SubTech, day three

by Paul Maharg on 01/07/2006

Friday began with a presentation by Steven Karanja from the Norwegian Research Centre for Computers and Law on ‘Privacy and protection of social marginalised groups’ which, for some of the conferencen, raised interesting issues with regard to 7/11 and similar events.  He concluded that we need to rethink the direction that protection institutions are taking, in particular the issues surrounding control and surveillance (largely group-based, while protection is individually-oriented) and the need for group protection.

In his presentation Jon Bing turned to ‘New trends in legal information services’, drawing interesting analogies as regards the openness of the law in contemporary western societies with with Ur-Nammus’ Code (c.2095BC — represented as a seal) and Solon’s  (638-559bc) Axon legal information engine (hence the root for English words such as ‘axiomatic’) which posted law where Athenians could easily access it.  Legal information, Jon pointed out, wants to be free. The AUSTLII toolbar is an example of useful technology that emanates from a ground-up movement to free the law.  Similar European initiatives to Austlii were, in his opinion, slower to take off largely because governmental policy issues had taken over — eg Legifrance.  This used to be a commercial service, which is now a free service.  He also pointed out that the globalisation of legal information is attempting to create an international legal community.  EUR-Lex, giving access to European and national law, is an example of this, as is the Library of Congress’s Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), as is WorldLII, a version of AustLII.

What we have, therefore, is legistlative information systems vs systems of r legal research, which again comes in two flavours: systems for professional users vs systems for the general public.  But, John warned, current legal information systems are generally systems of the 1970s behind a facade of web design.  Jon compared a DOS interface with a web field interface, showing how little had changed, apart from cosmetics [not sure if I entirely agree about that, but his basic point is clearly valid].  He gave an example of a difference search interface, taking expert judgement on domicile — relevant factual circumstances.  Jon illustrated this by using the two cases of widow Brandt (Rt 1917 & 1937) with weightings and the graphical representations of this and related cases and relevant statutes using hyperstructures.  Further possibilities included use of mark-up languages, computational linguistics, tagging, knowledge-based methods, modest semantic representations, and finally integration with justice administrative systems. 

Ralph Amissah continued the theme of access to information with a demonstration and analysis of his system, SiSU — a simple electronic publishing framework to provide choice and manage change, based upon a document export hub.  From a markup file, SiSU generates multiple output formats and provides them with a common citation system. The result is that searches of documents can be carried out at the level of paragraph-sized chunks.  Lunch followed, at which point PM had to leave the conference early.

SubTech 2006 was not as well attended as earlier conferences — a pity, because there were valuable papers, lots of opportunities for interaction, and the recently-restored nineteenth-century Law Faculties facilities quite remarkable.  It would be a pity if the conference were to fade away.  It provides a useful international platform for the analysis of state of play in the interfaces between law and technology; and the space of time between the biennial events allows one to take a retrospective on change and changing cultures.  Who will take up the baton in two years’ time? 

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