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09/06/2011

Bailii needs your cash, regularly

We use Bailii a lot here on Nearly Legal. If there is a freely available copy of a judgment, we will link to it as a matter of course and Bailii is the only source of those free copies, at least for the High Court and Court of Appeal.

The service Bailii provides is invaluable.  It is remains astonishing that without Bailii, there would be no free public access to the higher court judgments which form the law, save for the Supreme Court.

Bailii is run on a shoestring and they need money. In particular, they need to have secure year on year funding in place. As they put it in an email sent to users:

If BAILII is to survive, it is essential that we find sufficient sets of Chambers, firms of solicitors, associations of lawyers and/or related professionals, publishers and other companies to give informal commitments to make donations to BAILII year on year on an ongoing basis, in order to put BAILII onto a secure financial footing before its existing funds run out. We need much more support, partly in order to replace existing sponsorship which is not being continued, and to make up for the fact that in any event BAILII’s expenditure has in recent years been exceeding its income from sponsorship.

Further details about BAILII and its appeal are available here: http://www.bailii.org/bailii/appeal.html and http://www.bailii.org/bailii/appealdetails.html.

We at NL would urge anyone who would be in a position to make a commitment on regular donations to do so. Bailii is too important to lose and needs to grow.

That said, it would be fair to say that as users of Bailii, we have some frustrations. For providers of free text of judgments, they seem to take a rather proprietorial approach to the data.

As an instance, there is a RSS feed provided by Bailii that automatically updates when new judgments are added. This is the source of the lists of Admin Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court recent  judgments in the column to the right. But the Bailii feed doesn’t have the full text of the judgments, just the case name and reference (which is what I run a  filter on for those lists). To read the text of the judgment, one has to click through to the Bailii site.

What this means is that people can’t actually do things (or ‘add value’ in the rather dreadful parlance) with the data. If there was a full RSS  feed with the text of the judgments, it would be very easy for NL to set up automatic triggers to identify and flag up housing related cases, for example. (That would save us having to check through all the family, PI, employment etc. cases to find the ones we are interested in).  That is just one, very straightforward, example. There would be many other possibilities and uses not even thought of yet.

There is no technical reason why a full feed couldn’t be provided, it is an active choice not to. Bailii seem rather to adhere to a free as in beer rather than free as in speech model, which is a pity when there is so much more that users could do to make the data actively useful and valuable for people. In turn that would make Bailii even more of a key resource than it currently is. And that could only help with seeking funds in the future.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

12 Comments

  1. Tessa Shepperson

    If BAILII were able to provide us with a pay pal donate button I am sure that most legal bloggers would be willing to put it on their blog, and perhaps refer to it in posts where we link to a Bailii report.

    Reply
    • David Smith

      This is not really required. BAILII are a charity and, as such you can donate through the Charities Aid Foundation using their secure online portal.

      Reply
    • Nick Holmes

      Yes, absolutely. On the BAILII pages you have to look hard and click a few times to find a donate link. And unfortunately the CAF link seems to lose its parameters.

      So a nice bright Donate button + a link that works + viral distribution via us on blogs, Twitter et al = the beginnings of a successful campaign.

      Good of Law Soc to put up £30k p.a. but that could easily be £150k. As at 31 July 2010 there were 150,128 solicitors on the Roll. @ £1 each BAILII would be sorted. CanLII is funded via a law soc levy I believe – they are rolling in money.

      Reply
      • Francis Davey

        If bailii adopted a more open policy on its information (see Ben’s comment with which I broadly agree, though I would probably not express it that way) I’d consider donating. As things stand (for example not being able to make use of bailii feeds or use google to search it) I’m a gnat’s whisker away from trying to persuade organisations I am a member of to stop donating to it. It could certainly gain more goodwill (and money) by being more open.

