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JILT 1998 (1) - E. Ann Rae

'The Official Version'

A National Summit to Solve the Problems of Authenticating, Preserving and Citing Legal Information in Digital Form

Toronto, November 20-22 1997

Reviewed by
E. Ann Rae
Bora Laskin Law Library
University of Toronto

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This is a Conference Report published on 27 February 1998.

Citation: Rae E A, ''The Official Version': A National Summit to Solve the Problems of Authenticating, Preserving and Citing Legal Information in Digital Form', Conference Report, 1998 (1) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>

1. Introduction

Last November 132 delegates from across Canada and beyond met at a summit meeting sponsored by the Canadian Association of Law Libraries/Association Canadienne Des Bibliothèques de Droit and The Legal Research Network. The purpose of the summit was to bring together representatives from various stakeholder communities--judges, lawyers, legislative counsel, law librarians, government and commercial publishers--to consider the problems of authenticating, preserving and citing digital legal information. The meeting was chaired by C. Anne Crocker, immediate Past President of CALL.

In advance of the summit a Web Site provided registrants with the programme and position papers covering the three main topics. This site will continue to evolve as the papers from other speakers and the proceedings are added to it.

An opening address by Judge Pierre Archambault of the Tax Court of Canada--who talked about how technology has changed his own work significantly--set the tone for the three plenary sessions. Keynote luncheon speaker David Johnston, chair of the National Information Highway Advisory Committee, delivered a stirring address about the role of the Committee and all Canadians in shaping Canada's digital future.

2. The Plenary Sessions: Authentication

David Masse's position paper, 'The ABC's of Authentication - A is for Atom, B is for Bit and C is for Care' summarized why authentication matters and surveyed current authentication devices: cryptography, digital signatures, public key infrastructures and digital watermarking. Panelists John Gregory, John McDonald and Mickie Voges added their perspectives. John Gregory, General Counsel, Cabinet Office of the Province of Ontario, talked of both law and authentication as risk management. Authentication is technology coupled with policy. Who is going to make the decisions about authentication? John McDonald, National Archives of Canada, offered a records manager's point of view, stressing the importance of the 'business process' (any process of connected tasks which generate information of any kind). It should be possible, by concentrating on the business process, to provide reliable documents in a secure environment. Mickie Voges, Director of the Information Center at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, argued that we care about authentication because of the uses we want to make of the information. There are different degrees of validation that we require depending on the use we want to make: from reading a commentary to filing documents with a court. We also have different notions of accessibility. Some documents need to be broadly accessible; some don't. We are much more comfortable creating a high standard of authenticity where we have very few people who need to get the documents than if we broaden accessibility to the general public. We already have agencies of authentication such as publishers and law courts that we have relied on for years. We already have secure storage. Technologies such as encryption can be added to the mix. Our challenge is to develop a coherent and cohesive structure.

3. Preservation

Professor Daniel Poulin, in his paper, 'Preserving the Canadian Legal Heritage', reviewed the options for physical storage media, file formats (SGML, HTML, PDF, etc.), standards for organizing files, metadata, migration of data, costs and responsibilities for archiving. Huw Morgan of Carswell argued that Canadians are already very well served by the private sector, particularly for the preservation of court decisions where five vendors compete to add value and gain market share. For statutes and regulations, Morgan advocated that each province make official versions freely available online and that the private sector continue to add value by annotating, analyzing and synthesizing data. Unresolved is the issue of who will shoulder the cost of preserving historical versions of legislation. Ed Hicks, Legislative Counsel with the federal Department of Justice, described his ideal system for digital preservation of legislation and access to it:

  • it would use SGML
  • all data, past, current and future (not-in-force), would be kept in the system
  • there would be a database management system to manage the data pieces
  • each piece would be date-stamped with in-force information
  • a query would reconstruct an act or regulation as of any specified point in time.

Nancy Brodie talked about the role of libraries in general and the National Library of Canada (NLC) in particular. NLC's goal remains the same in a digital world as it has been in the print environment: to collect, preserve and promote access to Canada's published heritage. It is engaged in the development of open standards to support this mandate.

4. Citation

Martin Felsky's position paper, 'Case Law Citation in Canada: Proposals for Reform' summarized various proposals for the development and use of a vendor- and media-neutral system of citation in Canada. Panelist Claude Marquis, from the Supreme Court of Canada, talked about the significant cost of shifting the job of determining citations from publishers to the courts. Most courts in Canada do not number their judgments now; if a new system were implemented, it would add a considerable burden and should be done gradually starting with the Supreme Court of Canada and provincial courts of appeal. Ruth Rintoul spoke from the perspective of a database vendor, QL Systems, where there is a need for an international system of citation that can accommodate judgments from other countries without duplication of the abbreviations used. Ross Flowers, a legal researcher of many years experience, put forward the view that a citation system should clearly identify a decision and also permit a researcher to locate and access the case. He advocated a coherent system of citation applicable to both electronic and print materials with brief citations that are easily understood by humans as well as machines.

5. Discussions by Participants and Wrap-up

Following each plenary session, participants had an opportunity to debate the issues in small groups, each with a facilitator and a recorder, and to bring their thoughts back to the plenary. While members of the different stakeholder groups often held opposing views, particularly about the relative roles of government and the private sector, there was consensus on some basic issues. Highest priority for authentication and preservation was accorded to primary legal materials--legislation, court and administrative tribunal decisions. The necessity for collaborative development (by members of the various stakeholder groups) of standards and policies relating to these materials was underscored many times. There was general support for the development of a neutral system of citation but not as much agreement as some had hoped about the features of that system. After intense debate of the issues over a day and a half, there was agreement about the magnitude of work to be done, but no clear consensus on process, although many excellent suggestions were made. The organizing committee is committed to fostering collaborative work by creating a listserv of all of the delegates as a first step and by publishing the proceedings both online and in print.

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