Earlier this summer, the UK Government announced plans to make important court and tribunal judgments available via The National Archives for the first time. This is a significant step in bringing greater transparency and efficiency to the justice system both in the UK and overseas where UK case law and precedent plays an important role.
This new database is set to go live in April 2022 and should enable lawyers, judges, academics, students and others to access thousands of judgments from different courts in many areas of law. The recommendation to create such a tool was one of several to emerge from a 2019 report on access to justice from the Legal Education Foundation. That report called for ‘free and comprehensive access to judgments in a structured machine-readable format’.
At Indigo, we welcome the announcement as a step in the right direction for greater transparency in the UK’s legal system. We also recognise the value of such a database beyond the UK’s borders – particularly in many Commonwealth countries where UK case law continues to play an important role and where the benefits of free, open access are considerable. Mariya Badeva-Bright, co-founder of AfricanLII, Laws.Africa and an expert on free access to law in Africa commented:
English law has influenced African legal systems across the Continent. Important areas of law, such as company law, merchant shipping, insurance and negotiable instruments, the law of evidence, are historically and predominantly based on English precedent or statute. Yet commercial databases holding English law command expensive subscriptions. The availability of consistent open access to historical and current judgments from English courts through the UK National Archives will benefit the daily work of judges and lawyers in many African countries. It also helps scholars’ and law reform practitioners’ research to make proposals for developing African legal systems grounded in Africa’s social and economic context.