Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
January/February 2003, by Delia Venables

BAILII - British and Irish Legal Information Institute
Report by Delia Venables of a presentation to the Bar on 4th December

Three years ago, a large and well attended meeting arranged and promoted by the Society for Computers & Law gave unanimous backing to the concept of "free access to the law". A steering group of what was eventually to become BAILII ( was set up consisting of Lord Saville, Sir Henry Brooke, Laurie West-Knights (now QC), Professor Richard Susskind and Amanda Finlay of the LCD.

The purpose of the project was to set up a pilot site for a UK and Irish version of the Australian AUSTLII site, itself started in 1996, which publishes all primary legal materials (legislation and case law) in Australia on the Internet in a cross linked and cross referenced form. The BAILII pilot site was in fact set up in by AUSTLII staff using their own software and expertise together with the UK and Irish data.

bailii The strong conviction of all those involved in the project is that laws are the bedrock of society and should be made freely available to all, so that no-one is denied access to the laws which govern them. This belief has sustained the project through many financial and technical hurdles as well as the response from quite a few in the legal world that “it couldn’t happen here”.

The current trustees of BAILII are Lord Saville of Newdigate, Sir Henry Brooke, Dr John Mee, Senior Lecturer, University College, Cork, Associate Professor Andrew Mowbray, University of Technology, Sydney, Mr Jules Winterton, Librarian, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Dr. Philip Leith, Reader in Law, Queen's University of Belfast, Professor Alan Paterson, University of Strathclyde and Mr. Clive Freedman, Barrister.

There are now 2 members of staff, Mr Joe Ury, Executive Director, and Mr Roger Burton West, System Administrator. Since the appointment of Roger Burton West, the databases have been moved to the UK and can be updated much more quickly than before, often within a day of the data being made available by the courts.

One of the great benefits of information on BAILII is that it is fully cross referenced. Judgments can link through to other decisions or to the legislation and even, where relevant, to decisions of Australian, Canadian and other linked sites worldwide. Much of this cross linking is done automatically by the very clever software originally developed by AUSTLII and recently modified by Roger Burton West at BAILII. Further innovative programs have been contributed by Clive Freedman, Roger Horne and others.

At the presentation for the Bar on December 4th, at the Royal Courts of Justice, Sir Henry Brooke demonstrated the system and asked bar associations, chambers and other bodies represented there to consider contributions to future funding. He felt that wide and disparate funding was a very important part of the ethos, since then no-one "owns" the project and can influence it unduly.

Whilst this particular presentation was to the bar, the message to solicitors is the same - make a contribution to ensure that BAILII continues to grow and prosper. Cheques should be made out to "British and Irish Legal Information Institute" and sent to British and Irish Legal Information Institute, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Charles Clore House, 17 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DR.

Speaking for myself, I have contributed £1,000 - which is roughly £1 for every subscription taken out to the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers over the last year.

Continue to Lord Justice Brooke's Article Where We are Now.