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Even a few month ago it would have been unthinkable - some of the most senior judges in the land making a clarion c...
Even a few month ago it would have been unthinkable - some of the most senior judges in the land making a clarion call for the use of the internet to publish judgments. And yet over the weekend there appeared on the internet for the very first time a judgment of the court of appeal and, moreover, it is clear that this was a judge-led initiative, strongly influenced by the work of the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) in making Australian law - cases and statutes, searchable and linked together - freely available to all on the internet.

Lord Justice Saville (giving the judgment of the court, which included Lord Justice Brooke, the president of the SCL) said:

'If this country was in the same happy position as Australia, where the administration of the law is benefiting greatly from the pioneering enterprise of AustLII, we would have been able to make this judgment available in a very convenient electronic form to every judge and practitioner in the country without the burdensome costs that the distribution of large numbers of hard copies of the judgment will necessarily impose on public funds'.

The Society for Computers & Law is delighted to see this judicial support for the principle of using the Internet to make the law available. AustLII have described it as 'great news', and within hours had made it 'item one' on the front page of their Internet site, the biggest single legal site in the world.

The SCL has always given its unqualified support to the work of AustLII, is the UK's primary proponent of the use of the Internet for the publication of legal source material, and has more expertise in this field than any other organisation in the northern hemisphere. The SCL has as one of its primary goals the achievement here in the UK of free access to all law on the Internet, and believes that this is an issue of fundamental importance which needs to be addressed urgently by the government as soon as the election dust has settled.

The government already has a Statute Law Database with enormously powerful tools for discerning the law at any given time. Currently, government policy is to restrict access to that resource and to allow the use of it only by publishers prepared to pay large sums of money. As part of the principle of there being a 'level playing field' as between citizen and the State, which underpins much of the SCL's work in this area, the SCL is clear that the Statute Law Database, too, must come into the public domain and form part of the overall free provision of primary law to all.

The implications of what the SCL intends to achieve by the millennium are huge, and it will result in a radical improvement in the accessibility, and reduction in the cost, of the law to all. The strong support of the court of appeal, and its far-sightedness, are very welcome indeed.

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