        Reply
  2. Michael

    Maybe they’ll start hosting paid text links for personal injury firms & milking that revenue stream? :p

    Seriously, though, I agree with Tessa – Bailii needs a donate button… if only for the publicity effect. Or they could go with a begging-bowl banner a al Jimmy Wales / Wikipedia! ;-)

    Reply
  3. Ben

    If the concern of BAILII is providing access to legal information, they shouldn’t have a restrictive copying policy:

    http://www.bailii.org/bailii/copyright.html

    Prohibited Uses

    Notwithstanding the reproduction rights granted above, the following uses of BAILII’s website are prohibited unless BAILII has given its prior written consent:

    (a) incorporating published documents into another website;
    (b) external indexing of documents by web robots or spiders when such use is not authorized by the instructions in the robots exclusion file at http://www.bailii.org/robots.txt or in a META tag in the HTML code of a published document, in compliance with the Robots Exclusion Protocol;
    (c) abusive use of the BAILII website’s resources and services via automated mechanisms or otherwise, in particular for bulk downloading of documents.

    In particular, the robots.txt says:

    User-agent: Googlebot
    Disallow: /

    Really? FFS.

    Reply
    • Ben

      In other words:

      If you want to make legal information free, just make it free, idiots!

      Reply
  4. Tessa Shepperson

    The lack of an easy way to make small donations such as a pay pal donate button smacks of legal remoteness and being out of touch, and also pomposity. As in, if its not a donation of thousands of pounds being given by a large organisation, its not worth bothering about. Small donations from rif raff like us are irrelevant.

    But as Nick points out, 150,000 separate one pound donations comes to £150,000!

    If I had a pay pal donate button on my blog I would happily whack in a quid or so every now and again myself as a thank you for allowing me to use the service (the feed thing does not worry me – I just want to link to individual reports when I blog about the case).

    There are a lot of legal blogs. If we all did this and encouraged our readers to donate small sums occasionally, this would all add up. But no, they have to make it hard for people to donate money. Which means that we just won’t bother.

    Reply
  5. Mark

    While I don’t have any argument at all with the sterling work that Balii has done in the past to open up access to judgments online, the real scandal is that we still need it. In these days of open government and open data, all judgments (from at least the senior courts) should be published by the Ministry of Justice itself as a matter of routine, under a standard Open Government licence so that anyone who wants or needs the data has it freely available at no charge.

    The truly excellent online statute law resource at legislation.gov.uk shows how it can be done; there is no reason why the distribution of case law should be left to what is effectively a gentlemen’s agreement between the courts and a small charity. And, although Baili’s role in pioneering access to judgments is indisputable, it has to be said that the Bailii website (and Bailii’s redistribution policy) is looking increasingly out of date when compared to more recent efforts from the online voluntary sector. Maybe the way forward for Bailii is a link up with a an organisation such as MySociety, currently the pace-setters in this field. There’s a lot of scope there to not only reduce costs but also to significantly improve the quality and usability of Bailii’s output.

    Reply
  6. Chris

    This is a tough one. One the one hand, it is almost unique in presenting the text of judgments in the British legal systems online for all to see. (I say “almost”, I believe that the Scottish Courts Service makes some decisions from the HCJ and CoS online.) On the other hand, their use of the robots.txt is brain-dead NIHism. Yes, they provide their own search tool, but I can’t believe for one minute they’d be struggling for funds if it was even remotely as awesome as Google. It’s a real shame, since there’s a real need for their resource (indeed, it has proven invaluable to me in the past), but the execution is poor to say the least (I would try better, but apparently we’re not allowed to do so). As someone once put it, “Nice video, shame about the song.”

    I have ideas about how I would do things differently. They include not insisting that people use an inferior search tool, relating judgments in the same case (tracking progression through EWHC->EWCA->UKHL/UKSC, or multiple applications, etc.), and possibly relating judgments by party (assuming this isn’t otherwise illegal).

    Reply
    • Barjinder Sahota

      Bailii is an extremely valuable legal resource – I try to give what little I can by a yearly modest direct internet transfer to their account. I suggest other small firms like mine should do the same. Mr Sahota.

      Reply

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