Improving Access to the Law in Canada with Digital Media
Government Information in Canada, No. 16, March 1999
Posted: 15 Sep 1999
This paper discusses the arguments for making the law, including statutes, regulations, court and administrative tribunal decisions, available for free on the Internet. Its focus is on the Canadian situation, but there is a description of how the Australasian Legal Information Institute and the Cornell Legal Information Institute began and how they operate today. These are held up as examples for others to follow. The Universite de Montreal LexUM/Centre de recherche en droit publique and the Access to Justice Network are two Canadian examples that are analogous to the AustLII and Cornell's LII.
The paper surveys statutory requirements to publish the law (noting, for example, that international trade agreements impose more obligations to make law available to foreigners than to one's own citizens), surveys case law concerning government claims to copyright over the law and private publisher claims to copyright (including a fairly thorough of the U.S. case law in this area), surveys case law in Canada and the U.S. concerning the use of freedom of information legislation to obtain access to the law.
The paper discusses the arguments about governments who see legal databases as an opportunity for cost-recovery (a number of provinces in Canada make their statutes available electronically only to subscribers) and explains the current state of free, electronic access to the law in Canada.
In the last two sections, the paper concludes with recommendations to make the law more accessible for free. The sections are called: "Dream Big: Access to the Law Can Mean More than Access to the Raw Legal Texts" and "A Ten-point Dream for Electronic Access to the Law".
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