Skip to main content Skip to navigation

JILT 1997 (2) - AustLII's roles

1. AustLII's roles

AustLII is a University-based organisation specialising in research and teaching in computerisation of law, and which operates one of the largest free law sites on the web.

1.1 Two years of free public acces to law
1.2 What is AustLII?
  1.2.1 Free Access to Public Legal Information via the Web
  1.2.2 Research into Legal Computerisation
  1.2.3 Education in Computerised legal research
  1.2.4 A Committment to Free Access
1.3 AustLII's databases
  1.3.1 Primary Legal materials
  1.3.2 Secondary Legal Materials
  1.3.3 Special Funded Collections
  1.3.4 LINKS and Web Spiders
  1.3.5 International content
1.4 AustLII's technical basis
  1.4.1 'Rich' and Aurtomated Hypertext
  1.4.2 the SINO Search Engine
  1.4.3 Four Search and Display Methods
  1.4.4 Other New Features
1.5 Usage and recognition

1.1 Two years of free public access to law, 1995-97

The Australasian Legal Information Institute came into reality in July 1995 [1] when it provided legislation (Australian Commonwealth Consolidated Statutes), case law (High Court decisions), and indexes ('Australian Law on the Net') via the Internet. These papers presented at AustLII's first Conference on law on the Internet (25-27 June 1997) provide a collection of papers on AustLII's first two years of providing free public access to Australian law, and an overview of new directions in AustLII's work. This introduction provides background to AustLII and covers some other matters not dealt with in the conference papers.

AustLII is a joint facility of the Law Faculties of the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), and the University of New South Wales (UNSW). It has two part-time Co-Directors [2] , a full-time staff of six [3] , and a number of part-time employees and research associates [4] . AustLII's primary materials staff and servers are located at UTS, and secondary materials and special projects staff are at UNSW, though these divisions are flexible. AustLII's management team (its Co-Directors and Manager) are jointly responsible for AustLII's overall direction, supported by a Management Committee with three other academic members [5] .

1.2 What is AustLII? - more than a web site

AustLII is best known as a web site, but there are a number of dimensions to its operations, including research in legal computerisation, education, 3and involvement in public policy issues concerning legal information. We describe AustLII as a University-based organisation specialising in research and teaching in computerisation of law, and which operates one of the largest free law sites on the web. These aspects of AustLII are summarised here, and detailed in the rest of the paper.

1.2.1 Free access to public legal information via the web

The initial purpose of AustLII's creation with funding from academic sources, was to provide a 'research infrastructure' for research in Australian law, by the free provision of primary and secondary Australian legal materials on the World Wide Web, using innovative methods of hypertext and text retrieval. It quickly became apparent that practising lawyers and administrators and community organisations used AustLII as much as academics and students.

AustLII's funding sources and aims broadened to reflect the interests of those sectors as well, most notably due to support from the Law Foundation of New South Wales (NSW). Public organisations, such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and AUSTRAC, and business organisations such as the Australian Business Chamber also identified AustLII as the vehicle for development and publication of their resources, and have provided funding to achieve this. AustLII has developed into a resource providing access to over 3 GB of Australian legal information, funded via a 'stakeholder model' that is discussed later.

1.2.2 Research into legal computerisation

AustLII's techniques of computerising legal information have developed from the 'DataLex' research (Greenleaf G et al; 1995b) over the past decade, and its massive automated hypertext mark-up and integration of text retrieval with hypertext represent research outcomes not duplicated elsewhere. By controlling and developing its own key software, AustLII is of necessity research-oriented, but it also aims to be a centre of research into legal computerisation. Access to very large quantities of computerised legal data, hypertext links and other mark-up data, and usage data [6] , gives AustLII opportunities to conduct research on legal computerisation that are rarely available to academic researchers. The relationship between theoretical research and the demands of a large-scale production system produce a valuable research dynamic. However, we also aim to carry out and facilitate theoretical research which is not driven by the immediate needs of AustLII's 'production system'.

image 1

image 2

AustLII's front page (

AustLII is conducting research into the development of new legal services using legal inferencing ('artificial intelligence') over the web (detailed in the paper 'New legal services via the web'); on innovative methods of text retrieval; on methods of providing web resources to diverse audiences (particularly remote Aboriginal communities), and on improvements to legal indexing. Separate papers in this collection deal with all of these research projects. Much of this research is funded by the Australian Research Council, giving AustLII an additional source of funding, but other research is simply conducted by AustLII staff in the course of developing AustLII.

