The state of African Legal Information Institutes

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Table of Contents

Executive summary

In more than 60 countries around the world, Legal Information Institutes (LIIs hereafter) make significant volumes of legal information — legislation, case law, judgements etc — freely available on the internet. These repositories provide information that, in many countries, is otherwise only available online behind paywall subscriptions or in hard to access (and oftentimes costly) hard-copy formats. In so doing they can provide valuable resources to legal students, practitioners and stakeholders. Despite the fact that a substantial movement exists promoting the principles of free access to law, these services have received relatively little charitable or philanthropic funding — particularly when compared to services that provide information relating to political or fiscal transparency. Is it the case that LIIs are primarily used by comparatively well-paid professionals, and hence deliver little true, positive, impact? Or do LIIs in developing countries, where domestic case law and legislation is already difficult to access, and where social mobility within the professions remains low, perform a greater societal service?

As a financial supporter of a number of African LIIs since 2013, the Indigo Trust, a UK-based philanthropic foundation, commissioned this report to examine the impacts of the LIIs, and whether those impacts could reasonably be amplified with greater investment. Current research into the impacts of the LIIs anywhere in the world remains scant, and an examination of the benefit of the LIIs in sub-Saharan Africa has not previously been conducted. This research therefore asked two overarching questions:

  • What (if any) positive impacts arise from the open, free, publication of legal information on LIIs across sub-Saharan Africa?
  • How might any existing positive impacts be increased and novel positive impacts accrued?

Using a mixed methods approach consisting of desk-based research, surveys on the sub-Saharan African LIIs, and field work in three case study countries of Ghana, South Africa and Uganda, this research examined these questions, and identified common points of impact across the LIIs, as well as barriers to improvement and areas where increased investment could leverage greater beneficial impacts.

The research identified clear, positive impacts resulting from the existence and use of the LIIs, most notably in South Africa, where the LII proved to be a key tool in increasing access to the legal profession for economically disadvantaged groups. Across the countries studied, the LIIs were also benefitting the development of high quality domestic case law, which had been underdeveloped prior to digitisation; and were considered to be useful tools for citizens in developing a more meaningful understanding of the law.

The study proposes four key recommendations for investment in the African LIIs:

  1. Develop the operational/managerial aspects of the LIIs in order to improve their efficiency and reduce waste.
  2. Encourage standardisation/centralisation/sharing where appropriate, in order to reduce the burden on individual LIIs, the creation of duplicative technologies, and hence increase outputs.
  3. Create the right conditions for LIIs to flourish, which includes supporting the work of open access/open data and information rights policy work.
  4. Invest in hardware and software that can significantly improve efficiency and output.

This research concluded that the LIIs in Africa were valuable, well used resources for those interested in the law, and acted as significant tools for social and legal change in sub-Saharan Africa, rather than as mere information repositories for professionals. Over 75% of legal students and professionals consulted for this report stated that they would find it more difficult to do their jobs to the same standard without access to the relevant LII. In South Africa in particular, the LII functions as a unique mechanism for leveraging diversity into what was previously a homogeneous and elite legal profession, and where 71% of students stated that it would be impossible for them to complete their studies without access to the LII. Overall, the LIIs were confirmed to be universally positive and progressive elements of developing and maturing legal systems in sub-Saharan Africa.

Further investment in LIIs where the potential social impacts are so beneficial could almost certainly amplify the positive social and legal outcomes observed in this research. This report recommends further research into the benefits of the LIIs around the world, in particular where access to the legal profession is restricted by economic disadvantage, and suggests that the beneficial impact of the LIIs could be significantly greater than is currently evidenced.

Introduction

The construction, application, and observation of the law is a key pillar of a civilised nation, and the law touches each individual and entity within that nation. The law shapes the conditions in which each individual and organisation grows and operates, and provides structure and rules within which to act. Even individuals with little understanding of the law as a subject of study are aware that they have legal rights and obligations, even if they do not know exactly what they are. Ignorance of the law is common, but is not a legally legitimate excuse for contravention of the law. The law places a legal obligation upon citizens to act in observation of it. As such, citizens have a fundamental need to be able to access the laws that shape their lives and obligate them to act accordingly.

