Friday, May 13, 2005

JISC and BALII Open law

JISC and BALII are launcing an Open Law project. I hope they don't mind me including their press release of 5th of May in its entirety here but this is excellent news for academia.

"JISC and BAILII agreement will make legal resources openly available to all

5th May, 2005. A major new agreement will digitise thousands of core legal judgments and law reports and for the first time make these freely and openly available electronically. JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) and BAILII (British and Irish Legal Information Institute) today announced the Open Law project which has the potential to transform the delivery of legal teaching and public access to legal materials in the UK.

Access to case reports and legislation are central to the teaching of law and the development of legal skills. Open Law will therefore focus on the core needs of staff and students on law courses at all levels. It will include around 200 of the most cited judgments in each of the core areas of the law course syllabus. Other non-core areas will also be covered, so that staff and students dealing with legal issues on non-law courses such as accounting and business, environmental management, planning and social work, will also benefit. The digitisation of these judgments and other reports means that the project will digitise a total over 40,000 pages.

The heavy use of standard legal resources in both print and online form, the restriction of certain materials to reference libraries and their cost have meant that the availability of key materials has always been a challenge for law departments across the country. JISC’s and BAILII’s commitment to open access principles in this project will mean that the general public will also be able to access the most important legal materials for free.

The 36 month project will also work closely with the legal profession, law schools, librarians, and special interest groups such as the Committee of Heads of Law Schools, the Society of Legal Scholars and the Association of Law Teachers to identify these judgment and reports as well shaping the future development of this resource.

Lorraine Estelle, JISC Collections Manager, who negotiated the agreement, called it “the most important development for the provision of online resources in the area of law.” She continued: “The involvement of the key players in legal education and the legal profession will ensure we have a resource that will be tied closely to the needs of our students and the needs of the profession as a whole.”

Professor Philip Leith, a Trustee of BAILII and Professor of Law at Queen's University Belfast, said: "BAILII has developed vigorously in its first five years, providing a system which uses advanced hyperlinking techniques to make access to law easier and more coherent for students. It is usually the speediest publisher of judgments. This JISC-supported next stage is essential to broaden and deepen our collection. We want BAILII to be the first port of call for those in education. We want to provide a real 'National law library'. JISC's support for this Open Law project is a significant step, affecting all who teach and learn in law."

Professor Alan Peterson, President of the Society of Legal Scholars and Professor of Law at the University of Strathclyde, welcomed the announcement, saying: "The project will provide funding for a much needed expansion of a database which is already extensively used by students, researchers and academics at all stages and levels. The more it is possible to digitise the primary resources required for legal education, the more effectively we can introduce innovative teaching strategies as well as carrying out cross-jurisdictional research with much greater ease."

Michael Jefferson, past Chair of the Association of Law Teachers, Senior Lecturer and Director of Teaching for the Department of Law at the University of Sheffield, said: “BAILII has provided a means of access not only to legal materials that are available in many libraries but also to materials which are either not available anywhere else or are available only in selected libraries not easily accessible to all UK staff and students. The extension to the collections on BAILII will further enhance the provision of in particular case law.”

Michael Jefferson continued: “This enhancement is of particular importance to the Association of Law Teachers, some of whose members are in schools and Further Education Colleges where access to legal information is at best problematical. Some members also teach on part-time and distance-learning degrees and again the extension of BAILII's database will significantly improve access to material for students on these courses. The Association of Law Teachers is for these reasons particularly grateful to staff at BAILII and to JISC for this extension to its coverage.”

Paul Darling QC, Chairman of TECBAR, a specialist bar association for barristers, said: "This is an exciting development. BAILII is an invaluable legal research tool fully supported by the practising Bar. The sponsoring of the Open Law project by JISC is very welcome indeed."

Susan Doe, Chair of the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians, pledged the support of academic law librarians: "We welcome the Open Law project as an expanded BAILII will enable the creation of direct links to materials in electronic reading lists and course materials, making it easier for students to access cases and legislation. BAILLI's structure means that it should be fully searchable by the portal software that is being introduced by university libraries to provide a seamless interface to all resources, regardless of the format."

For further information:

Philip Pothen (JISC) on 07887 564 006 or

Philip Leith (BAILII) on 028 9097 3867 or"

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