1.2.3 Education in computerised legal research and legal computerisation

AustLII's personnel teach undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and Continuing Legal Education courses, on computerised legal research at AustLII's two sponsoring Universities. They also teach elective subjects on the development of computer applications for lawyers, using AustLII and its techniques as a teaching platform. The AustLII Guide to Legal Research on the Net can be downloaded for individual use or as a University teaching resource. AustLII's Conference on 'Law via the Internet '97', presenting papers from 40 speakers from seven countries and most Australian jurisdictions, is the most recent example of this educational role.

1.2.4 A commitment to free access to public legal information

The philosophy on which AustLII is based, and which motivates its staff, is a commitment to maximising free access to 'public legal information'. AustLII pursues - through example, advocacy and negotiation - a public policy that courts, legislatures and the like should provide their legal information in standardised computerised form, at cost, with whatever added value they can best provide, free of restrictions on re-use or re-sale, to whoever wishes to distribute it or add value to it.

AustLII is funded by grants from public bodies and private organisations that are 'stakeholders' in free dissemination of particular classes of legal information. Access to AustLII's web resources is free, and is not funded by advertising. We intend to maintain this approach.

1.3 AustLII's databases - Half way to an Internet public law library

AustLII's web service comprises (as at June 1997) 50 separate searchable databases comprising almost half a million pages of HTML, amounting to 3 gigabytes of 'raw' text (before mark-up and indexing). These pages contain almost 13 million hypertext links, mainly to other resources within the AustLII site. There are about 60,000 decisions of courts and tribunals on the system, and about 400,000 sections of legislation. Details are in the following paper.

The maintenance, management and development of the AustLII site is therefore a larger task than confronts most web site managers. One of the most important attractions of AustLII to many of its users - and to providers of content - is the 'critical mass' of legal materials (particularly primary legal materials) which we have assembled. Before discussing AustLII's techniques and technical features, we will outline these contents.

image 3

Database menu -

AustLII now receives decisions from an increasing number of courts and tribunals by e-mail. As a result, decisions of the High Court are usually provided on AustLII on the day on which they are delivered, and decisions of other courts such as the Federal Court and the Industrial Relations Court of Australia are provided within a week of their receipt from the court. Amendments to legislation from NSW and South Australia are also being received by AustLII on at least a fortnightly basis. The currency of legislative databases is now shown on the database's opening page, and with case-law, via the list of recent cases on the database's opening page.

1.3.1 Primary legal materials - cases, legislation, treaties and official decisions

Primary legal materials (cases, legislation, treaties, and official decisions) are the essential 'raw materials' of legal research and legal practice, and are the core of AustLII's databases. We aim to build a comprehensive free national law library of all Australian legislation, case law from all courts and the most significant tribunals, all treaties to which Australia is a party, and the decisions of the most important administrative bodies (including industrial awards). These primary legal materials present a degree of consistency as texts which makes them relatively amenable to massive automated mark-up, as discussed in the following paper. Legislation - towards a national legislation collection

AustLII holds the complete legislation of five of Australia's nine jurisdictions (Commonwealth, New South Wales (NSW), Australian Capital Territory (ACT), South Australia (SA) and the Northern Territory (NT)), including the two largest. This includes both Consolidated Acts and Regulations in all cases, and sessional ('Numbered') Acts and Regulations databases in some cases. Current Victorian legislation has been added, and more is being added when available. Approval has been given to add Western Australian legislation, and a licensing agreement is being finalised. Negotiations with the two remaining jurisdictions, Queensland and Tasmania, have been unsuccessful at this stage (see Paper 4).

