Around the Legal World

The legal press around the world this weekend featured a variety of stories that caught my attention. Let’s visit India, Sierra Leone, Namibia and England.

Law school teachers and law firm employers have long lamented the written communication skills of younger lawyers. Now The Times of India reports that one US client is insisting that the prose of its lawyers should be reviewed by its contract lawyers in India:

A Fortune 100 client of a US law firm, SmithDehn LLP, has specifically requested that legal research, analysis, writing, editing — exercises that cost millions of dollars in the US — be done by Indian attorneys.

Thomson West’s portal has been operating in Australia for some time – extending a model that has worked in the US for some time. The UK version was launched on July 26. It is a quantum leap forward in usability and utility from its American or Australian progenitors. It still largely reflects English law – you’ll have to look hard for Scots or Ulster law – but has some admirably practical consumer-oriented pages. And it has already signed up 5000 solicitors willing to respond to queries from visitors to the site who have legal questions. Its blog is a bit pedestrian, but these are early days, and you’ll hunt in vain for anything similar in Canada.

The British Library just released a report rich in examples of how copyright law affects scholarly research and how the framework
for intellectual property needs reviewing for the digital age.

The changes that contributors have proposed are their own and not the British Library’s. They cover a range of areas and include a wealth of ideas:
• calls for an extension to fair dealing provisions under UK copyright law to bring them into line with fair use doctrine in the US. One author addresses the difficulties of applying fair dealing provisions in the study of music and sound recordings.
• allowing the use of ‘orphan works’. One submission advocates that ‘orphan works’ be placed in the public domain.
• enforcing creators’ moral rights in order to preserve future creativity, and the need for exceptions to copyright law not being overridden by contract or by technical protection measures.
• addressing the issue of text mining and data indexing in the context of the barriers posed by the existing copyright regime.

Next to Windhoek, the largest city in Namibia where Deputy Minister of Justice, Hon Tommy Nambahu representing the minister, Hon Pendukeni Iivula-Itana, announced last week Namibia E-Laws, which forms part of a wider network of E-services such as the Namibian Courts Information System (NAMCIS) and the Justice Net (JustNet) which the ministry has already operationalised.

Namibian judges must work through the night: “Namibian E-Laws should make the work of the judiciary easier as all laws and relevant cases of the High and Supreme Courts will be available online 24/7.”
Chairman of the Law Reform and Development Commission, Ombudsman John Walters sees the E-Laws platform as a major step in consolidating, streamlining and updating Namibian legislation, parts of which date back to 1918. A separate project on Namibian customary law is already underway according to a report in The Namibian Law Journal – see page 109.

Finally in Freetown, in Sierra Leone, a sceptical Sonkita Conteh wonders whether the jurisprudential quality of the case law of Sierra Leone is really up to global scrutiny. The Sierra Leone Legal Information Institute is still only a stub page. It is funded by the Special Court for Sierra Leone which is the first international criminal tribunal to be funded entirely from voluntary contributions from governments. The Special Court has so far received contributions in cash and in kind from over 40 states, representing all geographic areas of the world. Canada, the Netherlands, Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States have provided strong support.

The existence of such projects now means that judicial decisions of countries are no longer restricted to their territories but can now be scrutinised by a global audience. Perceptions of a country and its systems may be positively or negatively influenced by the quality of information (legal, economic or political) that flows from it. Sierra Leone is still in the process of rebuilding its institutions and its image and every sector within the state has to make a contribution towards this end. The judiciary particularly has to be mindful of the quality of information (in the form of judgments and rulings) that emanate from it as its integrity both locally and internationally depends on it.

The whole world is watching.


  1. Is the website for the Namibia e-Laws available yet? I can’t seem to find it.

  2. I suspect that this isn’t how it will eventually look, but try this.