Information Type: Judicial Information
Date of Judgment(s): 0000-00-00
Subject: Legal Information System
Magazine (Equal Citations): Journal of Open Access to Law
Year: 2013
Volume: 1 (1)
Pages: 1-36
Article Title: Meaning of 'free access to legal information': A twenty year evolution
Author: Graham Greenleaf, Andrew Mowbray, and Philip Chung
Case Note / Description :

Free online access to legal information is approaching maturity in some parts of the world, after     two decades of development, but elsewhere is still in its early stages of development. Nowhere     has it been realised fully. The main question asked in this paper is what should 'free access'    mean in relation to legal information in order for it to be fully effective?”  As with  software, we    must  ask whether free access to law is ‘free as in beer, or free as in speech?’ The six most     significant attempts over the last twenty years to answers this question are analysed to show that a  substantial degree of international consensus has developed  on  what ‘free access to legal    information’ now  means.  Of thirty separate identifiable  principles, most are found in more than one    statement of principles,  and  many are now  relatively common  in the practices of  both    States  and  providers of  free  access to legal  information (government and  NGO). Many concern measure to avoid the development  of monopolies in publication of the core legal documents of   a    jurisdiction. Which  principles are essential to the meaning  of ‘free access to legal information’,    and which are only desirable, is usually clear. Two  complementary  meanings of ‘free access to  legal information’ emerge. The first states the obligations of the State in relation to ensuring     free access to legal information – but  not  necessarily providing it. The key elements  concern the     right of republication. The  second  meaning  states the conditions under which an organisation     can correctly be said to be a  provider of free access to  legal information. We argue that  a    better definition is needed than the ‘consensus’ suggests,  and  propose one based  on the     avoidance  of  conflicts with  maximisation  of the quality and quantity of free access.
One use of such a set of principles is to help evaluate the extent to  which any particular jurisdiction  has implemented free access to legal information. A brief  example is     given of Australia, a county with a generally good record but some deficiencies. Finally, the     paper considers what steps should be taken to most effectively realise a  reformulated concept     of ‘free access to legal information’, by civil society, by states at the national level, and at the    international level.


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