AustLII receives Commonwealth and Australian Capital Territory legislative data via the Commonwealth Attorney-General's SCALE service, but sources its NSW, SA, NT and Victorian data direct from the Offices of Parliamentary Counsel and other Departments in those jurisdictions, and will soon do so with ACT legislation. Case-law - Superior Courts and small tribunals

AustLII's case-law databases comprise all Commonwealth courts and many of the most significant Commonwealth tribunals [7] , and an increasing collection of State and Territory case law [8] . Some case law from five State and Territory Supreme Courts (NSW, ACT, NT, SA and Tas) is included, and discussions are still underway with the three remaining jurisdictions. Approval has been obtained in principle for inclusion of decisions from a number of other State and Territory courts and tribunals, and development of these databases will proceed as resources permit. A recent addition has been the transcript of High Court cases since the beginning of 1997.

It is a high priority for AustLII to include current case law from the superior courts, both because of the importance of free public access to these cases, and because of high demand from AustLII users. However, we believe that we serve a very valuable role in carrying the decisions of increasing numbers specialist tribunals which are often quite small (in administrative law, anti-discrimination, planning matters and elsewhere), because the decisions of these bodies are often not readily available at all, particularly to people in other jurisdictions.

The historical sets of case law on AustLII are in most cases due to our receiving these back sets from the Commonwealth Attorney-General's SCALE service which has been available on the Internet since January 1997 as SCALE PLUS. SCALE's service to the Australian community in developing and preserving in public hands an electronic archive of Australian case law (principally Commonwealth materials) should be applauded, and has been a vital factor in AustLII's establishment. AustLII now receives the data to update the majority of these case-law databases directly from the courts and tribunals concerned, by e-mail or ftp, or on disk in some cases. For some courts and tribunals we still receive the data via SCALE service, but we are progressively moving toward direct updates, so as to increase the speed by which cases are available on AustLII. Other primary materials databases

We have a number of other databases of types of primary materials that are more difficult to classify: treaties and other international agreements; official decisions of agencies; and decisions of non-government organisations which nevertheless have an authoritative status. These include New South Wales Industrial Awards, Australian International Treaties 1945 -, Australian Tax Office Determinations and Rulings 1990- and Australian Press Council Decisions 1976-.

1.3.2 Secondary legal materials - interpreting and reforming the law

There are numerous 'secondary' sources of legal information which are created by public organisations, for the purposes of interpreting, investigating, explaining or reforming the law. These include the reports of law reform commissions, royal commissions, and numerous government departments and agencies. The Internet home pages of many of these organisations are becoming valuable secondary resources in themselves. Non-commercial legal publications such as University and public interest law journals are another potential source of free access secondary materials. The other principal source of secondary legal materials is, of course, the writings of practitioners, academics and others published by commercial legal publishers. These are starting to appear as chargeable resources on the Internet services of these legal publishers, but are unlikely to appear in significant quantities on a free resource such as AustLII (with some exceptions for back issues), for obvious reasons.

AustLII does not yet have the resources to embark on the creation of a national collection of public secondary sources of law, (even for major categories such as law reform commission and royal commission reports), although we have been successful in obtaining resources for some specialised collections (see below). AustLII itself only maintains a modest collection of secondary legal materials at present [9] , however it does act as host for various organisations' home pages which are usually maintained by the organisation concerned [10] .

In addition to resource limitations, the multiplicity of sources of secondary legal materials which are created by public bodies or otherwise available for public access, the frequency with which they are now appearing on the World Wide Web in one form or another, and the more limited value that AustLII's automated mark-up techniques can add to them, makes it impractical and to some extent unnecessary for AustLII to aim to host a large centralised collection of Australian secondary legal materials.

