My apologies for starting this post with a pic, but
A woman in a hotel room in Uganda is making judgments ready for the scanner.
It demonstrates graphically the challenges faced in making legal information publicly accessible through a Legal Information Institute. That's the topic of an excellent blog posting by Kelly Anderson of Southern African Legal Information Institute – SAFLII – over at VoxPopuLII, which is a guest-blogging project sponsored by Tom Bruce and our friends across the lake at the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School.
We may be complacent in North America about our wealth of accessible legal information. The Southern African Legal Information Institute – SAFLII – has become the primary – and only – publisher of legal materials for some countries. Zimbabwe has not been able to publish its Law Reports since 2003 owing to the devastating collapse of infrastructure resulting from the political situation. Swaziland last published Law Reports in the 1980s. Other countries have very real access problems.
Kelly raises some real practical problems of access, and I can do no better than quote from her questions:
What is a legal information institute when the courts from which judgments must be acquired are not themselves always sure where the final copy of the judgment is – either in electronic or in hard copy format?
What is a legal information institute when the courts from which judgments are sourced do not take the responsibility for ensuring that private information, including the names of minors and victims in sexual abuse cases, are removed from the judgments?
What is a legal information institute when the legislation of a country is available only through the purchase of costly subscriptions from a commercial publisher contracted by the Parliament of that country?
What is a Legal Information Institute when the transcripts of judgments are refused for publication – even by the courts themselves – by the company contracted to provide the transcription service on some very shady grounds of copyright?
Some of the same issues were explored thirty years ago in a discussion on Legal literature in small jurisdictions held at Osgoode Hall Law School, from 3-5 November 1978, summarized by Jennifer S. Uglow in Localising legal literature published in 1981 by the Commonwealth Legal Education Association, Legal Division, Commonwealth Secretariat. What is amazing is how the tools have been transformed.