypertext in legal applications. However, three of the earliest large web-based systems, Cornell's Legal Information Institute (LII) created in 1992, the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII), created in 1995 (but with a prior history back to 1985 as the DataLex Project), and Montreal's LEXUM, created in 1994, are unusual in the extent to which they have documented their approach to building large-scale systems. They are all free access 'Public Legal Information Institutes'.

Cornell, AustLII and LEXUM therefore provide three good case studies of the development of large-scale hypertext and retieval systems in a non-commercial environment.

4.1.1. Case study - Cornell LII

The following articles describe the current approach of the Cornell Legal Information Institute (LII):

4.1.2. Case study - AustLII

The Australasian Legal Information Institute is one of the world's largest free access law sites, and one of the most automated in its approach.


For general overviews of AustLII, see the following:

Automation of hypertexts

AustLII's web site now (1999) has over 28 M automatically created hypertext links between pages on the AustLII site, and automatic processing of the cases and legislation it receives into about 1 M separate web pages. It is therefore a leading example of the automated creation of large-scale legal hypertexts. It is still an unusual example of the degree of density in its internal hypertext linking.

Other articles concerning AustLII

4.1.3. Case study - LexUM

is based at the University of Montreal in Québec, Canada ( Some background and photos). It si involved in a wide range of projects, some with its own software. It is at the moment attempting to expand its existing coverage of Québec and Canadian federal law into a more comprehensive coverage of Canadian law.

The following papers illustrate a variety of aspects of LEXUM's approach:

4.1.4. Other approaches to large-scale hypertexts

There are few papers publshed on the creation of large-scale legal hypertexts. The following papers take a variety of approaches:

4.2. Legislation systems

[This Part is not yet completed for 2000]

4.2.1. Point-in-time legislation

EnAct is a legislation drafting, management and delivery system that has been built to enable the Tasmanian Government to provide improved legislation information services to the community. EnAct provides the community with a facility that enables cost effective public access to reliable, up-to-date, searchable consolidated Tasmanian legislation. The 'point-in-time' capability allows users to search and browse the consolidated database as it was at any time since 1 February 1997. Tasmania achieved these goals by automating much of the legislative drafting and consolidation process. This paper discusses why the Tasmanian government implemented EnAct, the concepts behind EnAct, and the technology that makes all of this possible.

4.2.2. Other papers concerning legislation systems

4.3. Case law systems

[This Part is not yet completed for 2000]

New references

4.3.1. Flexicon

developed as part of the FLAIR Project at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Faculty of Law. It is described on its web site as follows:

Flexicon is an automated legal information system for searching full text legal data. It goes beyond current search tools by providing automatic case summaries, while ranking found cases in order of relevance.

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