AustLII's future strategy in relation to 'public' secondary legal materials is therefore likely to concentrate on the following:

  • to provide a comprehensive Internet index of such materials via AustLII's Australian Links index;
  • to provide remote SINO search facilities over selected secondary legal materials, via use of our targeted web spider (see Paper 3, 'Indexing law on the Internet');
  • to continue to seek funding and permissions to create a central collection of some key resources such as law reform commission reports;
  • to continue to advocate the need for free access to public secondary legal documents, whether they are provided via AustLII or elsewhere;
  • to continue development of specialised funded collections (see below).

AustLII will therefore seek to position itself as a central access point for Australian public secondary legal information.

1.3.3 Specialised funded collections of primary and secondary materials

Although AustLII does not yet have the resources to create a national collection of public sources of secondary legal materials, we have received funding to create a number of specialised collections. The Australian Treaties Library

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has provided funds for AustLII to build a comprehensive Australian Treaties Library, as part of the Commonwealth Government's commitment to make the treaty-making process more accessible. The Library contains the full text of Treaties to which Australia is a party, 1945-1997; an Index to these treaties; National Interest Analyses 1996 - (the new 'explanatory memoranda'); a List of Multilateral Treaty Actions Under Negotiation; the 'Trick or Treaty?' Report (the Australian Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee Report that led to the project), an Australia and International Treaty Making Information Kit, the Select Documents on International Affairs series and other documents. It also contains the text of an Australian-drafted United Nations General Assembly Resolution - Electronic Treaties Database (December 1996) supporting the availability of treaties via the Internet.

image 4

As far as we are aware, Australia is the only country to have such a collection of the treaties to which it is a party available on the Internet. We have concentrated to date on mounting the collection of treaty texts. The next steps in the project are to 'add value' by creating extensive hypertext links, within treaties, from treaties to primary legal materials on AustLII (such as 'Noteups' from a treaty to legislation implementing the treaty and decisions considering the treaty).

The Reconciliation & Social Justice Library and Internet Project

AustLII and the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, have created the Reconciliation and Social Justice Library which already contains over 100 megabytes of text, making it the largest secondary law resource on AustLII. It is part of a more general Internet project on indigenous legal issues, discussed in detail in the concluding paper in this series.

The Australian Human Rights Information Centre (AHRIC)

The Human Rights Centre at the University of New South Wales, under a grant from the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department, is funding AustLII to develop the Internet component of the Australian Human Rights Information Centre (AHRIC). The focus of the project is Australia's compliance with its international human rights obligations. The content provided by the treaties and indigenous law projects are of assistance in the development of AHRIC, and the three projects are developing in tandem. The Industrial Law Library

The most recent AustLII specialised collection to receive funding is our Industrial Law Library, for which the Australian Business Chamber has provided funding. AustLII's databases already include industrial legislation from most jurisdictions, complete NSW Awards, the decisions of the Industrial Relations Court of Australia 1994-, the Industrial Relations Commission of Australia 1988-, and Industrial Commission of New South Wales 1995- . These resources, and industrial decisions and awards from other jurisdictions for which we have obtained permission, are the start of what we hope will develop into a national collection of legislation, decisions and awards in the areas of industrial and employment law.

1.3.4 LINKS and web spiders- Indexes of Internet legal resources

AustLII's Internet indexes of Australian and World legal resources use AustLII-developed software to provide indexes with both a subject index and an author/source index, and which may be searched for both individual link entries and index categories. 'Australian Links' was the runner-up in the Australian Society of Indexers inaugural web indexing awards. It contains links to over 1000 legally-related Australian web resources . We have also commenced an international index, 'World Links', intended to provide links to principal resources for all countries and regions, but only to provide a level of detail for countries in the Asia-Pacific region (where existing indexes are not very comprehensive). Both indexes are being developed further under ARC-funded research into Internet indexing.

