Challenges for Free Access to Law in a Multi-Jurisdictional Developing Country: Building the Legal Information Institute of India
23 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2011 Last revised: 15 Jun 2018
Date Written: December 22, 2011
This article analyses the complexities involved in providing free public online access to the ‘public legal information’ of the Indian legal system. It starts with some of the causes of the complexity of Indian legal information, then describes the considerable progress that has previously been made in the provision of free access to some types of legal information, but why the result is still below international standards.
Developing a free access legal information system for India involves more complex technical and organizational issues than is the case for most other countries. This is because of the complexity of India’s constitutional structure and resulting legal institutions, the value it places on democracy (and the particular form of ‘monitory democracy’ it has developed), human rights and the rule of law, the litigious nature of its citizens, its linguistic complexity, and its expanding market economy. Although India’s constitutional right of freedom of speech has been interpreted to include access to information, this constitutional principle has not yet been developed in relation to legal information to require governments to meet the needs of the ordinary citizen to access legal information for free or to international standards of quality. The English language is likely to retain its privileged, but not exclusive, position in the legal system for some time to come.
In addition to the separate deficiencies of each of the existing sources of free access online resources in India, the over-riding problem is that no free access source have created facilities so that all of these sources – case law, Central and State legislation, treaties, open access scholarship and law reform – to be searched together. There is no comprehensive site which allows users to search any one of these ‘five pillars’ of legal information across India, let alone all five of them.
The article then presents a project that attempts both to build on, enhance and consolidate much of the good work that has already been done by Indian government organizations, and NGOs, to develop free access to legal information in India, and to overcome many of the deficiencies identified in the previous section. The Legal Information Institute of India (LII of India) is being developed by eight Indian law schools and an international partner (AustLII, the Australasian Legal Information Institute). It has developed in its first year of public operation, the LII of India, a system with over 750,000 searchable documents and 151 databases. The national launch of LII of India was organized and hosted by National Law University, Delhi on 9 March 2011 by Union Minister of Law and Justice, Dr M Veerappa Moily. It was followed by ‘satellite launches’ in Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Kolkota during March and April 2011, hosted by the respective National Law Universities in those cities. The system is therefore only now becoming known but is receiving over 6,000 page requests per day, and will have received approximately 2.25 million accesses in the 2011 calendar year.
The considerable remaining challenges for creation of a world-standard and sustainable system are then outlined, and steps proposed to address them. The extent to which this collaborative project might be a model for development of free access to legal information in other countries is considered. The future of LII of India depends on a number of factors, including establishment of an effective technical team and servers in India, an Indian-based governance structure, collaboration with organizations in India with similar goals, establishment of local financial sustainability, and continuing technical support from AustLII during the establishment phase. These challenges are discussed, as well as the difficulties in extending development at the State level, and the longer term challenges of providing information in languages other than English, and the legal issues surrounding that task.
Keywords: public legal information, India, Indian law, developing countries, access to information
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