There is a tsunami of innovation happening in the legal space right now. The problem is none of it is being directed towards improving the way the decisions of judges in the English courts are made accessible to the wider public.
Open data, process, service-design
The supply chain that carries judgments from the bench to the wider public is out-dated, complicated and needlessly expensive. This project aims to understand each link of that supply chain and make recommendations as to how it might be improved.
Common law systems depend on the existence of mechanisms that make it possible to accurately ascertain the content of judge-made law. That mechanism has historically been provided by law reporters, who monitor the courts and report cases that have the effect of creating new law or modifying existing law.
Digital publishing has made it theoretically possible to make all judgments available to the public for free at the point of access. The formation of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) was game-changing — they have opened access to a vast collection of case law that would have otherwise only been accessible on expensive subscription databases.
Notwithstanding the considerable advances made by BAILII, the open law apparatus in the UK still suffers from three major weakness.
Gaps in coverage: there are too many gaps in the legacy case law archive and there are too many gaps in ongoing coverage of new judgments, especially those that are given extempore. There is still a vast amount of retrospective and prospective material that can only be accessed via paid subscription services.
Sustainability: plenty of people use BAILII, but very few of them make donations to help BAILII raise enough financial resource to pursue product development projects and to ensure their ability to operate long into the future.
No platform for experimentation or third-party development: BAILII doesn't have a public API, for understandable reasons. Third-party innovation has stalled because it is incredibly difficult to acquire access to the text of the cases.
Devising a way forward requires a comprehensive understanding of how the existing system works. The purpose of Friction is to provide an authoritative account of the way judgment dissemination current works in the United Kingdom and the ways in which it could be improved.
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