These indexes are about to take on added significance as the 'launch pad' for a new AustLII service, a 'targeted web spider' which will allow non-AustLII legal web sites to be searched using AustLII's SINO search engine. Details of the LINKS indexes and their relationship to the targeted web spider are in the paper 'Indexing law on the Internet'.LINK?

1.3.5 International content on AustLII

AustLII has until now had an 'Australia-only' focus, but we have a medium-term plan to extend its collections to included free access to some English-language information on the laws of some other Asia-Pacific countries, particularly those with significant trade or other links with Australia, where funding is available and where AustLII's participation would be particularly valuable. This role is unlikely to be extensive. Discussions have commenced in some cases.

The availability of the targeted web spider will provide another option for involvement with non-Australian legal materials, as AustLII will be in a position to provide local searching via SINO of key regional legal materials in English which are already available on the net. This is discussed in the paper 'Indexing law on the Internet'. We see AustLII as having a regional role in providing better access to English language legal materials, more so than as the original host of such materials.

1.4 Large scale automation of law on the web - AustLII's technical basis

The following paper 'Managing large scale hypertext databases' provides technical details of AustLII's software, file management, and techniques for creating and managing large scale legal hypertexts. This paper gives non-technical background to AustLII's approach, from a user perspective. AustLII's approach to computerising legal materials is based on Mowbray and Greenleaf's 'DataLex' research (1984-1995) (Greenleaf et al; 1995b), but has now gone considerably beyond that basis.

A major element of AustLII's technical basis is that all of our key software and web interfaces are written by AustLII personnel, so can be developed and customised to suit the needs of the legal materials we deal with, and the ways in which we wish to integrate the different tools. This includes the SINO search engine and its web interface, the Findacts automated mark-up software, the YSH inferencing engine, the WYSH web interface to YSH, the Feathers Internet indexing software and interface, and the Gromit/Wallace targeted web spider. All of these strangely named beasts are discussed in the following papers.

1.4.1 'Rich' and automated hypertext

Creation and maintenance of hypertext links in large and complex bodies of text is very difficult. This is particularly so where text undergoes regular change, as is the case with statutes and regulations. If hypertext links are inserted in source documents manually, large or complex hypertext systems become impractical. The 13 million links in AustLII's data at present obviously could not be inserted manually, or even checked manually after insertion.

Most legal materials available via the WWW at present have only a 'basic' level of hypertext functionality, consisting primarily of 'hierarchical' links (e.g. tables of contents, footnotes) and (if needed) sequencing links (e.g. 'next', 'previous'). AustLII specialises in providing 'rich' hypertext, through the addition of numerous 'lateral' or 'internal' hypertext links. These include links within sections to definitions, links to cross-references between sections or between cases, or to references to sections in cases, and not only hierarchical or sequential links. The creation of such 'lateral' links is complex as the link text must usually be recognised in the body of the anchor node, and will often occur in non-standard forms. By and large, few lateral links exist within the legal documents available via the web at present [11] .

AustLII's mark-up software eliminates manual marking up of hypertext links, and all links are inserted automatically (except for some introductory pages). Automated mark-up scripts are written for each category of document which has a reasonably regular form (statutes, regulations, cases, some types of commentary etc.). The mark-up scripts are based on heuristics concerning the textual regularities that can be used to identify such link-creating features as the presence of defined terms (e.g. quoted terms followed by "means" or "includes"); context-limiting factors for the scope of defined terms; the various forms of references to sections of Acts or regulations; the names of Acts or Regulations (and heuristics to identify which jurisdiction the legislation comes from); and citations of cases that are contained in other AustLII databases (mainly through formal citation patterns, not through case names).

As with any heuristics, they do not purport to achieve 100% accuracy, or 100% recognition of all potential links. However, the mis-identification of a link (for example, a link to s99 in the wrong Act) is unlikely to prove more than a minor irritation to a user (at least one with any familiarity with legal materials), and the failure to identify a potential link has no adverse effects (unless users make erroneous assumptions that all defined terms are highlit), but is merely a basis for future improvement. Indirect evidence of user satisfaction with the current linking practices is that we receive almost no 'feedback' e-mail from users complaining about bad or missing links, except where links from a table of contents malfunction, and users think they cannot access the text at all.

