Open Access and the Free Access to Law Movement steps along the way

By | 9 November 2012

It is 20 years since the first free online legal material was made available to the world via the internet, at Cornell, with the establishment of the Legal Information Institute. Since then there has been a growth in both Legal Information Institutes, and in the Free Access to Law Movement (FALM). Initially, there were no specific principles established for the long term operation of open access to legal materials. The initial choices made by Cornell LII were that access was to be non-profit, there would be no user access charges, access would be anonymous by users, that existing data could be republished, using multiple sources for this data if needed.

In 2002, a meeting of the representatives of the Legal Information Institutes established the Montreal  Declaration  which reinforced the precepts from Cornell, and added  that public legal information is digital common property, and that government bodies that create legal information have an obligation to provide access for re-publication.

The movement gained greater authority in 2008, when the Hague Conference on Private International Law called a meeting of over 30 free access to law providers, and established a set of Guiding Principles that States should adopt as part of an International Hague convention to ensure their e-legal materials are freely accessible.

The next step along the path was the adoption by the Uniform Law Commission of the US of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act, in 2012. This has been enacted into law in Colorado, and is likely to be passed in 4 other States soon.

In 2102 The Hague Convention met with representatives of the EU to extend the reach and support for the Guiding Principles for the Access to Foreign Law in Civil and Commercial Matters

So the current state of play is the endorsement by FALM and other NGOs  of the Declaration on Free Access to Law, moves toward national implementation such as UELMA, and international implementation via the Hague Conference Convention on Access to Foreign Law

A proposal for a UN General Assembly Resolution is hopefully the next step, alongside endorsement by other intergovernmental bodies such as CHOGM.

The importance of all these steps along the journey of the free access to law movement is the gradual acceptance by governments that they need to endorse the publications they provide online as authorised documents, so that the e-version can be referred to and cited with confidence, on the one hand by lawyers and courts in other countries, and on the other hand by the public whose taxes support the creation and maintenance of the laws and the courts of the country.

3 thoughts on “Open Access and the Free Access to Law Movement steps along the way

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  2. Pingback: El acceso abierto y los pasos del Movimiento por el Acceso Libre a la Ley | InVito

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