A New Home for Commonwealth Law: A Proposal for CommonLII

Warwick University
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Greenleaf Graham, Mowbray Andrew, and Chung Philip 2004, 'A New Home for Commonwealth Law: A Proposal for CommonLII', Warwick University, vol. 2004, no. 2, pp. 1-27.
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Eminent jurists have called for the development of a genuinely international common law which is more of a ‘two way street’ than in the past. This paper examines the contribution that access to law via the Internet can make to realizing that goal. The World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII) is the largest free access source of legal information available on the Internet, providing access to over 400 databases of case law, legislation, treaties, law reform and law journals. This paper describes WorldLII's origins and operation as a cooperative venture of Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) from many countries, and outlines the advantages of the system. We argue that a key element of the philosophy of free access to law is that it is not sufficient for governments and Courts to publish essential legal information for free access only on their own web sites. Provision to other publishers (both LIIs and commercial publishers) is also necessary for sound public policy, and is more important than official self-publication. Such policies will facilitate both free access to law within a country, and the development of an international common law. We survey the current state of free Internet access to legal materials in Commonwealth countries, and show that significant quantities of legal information are available for free access online only from a minority of Commonwealth countries. We show that the bulk of this information is already provided by WorldLII and its cooperating LIIs. Because the core content of WorldLII is drawn from Commonwealth countries and other common law jurisdictions, WorldLII is already providing the first steps toward a new online 'home' for Commonwealth law. A central independent access point for more comprehensive online provision of Commonwealth law would be a significant step toward the creation of a genuinely international common law. French-speaking countries have already taken this step with the development of Droit Francophone, a LII for the francophone world. We conclude with a proposal to develop, at modest cost, a comprehensive English language portal for the law of Commonwealth countries, which we dub ‘CommonLII’. As an interim step toward CommonLII, we invite governments and Courts in Commonwealth countries to publish their legislation, case law, treaties, and law reform reports on an appropriate regional LII (where available), or on WorldLII.
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