One reason for removing any 'manual' involvement in the creation of hypertext, even for 'fine tuning' or error-correction, is that no text on AustLII is ever regarded as finally marked-up. Apart from the fact that the mark-up scripts are being tuned constantly to improve the heuristics, additions to available databases on AustLII change the hypertext links that can be created from many other databases. For example, legislation from a new Australian jurisdiction may require new links to be added from all case-law databases, and from some other legislation databases, as well as from secondary materials. AustLII's practice is to re-create whole databases or sets of databases whenever desirable. The whole collection can be rebuilt overnight, from the raw source files we hold, broken into over 500,000 files and 13 M new links created (see the following paper for performance details). Example of AustLII's hypertext

As an example of what is meant by 'rich' hypertext, all of the underlined text in the example below provides hypertext links which have been created automatically as described above (the 'Noteup' links are described later).

image 5

From the heading, hierarchical links are provided to the index of all legislation [Index] and to the Table of Contents of the Privacy Act [Table]. Sequential links are provided to the next section [Next] and the previous section [Previous]. Associative links are provided to the date the Act was last consolidated and to its legislative history [Notes]. In the text of the section, associative links are provided to internal definitions ('Commissioner', 'tax file number information'), to internal cross-references ('Schedule 2'), and to external cross references (sections of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901). 'Usermark' - automating links to AustLII from anywhere

AustLII's Usermark facility allows any other web page developer with pages that refer to legislation or (some) cases on AustLII to simply enter the URL of the page, and AustLII sends back a copy of the HTML for the page which has in it hypertext links to every Act, section or case on AustLII. Hundreds of links to AustLII can be created immediately, without the need for any manual linking, allowing others to 'add value' to their pages with links to AustLII. Integration between hypertext and text retrieval - automated 'Noteups' of sections

When a user is viewing on AustLII the hypertext of any section of an Act or Regulation (such as in the Privacy Act s17 example above), selection of the [Noteup] option triggers a pre-stored search over all case law, legislation, and secondary materials in AustLII's databases. Materials referring to a section can therefore be found without users having to master search syntax. The pre-stored search triggered by the [Noteup] option is actually a search for the hidden link text in all hypertext links to s17, 'pa1988108 s17'. No attempt is made to automatically construct search terms which reflect all the variations of textual ways in which references to s17 may appear. Instead, AustLII's hypertext mark-up scripts have 'recognised' most variant ways of referring to s17, and have, in effect, 'regularised' them by embedding a textually uniform reference to s17. The [Noteup] option then exploits this imposed uniformity. 'Noteups' are therefore (only) as comprehensive as the mark-up of text that proceeds them.

1.4.2 The SINO search engine -

AustLII's free text retrieval engine, SINO, is described in detail in the following paper. SINO accepts search queries using operators similar to those used in virtually all search languages with which Australian lawyers are familiar. Operators from different languages may be combined in one search (Greenleaf et al; 1997a).

AustLII released its new search interface, shown in part below, in June 1997. It is a major advance over the previous interface. The SINO search engine has also been rewritten in many respects, both to enable the new interface to be implemented, and to increase the speed of searching and the return of search results.

There is now a choice of three search forms - Standard (shown below), Guided (step-by-step use of the Standard Search form) and Extended (customised selection of databases).

image 6

The new SINO search form -

1.4.3 Four search and display methods

There are now four distinct methods of searching and displaying results, two of which are new. The two methods which are largely unchanged are Boolean search with Long Results display (the previous standard search method) and Freeform search with Ranked Results display (the only previous form of ranked results display), although SINO now returns results much more quickly. The two new methods, Boolean search with Short Results display and Boolean search with Ranked Results display are described briefly below, and the relevance ranking algorithm is outlined in the following paper. The addition of these options now gives AustLII a comprehensive set of search options suitable for the most inexperienced to the most expert users. Boolean search with Short Results display

