Background

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From the mid-1990s a group of organizations, known as ‘legal information institutes’ or ‘LIIs’ have been working together to improve widespread free access to law across the world. These institutions publish legal information from more than one source (not just ‘their own’ information) for free access via the Internet. Their cooperation was informal at first, but since 2002 they collaborate both politically and technically through membership of the ‘Free Access to Law Movement’ (FALM), a loose affiliation of 46 members from countries all over the world. The first Legal Information Institute was established in 1992 at Cornell University. This type of initiative, and use of the suffix ‘LII’, then spread in Australia (AustLII), Canada (CanLII), and many other countries and regions, including the UK (BAILII), the Pacific Islands (PacLII) and Southern Africa (SAFLII). Of the 46 members of FALM, half of them collaborate in the operation of three portals for the searching of multi-LII databases: AsianLII (28 Asian jurisdictions); CommonLII (50 jurisdictions, members of the Commonwealth); and WorldLII (all databases from collaborating LIIs, over 1,000 databases). The Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) coordinates the operation of these three portals and runs them from its servers.

As concerns Europe, only a few institutions are yet members of FALM, namely ITTIG from Italy; BAILII and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Information Projects from UK; Droit.org from France; JiPS from Germany; IDT from Spain; CyLaw from Cyprus; IRLII from Ireland; and Jersey Legal Information Board from Jersey. Of these LIIs, BAILLI (the British and Irish Legal Information Institute) is by far the largest provider of legal data in terms of quantity of data in its databases. ITTIG (the Institute of Theory and Techniques of Legal Information of the National Research Council of Italy) has for many years produced data bases of national and international significance and built specialized tools and software for searching of legal information on the web.

European databases from five countries are also available through WorldLII from the Global Legal Information Network (GLIN) provided by the US Law Libarary of Congress. Therefore there is as yet relatively little European legal content searchable through the free access portals (except from the UK, Ireland and Jersey). The European contribution to the cooperative effort to provide world-wide free access to law is as yet more limited than could be expected, given its significance in the development of the world’s legal systems, and its technical sophistication.

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