CITATIONS AND ACCESS TO JUDGMENTS
Report and Resolution of the BILETA Citations Workshop held at SCRIPT, University of Edinburgh 11-12 March 2000.
|`The Citations Workshop' was organised with the support of the Scottish Group of the Society for Computers and Law and SCRIPT at the University of Edinburgh.|
|The organisers wish to thank the sponsors of the Workshop:|
The British and Irish Legal Educational Technology Association (BILETA) was formed in April 1986 with the primary objective of promoting technology in legal education throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. Almost every Law School in the UK and Ireland is a member of BILETA - over 100 institutions in total. BILETA focuses upon: promoting research projects; supporting the distribution of software; providing information on technology in law developments; supporting the publications such as the Journal of Information, Law and Technology; making representations on technology and law through the production of written reports; liasing with other academic organisations.
The Problem of Citations
BILETA are conscious of the problem of access to primary legal information -- particularly that of making the law accessible and coherent. One of the particular concerns which has arisen recently has been caused by the wealth of law which is becoming available on the internet. Here judgments are being produced and made available on-line and yet are subject to little coherent indexing. This is a particular problem when judgments -- as is happening more and more -- are available across jurisdictions. For researchers, as well as practitioners, the difficulty of citing these judgments requires a solution.
The Citations Workshop
As part of BILETA's support the `Free the Law' campaign we gathered together an eminent international group of experts to discuss the subject of citations and electronic legal information. The experts included judges, reporters, lawyers, academics and legal publishers. Topics dealt with included neutral citation systems, intellectual property rights and new technological developments in handling legal information. This report concentrates upon the first of these aspects -- producing a `model' system of identifying judgments which can be used and implemented trans-nationally.
Judgments are particularly problematical due to several factors:
- many are unreported by the traditional legal publishers;
- the same judgment may be reported in more than one print or electronic location;
- courts are not always aware that judgments will be read outside their own jurisdiction;
- there may be several instances of a judgment, the last of which is the valid document.
The Citations Workshop therefore considered -- after discussion of the various needs of the common and civil law jurisdictions -- these matters and suggests that courts who wish to encourage access to their judgments should consider following `best practice' in appending a neutral citation to their judgments and also consider numbering paragraphs within each judgment.
The addition of a vendor and medium neutral citation does not affect the judgment in any way -- it simply adds an identifying method which can be utilised by researchers, lawyers or publishers. It is a relatively simple task which enormously improves the accessibility of that judgment -- in future years, or in other jurisdictions, the judgment can be specifically referred to with ease.
Paragraph numbering also offers huge advantages for small effort -- the same document can be viewed in different versions in print or on screen and the reader can be guided to the same element within the judgment in all these different viewing forms. The addition of paragraph numbers can be handled automatically by most word processing software by means of `templates'.
Finally, we suggest that courts should consider setting up a Registry for decisions. This location would hold a digital copy of the final version of an approved judgment, so that judgment the final, approved, version would be accessible in electronic format. There are several ways in which this might be done, but which are not dealt with in this document. However, it should be noted that any Registry may be physically within the court or outwith the court. A Registry offers the court confidence that any judgment being cited will be the approved judgment.
Resolution on Citations
The following Resolution was decided at the Workshop and indicates best practice which courts should consider following.
- Recognising that substantial progress has been made by many courts throughout the world in archiving their decisions in electronic form and believing in the importance of this work and
- Recognising that the growth and complexity of electronic legal data sources creates a need for the development of international best practices and
- Recognising the desirability of the promotion of the widest access to such sources,
- Believes that this will be best achieved by the adoption of a system of neutral citation of legal texts, particularly court judgments and therefore:
- Recommends to the competent national authorities the adoption of a scheme of neutral citation of cases meeting the following basic requirements.
A. Requirements of Neutral Case Citation:
After the name of the parties to the case or cause (where required) should be added as part of the correct name of the judgment:
- the year in which the judgement was issued (or, where required, initiated); then
- a unique court identifier; and then
- the number of the judgment
B. Courts implementing neutral citation should consider these steps:
- Number its judgments in chronological order, a fresh series being started with each calendar year;
- number in sequence the paragraphs of each judgment;
- make the neutral citation part of the name of the judgment;
- initiate a Registry of judgments.
C. International Elements:
Strong consideration should be given to inclusion of a prefix identifier representing the national or other jurisdiction. This may be where relevant the ISO international coding.
D. Establishment of an International Network
The meeting agreed to establish an international network for further development of co-operation in relation to citations and promotion of standards in the production and publication of primary legal texts.
- `Neutral' in this context means free of any indication of the place or form of publication.
- `Judgment' here includes the opinions issued by more than one judge on the same occasion.
- Clearly where the names of the parties to the case are not to be published, the designation by which the cause is to be known can be used instead.
- Date of judgment is usually the best indicator of year. However, some courts such as the European Court of Justice utilise year of initiation of case.
For information on the British and Irish Legal Education Technology Association see www.bileta.ac.uk; on the Scottish Group of the Society of Computers and Law see www.scl.org; on SCRIPT see www.law.ed.ac.uk/script
12 March 2000.