Access to Laws of the Countries of the World
August 27, 2019, IFLA World Libraries and Information Congress at Megaron Convention Center in Athens, Greece
- The first speaker was Joan Lijun Liu, from The Institute of Humanities and Social Science Data, Fudan University Library, China (previously Head of Acquisitions & Serials at NYU School of Law Library) with a presentation entitled Helping Legal Aid Providers and Vulnerable Communities Access Law in China through a Robust Legal Information System. Her paper is available here and her slides here. She focused on how law librarians in currently less than adequate legal information systems can support legal aid providers and vulnerable groups to access the law. She explained China’s “very forceful” 2016-2020 National Informatization Policy and said that the Legal Service of China provides legal aid with the help of licensed lawyers, legal aid professionals, and volunteers. Primary legal sources on the national level are largely available, but documents by central government agencies are incomplete. Full-text law is available in pdf but reliable archiving and superseding systems are lacking and website access is not dependable. She presented strategies for the future include promoting legal information literacy, teaching law librarianship in library schools, and having professional librarians facilitate legal information services in courts, government agencies, law firms, and law schools.
- Speaking next was Chiara Fioravanti, a Researcher from the Institute of Legal Informatics and Judicial Systems of the National Research Council of Italy. Her presentation was based on a paper, Access and knowledge of the law: supporting migrants in understanding law, co-authored with her colleagues Ginevra Peruginelli, Francesco Romano and Sara Conti. She began by identifying key issues that affect migrants’ access to legal information. General issues include language barriers and unfamiliarity with the laws and legal system of the host country. Some issues specific to Italy include their complex bureaucratic jargon and the many legal provisions that are subject to multiple interpretations. Also, Italian civil servants are generally not skilled in communicating with people from other countries. Another key access issue is public websites that provide legal content only in Italian and are difficult to use. She then presented details of a project done at her institution–to improve access to legal information by recent immigrants recently redesigning their public web portal. An important aspect of the project was to simplify, linguistically and structurally, the legal content on the site. The simplified content was checked to verify its accuracy. Civil servants, Italian language teachers, and members of the migrant community tested the results. Outcomes included (1) Simplification of over 50 information sheets on administrative procedures; (2) Increased awareness of civil servants on the importance of clear language in legal documents; (3) Creation of guidelines to be used when writing legal content in an intercultural context. She concluded by focusing on the role that libraries can play to support migrants needing access to legal content, including provision of a tutoring service to increase understanding.
- The session’s third and final speaker was FCIL-SIS member Jacob Sayward, Cornell University Law Library. His presentation, GOALI Goes to Johannesburg – Training and Outreach in South Africa for Research4Life’s Global Online Access to Legal Information Program, was based on a paper he co-authored with his colleagues Ariel A. E. Scotese and Nina E. Scholtz. His slides are available here.
GOALI is a Research4Life program providing developing countries with legal content from top academic publishers as well as training. In January 2019 the first GOALI training session took place at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. The workshop’s goal was to introduce experienced trainers to legal research and to instruct information professionals working in sub-Saharan Africa about the structure of legal information and how GOALI facilitates legal research. Participants in the workshop came from multiple organizations including the Information Teaching and Outreach Centre for Africa, International Labour Organization, and UN Technology Bank – Digital Access to Research. Cornell’s Law Library and the Cornell Legal Research Clinic developed and taught the three-day long program.
Sayward explained the preparation involved in developing the workshop. Different countries in Africa use different legal frameworks; therefore information professionals from Africa first learned how legal information is organized within these frameworks. For each framework (common law, civil law, domestic customary law, Islamic law, international law), discussion centered on the sources of law, how information is organized, and the role of legal scholarship and secondary sources. Since the majority of the workshop attendees were already experts in using the Research4Life research platform but novices in legal research, the training focused on the structure of legal information and the practice of legal research. These topics are necessary to use a database of legal secondary sources. In the second half of the workshop, participants learned how to use GOALI for subject-specific research in contracts, torts, property, criminal law, and international human rights.
Evaluations by the participants of the resulting workshop showed that they gained valuable information and context for use of GOALI for research. The hands-on aspects of the workshop were most highly valued.
Benefits of this first workshop included the development of useful training materials, possibilities raised of future online open courses, and encouragement for subsequent training sessions.