Don’t throw the BAILII out with the bath water

26 September 2011 by

The Guardian published an editorial today arguing that court judgments should be opened up to the public. The editorial challenges the fact that BAILII, the charity which currently publishes most judgments online, is not searchable on Google.

Broadly speaking, it is good to see The Guardian taking up this somewhat esoteric but important topic. As I have argued on a number of occasions (see e.g. Making Law Accessible to the Public) the Ministry of Justice needs to do more to make “raw” law, that is judgments and legislation, accessible online. But it is important to focus on the right issues.

Case law should, ideally, be searchable on Google. BAILII explains the reason for not making it so:

  • Occasionally it is necessary to remove a judgment from the BAILII database, for example if BAILII has been provided with a copy of a judgment which discloses confidential information such as the name of a child. This is more difficult once the judgment has been indexed by a search engine, and cannot be carried out promptly.
  • If the text of a judgment is amended by the judge, the unamended version should not be available in the cache of a search engine.

This is a practical issue between BAILII and the Ministry of Justice, not a deliberate or pernicious ploy to keep judgments out of the public domain. As I have said before, BAILII has a good, simple interface and its search works very well. Although it has few of the baubles of Westlaw (a very expensive subscription service which only lawyers tend to have access to), it is easy to use and reliable.

I can see the technical point BAILII is making; once something is out on Google, it is instantly and in effect permanently outside of the control of the originating source. It would therefore be practically impossible to escape Google’s cache in order to remove the text of judgments. That being said, Google does have the power to remove, for example, libellous material and sometimes does. Given that Google itself is an enthusiastic publisher and indexer of public data it may be that a creative solution is possible.

The Guardian also praise Judgmental, a project which aims to put judgments online and make them Google searchable. We should fully support any citizen-led efforts to bring the law to more people. But this website appears to be down at the moment, as was the last time I was trying access it for an article. This is not a good sign.

The danger in all of this laudable focus on alternative sources for online judgments is that BAILII will go under as a result of lack of funds. It has recently lost a major funder and is appealing to chambers and solicitors’ firms at the moment for more money.

It would be a tragedy if BAILII folded, not least for legal blogs which rely on it. I also doubt that Judgmental or another public service would be in a position to pick up the pieces. BAILII costs £160,000 per year to run; I doubt that the Ministry of Justice would foot this bill, assuming it could offer the same quality of service for the same money once the costs of its bureaucracy were added on. And the knowledge and experience BAILII has developed would be lost too.

The Ministry of Justice currently runs legislation.gov.uk, a nice website let down by its slow updates. As I have argued before, public authorities should be barred from relying on a new law until it is easily accessible online. This issue is probably more urgent at present than forcing BAILII and Google to hold hands.

Another focus, which The Guardian also mentions, should be the publication of judgment summaries and press releases as the UK’s Supreme Court and European Court of Human Rights already do to great effect. Lord Neuberger, the head of the Court of Appeal, has supported this idea and his court should therefore lead the way.

So it is right to pressure the current Government, which seem to like the idea of data being open and accessible, to do more on access to online justice. But in doing so, it is important to not throw out the BAILII with the bath water.

Sign up to free human rights updates by email, Facebook, Twitter or RSS

Related posts

8 comments


  1. On the Google issue – BAILII prohibits crawlers via its robots.txt file but that doesn’t seem to stop Google indexing pages that are linked to from outside BAILII. Google reports 64,000 hits on BAILII http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=site:www.bailii.org out of the 200,000 BAILII says it hosts. So it seems there’s a good chance you’ll find a case on BAILII via Google unless it’s one of no interest to anyone!

  2. Joe Reevy says:

    Bailii also is in need of support from users – so pop a donation across to them!
    They are oon our charity donation list.

  3. Julie says:

    Thank you Anita. I also regularly use google to find cases on Bailii and don’t understand what the problem is. I agree that Bailli is value for money.

  4. Rex Black says:

    Google often takes weeks to get removed or updated documents out of its search engine, on the rare occasions it bothers to process the updates at all; I’ve had this problem with web sites I run – and Google will gaily ignore robots.txt, noarchive, and everything else if the site is a popular one. I was very surprised to see the Guardian, which has from time to time been in favour of personal privacy, boosting Google in this way. Did they actually talk to anyone at BAILII?

  5. Anita Davies says:

    I think BAILLI is great – and was a little confused by the Guardian’s article. I search BAILLI all the time using google. As long as you know some part of the case name or the nuetral citation, if you type that in to google and add ‘BAILLI’ as part of the search terms then the BAILLI transcript generally appears. It is true, BAILLI results will not appear if you just type in random search terms like ‘injunction, planning, rotherham’ but as long as you know what case you are looking for roughly and have some information, then it works.

