A new outfit in the UK, Judgmental, has just gone online, boasting 90,000 UK case law judgments. From what I can gather, their aim is to make judgments searchable in ways that BAILII currently does not. Principally, Judgmental’s cases are to be searchable by Google and Bing, whereas BAILII — and, I believe, most if not all LIIs — sends the indexers away with a stern robots.txt no. And, it seems, the group is working on making online law more “usable” than it currently is.
At the moment, however, things are still very much in the developmental stage. There’s no search facility yet — one has to browse. And there are no answers on the website to the sorts of questions you’re asking yourself right now. Judgmental’s Twitter responses (@Judgmentals) urge us to stay tuned; see, for example, those on Robert Richard’s blog.
There are some fairly tricky issues here, I think. First of all, as Judgmental acknowledges, copyright in UK judgments might present some difficulties. (For a Canadian perspective, see a recent discussion on Slaw.) And then there’s the matter of letting in the the big search engines. There’s no doubt that this will make judgments more accessible to citizens, and that’s a very important social good. The downside to that, though, is that commercial enterprises are allowed to profit from databases built originally by taxpayers’ money and, as is the case with CanLII, with money raised by lawyers across the country. At the end of the day, in an open competition, it’s unlikely that any Legal Information Institute could compete with and survive a Google cases database, leaving accessible law in the custody of a for-profit corporation.