Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Free online resource for researching legal issues in India and Asia

The Asian Legal Information Institute (AsianLII) has recently launched a website that contains very useful tools for researching legal issues in a number of Asian jurisdictions.

Since it is a recent project, and is a work-in-progress, there are still some teething issues, and the project has some way to go before it can provide a genuine alternative to commercial databases like SCC and Manupatra. Still, the website's India section has many research tools that will be helpful for those interested in researching Indian law, including a section on Supreme court cases from 1950-2005, a database of Indian legislation, Law Commission Reports since 1999, as well as decisions of several High Courts.

This will, in time, prove to be a very valuable resource for conducting research on issues across Asian jurisdictions as well - an area in dire need of study in many disciplines, including the law. Here are some details about the overall project from its website, which is a fascinating idea in itself:

"What is AsianLII?

Free access & non-profit The Asian Legal Information Institute (AsianLII - www.asianlii.org) is a non-profit and free access website for legal information from all 27 countries and territories in Asia located from Japan in the east to Pakistan in the west, and from Mongolia in the north to Timor Leste in the south. Access to AsianLII is free. AsianLII was launched for free public access on 8 December 2006 in Sydney. Launches in a number of Asian countries will take place, beginning with the Philippines in January 2007.

Facilities AsianLII provides for searching and browsing databases of legislation, case-law, law reform reports, law journals and other legal information, where available, from each country in the region. At launch it will provide access to nearly 100 databases drawn from almost all 27 Asian countries. Over 140,000 cases from at least 15 countries, and over 15,000 pieces of legislation from at least 18 countries will be searchable. All databases can be searched simultaneously, or searches can be limited to one country’s databases or other combinations. Search results can be ordered by relevance, by date, or by database. For every country, AsianLII contains an extensive Catalog of law-related websites for that country (parts of the largest law catalog on the Internet), and a ‘Law on Google’ facility assisting users to search Google only for legal materials from that country.

Developers, partners and supporters AsianLII is being developed by the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII), a joint facility of the Law Faculties at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW), in cooperation with partner institutions in Asian countries and other legal information institutes (LIIs) belonging to the Free Access to Law Movement. AustLII provides the largest online facility for Australian legal research (www.austlii.edu.au) and coordinates the World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII) and Commonwealth Legal Information Institute (CommonLII) . This experience is now being applied to access to Asian law.

AustLII receives funding support for development of AsianLII’s infrastructure from the Australian Research Council, for inclusion of content from six jurisdictions from AusAID’s Public Sector Linkages Programme (PSLP) (Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Macau), and for inclusion of content from four other jurisdictions from the Australian Attorney-General’s Department (India, Singapore, Malaysia and China). PSLP assists development linkages between Australian public sector organisations and those of Asian countries. AsianLII is also supported by APEC’s SELI (Strategic Economic Legal Infrastructure) Coordinating Group. Other regional institutions are welcome to join in supporting AsianLII.

Development approach – AsianLII Asia is a region of wide diversity of languages. We aim to include in AsianLII as much legal information as possible in the English language, so as to provide a common linguistic platform for comparative legal research. At the same time, we will obtain wherever available legal materials in national and local languages other than English and also make them accessible via AsianLII. AustLII’s own search engine (Sino) is being developed to allow it to search data in any language (via conversion into Unicode). Hypertext links between the versions of the same document in different languages will be provided wherever possible. User Guides will be available in various languages used in Asia.

The databases searchable via AsianLII are in most cases be located on the AsianLII servers located at AustLII, where they will be converted into a common format. In many cases the same data will also be able to be obtained from the websites of our local partners. Where a local legal information institute with sufficient technical capacity already exists (such as HKLII for Hong Kong or PacLII in relation to Papua New Guinea law), a constantly synchronised mirror copy of the LII is located at AustLII for searching purposes, but search results from AsianLII searches return the user to the local LII.

Encouraging local capacity: One aim of the AsianLII project is to assist development of the local capacity of our partner organisations to develop and maintain independent local legal information to the standards of world’s best practice, and to integrate them into international free-access law networks such as AsianLII, CommonLII and WorldLII. Where possible and requested, AustLII will provide technical assistance to our partner institutions to develop these capacities. This may include the provision of AustLII’s Sino search engine and other software for LII development. It may also include AustLII support for applications by local partners to obtain resources. Some in-country training will be provided for our AusAID partner institutions."
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