It’s a lofty title, and that’s only part of it.
In late 2012 we read with interest that AustLII had been awarded a four year ‘linkage’ project at a total ARC funded value of $150,000 commencing in 2013, with the title:
LP130100382. Re-inventing authority and integrity of primary legal sources for the online world, using free access to make the legal system more efficient and just
It’s a Linkage Grant from the ARC which is significant
As those in the academic world know, Linkage Grants from the Australian Research Council have specific terms. These can be found at the ARC’s website.
To be successful in an application, the proponent (in this case AustLII and the co-researchers) must be able to demonstrate each of the following, namely that:
- collaborative R&D research is being undertaken between collaborators, to acquire new knowledge, and which involve risk or innovation;
- there must be at least one Partner Organisation which must make a contribution in cash and/or in kind to the project;
- the funding or in-kind contribution must must at least match the total funding requested from the ARC;
- the proposed project is to apply advanced knowledge to problems and/or to provide opportunities to obtain national economic, social or cultural benefits;
- the proposed project provides opportunities for researchers to pursue internationally competitive research in collaboration with those Partner Organisations
- the proposed project encourages growth of a national pool of world-class researchers
Who are the Partner Organisations providing the other $150,000
The linkage partners of this project are impressive:
- Courts (High Court of Australia, Family Court of Australia, Supreme Court Library (Vic), and the Federal Magistrates Court (now Federal Circuit Court)
- Parliamentary Counsel (Office of the Queensland Parliamentary Counsel and Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel of Victoria
- Government Department (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)
What are the aims of the research?
Recently, AustLII stated the principal aims of the Linkage Grant to be:
(i) To determine how the advantages of the historical system of authorised reports of case-law can best be: (a) recovered in the radically different environment of ubiquitous Internet availability of all case-law; and (b) reconciled with the advantages of free-access Internet availability. (ii) To determine how courts and tribunals outside the existing system of authorised reports can best ensure that their decisions published via the Internet have authority and integrity, including when republished under appropriate conditions. (iii) To test and validate with one or more of these courts and tribunals the most appropriate means of achieving these aims. (iv) In all of the above, the development of best practices is a combination of policy research and development of standards, and development of the best technical means (digital signatures, watermarks etc.) most suited to the particular requirements of legal authority and the legal environment in which the documents are used.
Notably a part of the original grant statement (which features in the ARC announcement) is omitted from these recently re-stated principal aims:
This project will investigate and develop new best practices (policy, standards, technical) suited to the online environment and modern practices from both national and international perspectives.
Is this research worthy of ARC Funding?
Now that AustLII has released the major work product of this research, the “signed by AustLII” watermark, it is the appropriate time to consider whether the research is worthy of ARC Funding.
For those that may not yet have seen it, the watermark looks like this:
AustLII’s stated problems are not problems which entail risk or involve innovation. The problems are directed towards AustLII’s vision that Free Access to Legal Information is the only kind of access which is desirable. Furthermore, the research is directed towards AustLII endeavouring to prefer its own narrow commercial interests with those of the wider legal publishing ecosystem. The aims of the research do not seek to engage with any legal publishers of Councils of Law Reporting. The so-called ‘standards’ being developed are standards to which only AustLII has access.
AustLII’s ‘solution’ is already in use in other courts around the world and the technology involved is neither new, advanced, nor creating international competition.
Authentication at work
Quite apart from the expenditure of some $300,000 of public funds on a project with no clear benefits to anyone but AustLII, it’s time for a wider discussion about public support for legal publishing and the access to legal information.
Reading the new AustLII signed by AustLII Format. Source: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c24503. Photographer: Herman Hiller