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BAILII OpenLaw is an ongoing project that supports legal education and the academic community
The BAILII OpenLaw lists of leading cases (organised by area of law) can be found here.
Why was BAILII OpenLaw created?
Access to case law, legislation, and other official documents is central to the teaching of law and to developing skills in legal research and legal reasoning. Many standard legal resources are not readily available in print or online because they are either restricted to reference libraries or are prohibitively expensive. To improve access to core legal materials for law educators, students, and librarians (as well as others), BAILII provides free access to its databases, does not place cookies on users' machines, does not require users to have passwords, and ensures that links to BAILII materials are stable. Using BAILII, lecturers can provide teaching materials by linking directly from their own websites to a BAILII judgment (or a paragraph in a judgment), and librarians can catalogue cases as part of their collections of electronic resources. While BAILII OpenLaw primarily focuses on legal education, BAILII's commitment to open-access principles means that legal professionals, the business community, charities, and members of the general public can also access the most important legal materials free of charge.
In common law jurisdictions like the UK, any judgment can potentially remain important forever, in theory at least. In practice, given the huge number of judgments produced every year, the importance of a judgment usually depends on whether it sets out law in a significantly new manner or whether it is important to a fast-developing area of law. BAILII's collection primarily focuses on current judgments from England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, and the UK, although it also includes other jurisdictions and materials. Prior to the creation of the BAILII OpenLaw project, many pre-1996 judgments (from before BAILII's formation) were not in BAILII's databases. The OpenLaw project filled some of the gaps in BAILII's historical collection by identifying and adding leading judgments that are important in the core teaching areas of law and central to developing skills in legal research and legal reasoning.
History of the BAILII OpenLaw Project
Funding for the original BAILII OpenLaw project (2005-2008) was provided by Jisc (formerly the Joint Information Systems Committee of the Higher Education Funding Councils). In addition to assembling lists of leading cases by subject, the original project included elements that added law commission materials from all UK jurisdictions to BAILII and enhanced BAILII's usability by improving website navigation and search functions.
Because the BAILII OpenLaw project aims to support legal teaching, it requires close contact with the teaching community, individual academics, and interested groups. During the original project, potential content was identified in collabration with academics, librarians, and special interest groups, such as the Society of Legal Scholars. In addition, BAILII conducted a review of subject syllabi. To identify end users' needs, BAILII canvassed teachers, academics, and law librarians by post, email, bulletin board, and newsletter.
Once the leading cases were identified, every attempt was made to obtain copies of the judgments to allow teachers and students to quickly and easily read original materials. The project digitised over 40,000 pages. ICLR also kindly provided some missing judgments. Nonetheless, some leading cases remain unavailable because of copyright restrictions, such as those only accessible on commercial services, and citations are provided so users can track down important judgments elsewhere.
The intial BAILII OpenLaw project also added useful supplementary legal materials to BAILII thanks to the cooperation and kind permission of various UK commissions:
Another aim of the original, Jisc-funded OpenLaw project was to make the raw information on BAILII more accessible to all users, regardless of their knowledge level or legal searching expertise. In 2006-2007, BAILII conducted a preliminary analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the website, focusing primarily on navigability and search-engine performance. BAILII interviewed legal information specialists, reviewed literature on student search behaviour in legal databases, observed search behaviour in legal databases, and reviewed the website's search logs. The perceived advantages of alternative legal search engines and database interfaces were also considered. BAILII implemented enhancements to its dabases on a test server in May 2006, including:
Subsequently, comments on the usability of the enhanced website submitted via a feedback form were taken into consideration. In November and December 2006, thirty law students and legal academics participated in a usability study of the test server interface. After each phase of testing, the website was revised in response to student comments and observed behaviour. The resulting interface replaced the original BAILII interface on 4 February 2007.
Starting in 2022, some of the original BAILII OpenLaw lists were updated and reformatted to ensure their ongoing usefulness and functionality. Experts in the areas of law enhanced the updated lists with brief summaries, and the lists were reformatted to allow users to sort by case name, citation, court level, or summary.
BAILII OpenLaw Acknowledgments
BAILII would like to thank the following organisations and individuals for their support:
BAILII OpenLaw Team
At various points in time, the following individuals worked on the BAILII OpenLaw project:
BAILII - the British and Irish Legal Information Institute - is a UK company limited by guarantee (No. 4131252) and a charitable trust (Registered Charity No. 1084803) that has been in existence since 2000. For more information about BAILII and its history, visit our About BAILII page. The original debate about the need for services like BAILII can be read here. Many jurisdictions have similar Legal Information Institutes (LIIs), and details are available at the WorldLII site. BAILII and the other members of the Free Access to Law community have agreed to a set of common goals.
If you have any queries about or suggestions for the BAILII OpenLaw project, feel free to get in touch via BAILII Feedback. We view BAILII OpenLaw as a community resource, and your input to it is vital.