Written Evidence from the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII)

Open Justice: Court reporting in the digital age

 

1.      The British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII), http://bailii.org, is a small charity founded in 2000, at the initiative of a judge, Sir Henry Brooke, which provides independent online free and fully searchable access to the most comprehensive set of British and Irish primary legal materials available for free and in one place on the internet via its website and notifications of current judgments via Twitter.

2.      BAILII has played a key role in the international movement calling for free access to law as means to promote justice and rule of law. It is supported by donations from a wide range of supporters, including many within the legal community. It operates on a shoestring budget and this limits the extent to which it can make use of emerging technologies which require significant investment.

3.      BAILII is widely used by journalists and the media and also by individual members of the public and the advice agencies working on their behalf. During 2020 page views increased by 3 million to 79 million and downloads increased from 3.7 million to 5.4 million. According to an independent survey of BAILII users in 2018, ‘92% of survey respondents said that BAILII is very important in enabling free access to law’.

4.      There are various aspects to court reporting in support of access to justice. These do not preclude commercial activity which adds value through other business models.

5.      Authentic and complete.  BAILII receives judgments of the courts (and subsequent corrections and take-down instructions) direct from judges. It is important to the independence of the judiciary that judges are able to disseminate their judgments without a gatekeeper, commercial or government, controlling distribution. There is a continuing need for access to full and unedited judgments so those reading comment can go to the judgments themselves.

6.      Free to Access. BAILII is free to use and this is an important factor for many individuals including litigants in person and the advice agencies which assist them, charities, and small businesses because commercial services are priced at a level beyond their means.

 

7.      Independent.  As part of the coverage of court judgments, there is a need for reporting which is independent both of commercial organisations and also of government.

 

8.      Anonymous use. For some users, it is important that usage is anonymous. This may for example include vulnerable individuals, victims of crime, and users whose patterns of usage might indicate health or other issues. Although this does not fit many business models, BAILII believes there should be systems available such as BAILII whose usage is anonymous, require no log on or registration, and employ no cookies, trackers or analytics.

 

9.      Comprehensive. At present no systems, even the largest, receive all judgments, orders, etc.  There needs to be a more comprehensive feed of judgments available to the media and to individuals.  Recent government plans seem to indicate a more conscious efforts to preserve judgments for research; until now there has been no systematic retention of judgments or other court documentation.  However, this apparently is limited to ‘legally significant’ judgments. There are research uses of judgment data which do not turn on new points of law.

 

10.  Transcription Fees. As noted above, the availability of judgments is selective. Where a judgment is not made available for publication, and no copy can be obtained, for example from the parties and their legal representatives, it is possible to obtain a copy from the transcription service. However, the costs of this are often prohibitive.

 

11.  Speed. It is vital that judgments and other court data are made available and published speedily. BAILII, for example loads new judgements within hours of receipt or according to an embargo or other instructions from the judge.  Direct distribution to publishers from judges eliminates any delay which may be introduced by a longer chain of communication.

 

12.  Structured Data. The structure of data and the identification of elements of the data improves efficiency and reduces costs in making data available in a usable and more searchable format and in its further use by innovative analytical service. Although a template was introduced some time ago for the recording of judgments, there are now significant variations in its use, particularly by transcription services.

 

13.  International Perspectives. Developments in the law in other common law countries should be easily tracked and can not only be persuasive in individual cases but also support law reform. BAILII has close links with legal information institutes on other countries around the world and so provides easy access to the laws of many common law jurisdictionsIn the interests of citizens throughout the UK, BAILII itself covers the whole of the United Kingdom so judgments and other materials are available from Scotland and Northern Ireland rather than the narrower focus of England & Wales.

 

14.  Commentary.  There is a need, which BAILII plans to meet if the appropriate funding is forthcoming, to bring together high-quality case commentary and interpretive content, currently available in a multitude of locations on the web, and make is easily available and searchable alongside the original judgments, giving an additional avenue for selected authors to reach a wider audience. It also covers the only other major common law jurisdiction in Europe, Ireland, and the commercial courts in the Gulf region applying English law.

September 2021