Is Every Law for Everyone? Assessing Access to National Legislation through Official Legal Databases around the World | Oxford Journal of Legal Studies | Oxford Academic
peter.suber's bookmarks 2023-02-07
Abstract: Countries all over the world document their statutory law in official legal databases (OLD), but the extent to which these provide effective access to (statutory) law remains unexamined. Ideally, an OLD should be (i) provided online and free for all without requiring registration or payment, (ii) searchable with regard to statutes’ titles, (iii) searchable with regard to the full texts of statutes, (iv) provided in a reusable text-based format and (v) comprehensive in its coverage of at least the laws currently in force. To highlight the nature of OLDs as consumer products, we borrow a term from business operations research and refer to a database fulfilling these basic criteria as a ‘minimum viable’ OLD. We survey 204 states and jurisdictions to assess how far their country-level OLDs adhere to the minimum viability standard. We find that only 48% of them do; 12% of states do not seem to offer any online OLD at all; and a further 40% of countries offer legal databases that lack at least one of the criteria listed above. The quality of legal access is associated with geographical distribution (with Europe faring the best), economic development and a population’s overall Internet usage. The results suggest that comparative legal research faces considerable hurdles when dealing with the Global South; that metadata-enriched digitalisation of legal corpora still remains a desideratum for at least half the world; and that the inaccessibility of law may carry high costs for legal practitioners and the wider public.
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