  6. Carrefax says:

    This is an excellent post. I sincerely hope Judgmental have identified the risk Google’s indexing system presents here and have come up with an effective method of dealing with it; my guess, however, is that they have not.

    We should be getting behind BAILLI, encouraging a better understanding of the work they do and ensuring they have a viable future.

  7. TJ McIntyre says:

    I don’t see why noarchive and nosnippet meta tags wouldn’t address most of BAILII’s concerns in relation to caching. In the rare cases where it wouldn’t, the URL removal tool is now quite effective on Google and Bing. Time to revisit the issue I suspect.

  8. TJ McIntyre says:

    I don’t see why wouldn’t address most of BAILII’s concerns in relation to caching. In the rare cases where it wouldn’t, the URL removal tool is now quite effective on Google and Bing. Time to revisit the issue I suspect.

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB


This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.

Subscribe

Categories


Tags


7/7 Bombings 9/11 A1P1 Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology birds directive blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity circumcision citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Cologne Commission on a Bill of Rights common buzzard common law communications competition confidentiality confiscation order conscientious objection consent conservation constitution contact order contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus costs costs budgets Court of Protection crime criminal law Criminal Legal Aid criminal records Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty declaration of incompatibility defamation DEFRA Democracy village deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention devolution Dignitas dignity Dignity in Dying diplomacy director of public prosecutions disability Disability-related harassment disciplinary hearing disclosure Discrimination Discrimination law disease divorce DNA doctors does it matter? domestic violence Dominic Grieve don't ask don't ask don't tell don't tell Doogan and Wood double conviction DPP guidelines drones duty of care ECHR economic and social rights economic loss ECtHR Education election Employment Environment environmental information Equality Act Equality Act 2010 ethics Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice european disability forum European Sanctions Blog Eurozone euthanasia evidence Exclusion extra-jurisdictional reach of ECHR extra-territoriality extradition extradition act extradition procedures extradition review extraordinary rendition Facebook Facebook contempt facial recognition fair procedures Fair Trial faith courts fake news Family family courts family law family legal aid Family life fatal accidents act Fertility fertility treatment FGM fisheries fishing rights foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Association Freedom of Expression freedom of information Freedom of Information Act 2000 freedom of movement freedom of speech free speech game birds gangbo gang injunctions Garry Mann gary dobson Gary McFarlane gay discrimination Gay marriage gay rights gay soldiers Gaza Gaza conflict Gender General Dental Council General Election General Medical Council genetic discrimination genetic engineering genetic information genetics genetic testing Google government Grenfell grooming Gun Control gwyneth paltrow gypsies habitats habitats protection Halsbury's Law Exchange hammerton v uk happy new year harassment Hardeep Singh Haringey Council Harkins and Edwards Health healthcare health insurance Heathrow heist heightened scrutiny Henry VII Henry VIII herd immunity hereditary disorder High Court of Justiciary Hirst v UK HIV HJ Iran HM (Iraq) v The Secretary of state for the home department [2010] EWCA Civ 1322 Holder holkham beach holocaust homelessness Home Office Home Office v Tariq homeopathy hooding Hounslow v Powell House of Commons Housing housing benefits Howard League for Penal Reform how judges decide cases hra damages claim Hrant Dink HRLA HS2 hs2 challenge hts http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2011/04/11/us-state-department-reports-on-uk-human-rights/ Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority human genome human rights Human Rights Act Human Rights Act 1998 human rights advocacy Human rights and the UK constitution human rights commission human rights conventions human rights damages Human Rights Day human rights decisions Human Rights Information Project human rights news Human Rights Watch human right to education human trafficking hunting Huntington's Disease HXA hyper injunctions Igor Sutyagin illegality defence immigration Immigration/Extradition Immigration Act 2014 immigration appeals immigration detention immigration judge immigration rules immunity increase of sanction India Indonesia Infrastructure Planning Committee inherent jurisdiction inherited disease Inhuman and degrading treatment injunction Inquest Inquests insult insurance insurmountable obstacles intelligence services act intercept evidence interception interests of the child interim remedies international international conflict international criminal court international humanitarian law international human rights international human rights law international law international treaty obligations internet internet service providers internment internship inuit investigation investigative duty in vitro fertilisation Iran iranian bank sanctions Iranian nuclear program Iraq Iraqi asylum seeker Iraq War Ireland irrationality islam Israel Italy iTunes IVF ivory ban jackson reforms Janowiec and Others v Russia ( Japan Jason Smith Jeet Singh Jefferies Jeremy Corbyn jeremy hunt job Jogee John Hemming John Terry joint enterprise joint tenancy Jon Guant Joseph v Spiller journalism judaism judges Judges and Juries judging Judicial activism judicial brevity judicial deference judicial review Judicial Review reform judiciary Julian Assange jurisdiction jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Act Justice and Security Bill Justice and Security Green Paper Justice Human Rights Awards JUSTICE Human Rights Awards 2010 just satisfaction Katyn Massacre Kay v Lambeth Kay v UK Ken Clarke Ken Pease Kerry McCarthy Kettling Kings College Klimas koran burning Labour Lady Hale lansley NHS reforms LASPO Law Commission Law Pod UK Law Society Law Society of Scotland leave to enter leave to remain legal aid legal aid cuts Legal Aid desert Legal Aid Reforms legal blogs Legal Certainty legal naughty step Legal Ombudsman legal representation legitimate expectation let as a dwelling Leveson Inquiry Levi Bellfield lewisham hospital closure lgbtq liability Libel libel reform Liberal Democrat Conference Liberty libraries closure library closures Libya licence conditions licence to shoot life insurance life sentence life support limestone pavements limitation lisbon treaty Lithuania Litigation litvinenko live exports local authorities locked in syndrome london borough of merton London Legal Walk London Probation Trust Lord Bingham Lord Bingham of Cornhill Lord Blair Lord Goldsmith lord irvine Lord Judge speech Lord Kerr Lord Lester Lord Neuberger Lord Phillips Lord Rodger Lord Sumption Lord Taylor LSC tender luftur rahman machine learning MAGA Magna Carta mail on sunday Majority Verdict Malcolm Kennedy malice Margaret Thatcher Margin of Appreciation margin of discretion Maria Gallastegui marriage material support maternity pay Matthew Woods Mattu v The University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust [2011] EWHC 2068 (QB) Maya the Cat Mba v London Borough Of Merton McKenzie friend Media and Censorship Medical medical liability medical negligence medical qualifications medical records medicine mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Capacity Act 2005 Mental Health mental health act mental health advocacy mental health awareness Mental Health Courts Mental illness merits review MGN v UK michael gove Midwives migrant crisis Milly Dowler Ministerial Code Ministry of Justice Ministry of Justice cuts misfeasance in public office modern slavery morality morocco mortuaries motherhood Motor Neurone disease Moulton Mousa MP expenses Mr Gul Mr Justice Eady MS (Palestinian Territories) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department murder murder reform Musician's Union Muslim NADA v. SWITZERLAND - 10593/08 - HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1691 naked rambler Naomi Campbell nationality National Pro Bono Week national security Natural England nature conservation naturism Nazi negligence Neuberger neuroscience Newcastle university news News of the World new Supreme Court President NHS NHS Risk Register Nick Clegg Nicklinson Niqaab Noise Regulations 2005 Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance nursing nursing home Obituary Occupy London offensive jokes Offensive Speech offensive t shirt oil spill olympics open justice oppress OPQ v BJM orchestra Osama Bin Laden Oxford University paramountcy principle parental rights parenthood parking spaces parliamentary expenses parliamentary expenses scandal Parliamentary sovereignty Parliament square parole board passive smoking pastor Terry Jones patents Pathway Students Patrick Quinn murder Pensions persecution personal data Personal Injury personality rights perversity Peter and Hazelmary Bull PF and EF v UK Phil Woolas phone hacking phone taps physical and mental disabilities physician assisted death Pinnock Piracy Plagiarism planning planning human rights planning system plebgate POCA podcast points Poland Police police investigations police liability police misconduct police powers police surveillance Policy Exchange report political judges Politics Politics/Public Order poor reporting Pope Pope's visit Pope Benedict portal possession proceedings power of attorney PoW letters to ministers pre-nup pre-nuptial Pre-trial detention predator control pregnancy press press briefing press freedom Prince Charles prince of wales princess caroline of monaco principle of subsidiarity prior restraint prison Prisoners prisoners rights prisoners voting prisoner vote prisoner votes prisoner voting prison numbers Prisons prison vote privacy privacy injunction privacy law through the front door Private life private nuisance private use proceeds of crime Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecution Protection of Freedoms Act Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest protest camp protest rights Protocol 15 psychiatric hospitals Public/Private public access publication public authorities Public Bodies Bill public inquiries public interest public interest environmental litigation public interest immunity Public Order Public Sector Equality Duty putting the past behind quango quantum quarantine Queen's Speech queer in the 21st century R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Ors [2011] EWCA Civ 895 R (on the application of) v The General Medical Council [2013] EWHC 2839 (Admin) R (on the application of EH) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 2569 (Admin) R (on the application of G) v The Governors of X School Rabone and another v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust [2012] UKSC 2 race relations Rachel Corrie Radmacher Raed Salah Mahajna Raed Saleh Ramsgate raptors rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion resuscitation RightsInfo right to die right to family life right to life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials security services sexual offence Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa south african constitution Spain special advocates spending cuts Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance swine flu Syria Tax Taxi technology Terrorism terrorism act tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine unfair consultation universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vaccination vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe

Disclaimer


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: