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Part A - A future for public access to legal information?

Public Legal Information Institutes (pLIIs)

A public legal information institute is, in a few words, an organisation that publishes via the internet substantial quantities of legal information originating from more than one source (in other words, not only `its own' information), provides non-profit public access to that information, and does not support monopoly provision of that information.

Since Cornell's Legal Information Institute (LII) became the pioneering example of this type of public interest legal publisher, quite a few other examples have blossomed around the world, including in Canada, Australia, Germany, Norway and Zambia. In many other countries no such institutions have been established.

During 1997 three LIIs (the Centre de recherche en droit public (CRDP), University of Montréal, Canada, the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII), and the Lovdata Foundation, Norway) formed the International Association of Public Legal Information Institutes (IAPLII) to `promote and support non-profit public access to public legal information throughout the world, principally via the internet', and to provide mutual support to those who wished to do so. They invited Cornell's LII to become the fourth founding member. In 1998 IAPLII will start to invite new members (and associate members who support its goals) and hopes to hold its first conference. Details are available on the web[1]http://www2.austlii.edu.au/~graham/IAPLII/ ].

It is still the case that most legal information provided via the web is available for free access, but this is changing, and will change more rapidly in future. It is also increasingly the case that government departments, legislatures and courts are able and willing to provide via the web the legal information that originates from them, without needing to rely on any third party provider.

The aim of this paper

This paper looks at the experience of one LII - the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) - in order to ask what role it has played until now, and, by extension, whether there is any continuing role for it or any other public legal information institute. Do public legal information institutes have a future?


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