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JILT 2000 (1) - Abdul Paliwala


Access to Legal Information - A welcome return?

Professor Abdul Paliwala
School of Law
University of Warwick



1. Introduction

We welcome readers to the first issue of 2000, with nine refereed articles and a host of other material, such as commentaries, conference papers and book and IT reviews.

The focus of this issue is access to legal information on the web, and we examine some of the broad issues of getting legal information onto the web. We also take a look at recent developments in e-commerce, contract law, legal practice and education.

2. Access to Legal Information

Three years ago, the editorial of JILT1997 (2)welcomed readers with the following:

This issue of JILT is largely about electronic legal information. The fact that this was not a deliberate decision of the editors is testimony to the remarkable current interest in the issue. In view of Saville LJ's commendation of the work of AustLII, we are proud to publishThe AustLII Papers: New Directions in Law via the Internet, which constitute a comprehensive account by the AustLII team of all aspects of AustLII's development and operation. In our view, the AustLII papers are compulsory reading for anyone involved with a law web site.

The surface similarity of this issue to1997 (2)deceptively disguises the dramatic changes in development and conceptual thinking which have taken place since 1997. We are delighted to present the next group of AustLII papers in this issue. However, the collection from theSecond AustLII Conference on Law via the Internet, Sydney 1999 (seereview by McMahon) represents not only the growing sophistication and ambition of AustLII's own work but worldwide developments in the area of free access to legal information. This issue has pre-published the proceedings of a meeting of great significance onFree the Lawheld in London in November 1999, in which Graham Greenleaf from AustLII and others supported the development of an AustLII type website in the UK. This is in tune with the new focus for AustLII, as presented by Greenleaf et al inProject DIAL, which is a world wide web law library providing free access to law:

The challenge is to find a new approach to legal research on the internet which will provide an internet-wide (which means world-wide) method of effectively providing access to legal materials available on the Internet, no matter where they are located.

The answer we propose is in part a technical solution, a limited area search engine for law, but to a large extent the success of the technical component will depend on an organisational element, the creation of a multi-national group of collaborators who are willing to make joint use of the technicaltools we have developed in order to create and sustain a world-wide legal research facility.

These and other developments such as the growing sophistication of the home-grown software environment described byDaniel Austinet al and the currently commendable resolution of the dilemmas concerning whether to continue to use HTML or move to other systems such as that suggested byPhilip Chunget al, indicate the combination of good conceptual thinking, sophisticated programming, excellent management as well as a strong dose of common sense which has made AustLII the leading force in web based legal information.

Yet, the very success of AustLII and other public legal information providers worldwide has prompted important questions about where we are going.Tom Bruce, from the Cornell Legal Information Institute, is ideally suited to ask these questions as a pioneer and continuing leading innovator of law on the web. He invites us to resist the 'artificially simplified analysis' which sees the world as a struggle of 'Robin Hood' public-sector against greedy private-sector providers. The danger in this approach is that of public legal information as low quality data dumps which allow bureaucracies to forego their duty to the diversity of user needs:

The real challenge is to guarantee that many different cases and conditions of people can go there and do that, building a vast diversity of new information sites, and that still other people can use them as a way of solving those problems that law is meant to solve.

While being an admirer of AustLII's achievements, Bruce poses a direct challenge to AustLII's centralist approach to web development, preferring a distributed approach. This crucial debate is going to be further pursued by Bruce and others at the forthcomingBILETA 2000 conferenceat Warwick on World Wide Law on the 13th and 14th April.Timothy Arnold-Moore'spaper seems to suggest a compromise under which web innovators can develop new dimensions of webcasting as in the case of the Tasmanian legislation system which can coexist under the AustLII umbrella. Bruce's support for a more distributed approach is crucially dependent on the development of common standards for a legal web culture. An aspect of such an approach is the development of citation systems for legal web material which ensure automated interconnectivity. There is a great opportunity for further advances in this area at the forthcoming specialistmeeting on citation systemsorganised by BILETA and the Society of Computers and Law.

3. E-commerce and Contract Law

The growing significance of E-Commerce is likely to lead to a redefinition of ideas in contract, tort and commercial law generally. A particular concern is whether courts and legislators try too hard to fit the old wine of existing conceptual frameworks into the new electronic bottles.

Noriko Kawawa'scareful comparison of English and US law on the effects of the classification of contract in relation liability for injury caused by electronic information illuminates the issues faced by the judiciary.

In apparent contrast, legislators have a clean slate in dealing with electronic transactions. In practice, asRichard Wuindicates in his study of the Hong Kong Electronic Transactions Ordinance, the speed of technological change and exponential growth in the global nature of transactions make traditional approaches to legislation obsolete. Wu's call for a flexible redesign of the legislation matches calls everywhere for new complexity aware legislative frameworks.

Meanwhile, Alistair Kelman'sbook reviewhighlights a number of security and privacy issues surrounding the new 'Database Nation'.

4. The Use of IT in Law Firms

Petter Gottschalk'sarticle deals with a different dimension of technological change, the law firm. Gottshalk applies this to the context of research on Norwegian law firms and concludes that there is a significant positive relationship between the extent of IT use and the extent of firm co-operation and knowledge co-operation among law firms in Norway. The exciting aspect of the article is detailed work on the idea of a law firm and networks involving law firms as 'bodies of knowledge'. The framework is not without its problems, but enables an analysis which can cope with the changing shape of legal work.

Andrew Terrett'sbook'The Internet - Business Strategies for Law Firms', further develops some of these themes and provides a very useful guide for legal firms wishing to develop a network strategy.

5. Developments in Legal Educational Software

David Grantham'srevisit to IOLISplus, first introduced in JILT1999 (1), highlights computer assisted learning. It is the second chapter in the development of the integrated learning system at Coventry University which has customised the IOLIS courseware to the learning and teaching needs of Coventry. This article develops the pedagogy and educational strategy of recent changes to the learning framework and includes the impact of the introduction of WebCT.

We also gain a unique insight fromOrlan Leeinto a legal CD-ROM that has been developed as part of the Business Law course at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology.

6. And finally...

The issue also carries a wide variety of commentaries, conference reports and papers, and book and IT reviews. We particularly welcome the publication of the BILETA award winning student essay byTyrone McKenna, which is in accord with JILT's policy of promoting student work.

We trust you find this first edition of 2000 an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, and we look forward to seeing you again in next issue, which will be fully published at the end of June 2000.

This Introduction was published on 29 February 2000.

Citation: Paliwala A, 'Access to Legal Information - A welcome return?',2000 (1)The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT).<>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>.




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