The initial search results only lists the total number of documents retrieved, and then each database name which contains documents satisfying the search, plus the number of documents in that database satisfying the search (the 'short results' page). The short results option makes it less necessary to limit searches to particular databases, as the user can now more easily select which databases are of interest after the search is complete, without having to wade through pages of results. Boolean search with Ranked Results display

A Boolean search with ranked results is the most sophisticated search option offered on AustLII. It allows all AustLII connectors and operators to be used to carry out the search. However, the search results are then displayed with documents ranked according to (i) how many search terms they contain; and (ii) a 'score' indicating how often the search terms appear. Overall ranking is indicated by a %. The difference between this method and Freeform Searching (which also uses relevance ranking for displays) is that this method allows the ranked set of documents to have more precision (because 'and' and 'near' connectors can be used to limit what is found) and more recall because truncation (*) and synonyms can more safely be used in these searches. Relevance ranking adds precision to searches after the search is complete, by ranking the results in likely order of relevance. The best way to use this search method is to do a fairly broad search even though it might find a lot of irrelevant documents and then rely on the ranking mechanism to display the most relevant documents first. 'Freeform' searching - relevance ranking for beginners

AustLII also provides 'freeform' searching with relevance ranking display. No search connectors may be used in 'freeform' searching and if used are ignored. All common words are also disregarded. It is similar to Alta Vista's simple search method.

1.4.4 Other new features of the search interface

Customised database selection

The Extended Search Form provides check-boxes to allow any combination of AustLII databases to be searched. Customised sets of databases may be constructed from selections at 4 levels, including combinations from different levels:

  • All databases of a type (e.g. 'All legislation');
  • All databases of a jurisdiction (e.g. 'South Australia: All primary materials');
  • All caselaw, or all legislation, from a jurisdiction (e.g. 'New South Wales: All cases'; or
  • Individual databases.

The 'context' display

image 7

At the head of every document displayed as a result of a search, a [Context] button now appears, selection of which takes the user to the location on the page containing the first occurrence of the user's search term. Each search term subsequently displayed is preceded by a 'context arrow' which links to the previous occurrence of the search term, and is followed by a 'context arrow' linked to the next occurrence of the search term. The user can therefore navigate directly from one contextual display of the search terms to the next.

1.5 Usage and recognition - the 'user base'

Usage of AustLII has risen constantly, as shown by the following figures for the number of successful HTML requests ('hits') per month: 36,000 in July 1995; 146,417 in January 1996; 457,346 in July 1996; 813,361 in October 1996; to 1.5 million in May 1997. At present (June 1997) we usually receive about 4,200 separate users per business day, peaking at about 200 concurrent users, and accessing about 65,000 pages per day.

One of the most revealing statistics concerns the 'Superleague' decision of the Federal Court. It was available on AustLII within a few hours of being delivered in court (the Friday of the long weekend). By Monday afternoon of the holiday the full decision had been downloaded 1,300 times, and there were 2,500 downloads within the first week. This would amount to over $200,000 worth of photocopies from the Registry.

AustLII's users now come from the whole community, including educational institutions (about 30%), the legal profession and business (20%), community organisations (15%), government (10%), and 20% from overseas. These percentages have not changed a lot since AustLII's inception, except that business usage has risen considerably in comparison with government use.

AustLII has also received 'industry' recognition, including winner of 'Best Professional Services Site' and 'Top 5 Most Popular Web Sites' in the 1996 Australian Internet Awards, and runner up in the Australian Society of Indexers inaugural web indexing award.

International recognition has also been forthcoming. An encouraging note for the world-wide development of public legal information institutes like AustLII was struck in the first United Kingdom Court of Appeal decision to be published on the Internet ( Bannister v SGB plc). In his opening remarks, Lord Justice Saville commented:

'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.'

JILT logo and link to home page