It is relatively easy in many developed countries to access legislation, and to access more in-depth case law. These items are often available through government portals, and hard copies published in legal volumes are often available in public access libraries. Legal professionals are able to access case law and commentary through subscription portals, often shared within chambers or legal practices. While these subscriptions are rarely low cost, they are comparatively affordable to legal professionals in developed countries. This is not the case in sub-Saharan Africa. In many sub-Saharan countries, legislation is not made available online by the government or parliament. Case law can often be in hard copy format only, filed away in large repositories that are not accessible to legal practitioners, let alone the public. Libraries accessible to the public are poorly resourced, if available at all, and even libraries in educational institutions lack sufficient hard copy legal books or copies of case law to cater for their students. Subscription portals here are priced at such a level as to exclude all but the most affluent of legal practitioners. Access to law in sub-Saharan Africa has historically been extremely low. This changed significantly with the development of the LIIs (Legal Information Institutes).

The concept of free access to law is a widely supported idea formalised by the Free Access to Law Movement, and forms part of a wider global Information Rights movement. The LIIs form part of this movement, with the objective of providing a free to access platform through which anyone, anywhere, with an internet connection, is able to search for, and access, relevant case law, legislation and other legal documents. These LIIs in developing countries were intended to bring the law closer to citizens, promote the understanding of rights amongst populations, provide resources for students of law, and enable the legal professions within each country to develop, consolidate and, importantly, use, high quality domestic case law.

This research examines the LIIs in sub-Saharan Africa, and discusses the beneficial impacts that they are producing, the challenges they face in operating, and the possibilities for the future.

Problem Statement

Access to legal information is far from universal. Legal practitioners, policymakers, stakeholders and students in many developed countries enjoy almost complete access to legislation, case law and other legal instruments, both online and through hard-copy resources. Depending on location, some of these resources require fees or subscriptions to access, some require membership or enrolment, and some are provided for free by voluntary or statutory bodies. The nature and cost of resources available differs with each jurisdiction, however legal resources available in developing countries, even those that are paid for, are often of lower quantity and quality.

The significant issue common across countries both developed and developing is the ability to access legal information for free. Subscription costs for commercial portals and libraries are very high, even in developed countries (but are comparatively affordable for professionals), and practitioners in developing countries often cannot afford to subscribe to these channels. The Free Access To Law Movement (FATLM) was established in 1992 with the creation of the first Legal Information Institute at Cornell University, with the goal of reducing this discrepancy and improving the legal resources freely available to anyone with an interest.

In 2019, there were approximately 65 Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) in operation around the world, providing case law, statutory instruments, legislation and other relevant legal resources for free online.

The Indigo Trust (https://indigotrust.org.uk) has supported the work of African LII (https://africanlii.org) and their network of country-level LIIs in publishing free to access legal information online for a number of years. Several of these LIIs are highly successful in terms of visitor numbers and page impressions; however, the true societal impact of the LIIs has not previously been examined. High user numbers do not necessarily mean that LIIs are achieving high levels of positive impact. Traffic could be arriving at these sites as a result of unrelated search engine queries, for example. Even those users intentionally visiting the sites may find that the information provided is of little or no value to them, or merely that it replaces an alternative resource that they could have readily used instead. Prior to this study, no comprehensive assessment of the true impact of the African LIIs had been conducted, and as such, no picture of the efficacy, effectiveness or value of the African LIIs existed.

The Indigo Trust commissioned this piece of research in order to assess whether the investment made in the LIIs in Africa has been of value, to determine what that value (if any) is, and to identify further areas for potential financial support. Central to this contract were two core questions: 1. What (if any) positive impacts arise from the open, free, publication of legal information on LIIs across sub-Saharan Africa? 2. How might any existing positive impacts be increased and novel positive impacts accrued?

These core questions are broken down into the following sub-questions in order to focus the research and encompass a broad range of relevant areas for examination:

  1. Who are the existing users of the LIIs (location, demographics, employment/education roles)?
  2. What do they use the LIIs for? (For their employment? For academic research? For campaigning? For lobbying? For journalism? For personal interest?)
  3. Which categories/pieces of information do they use?
  4. How, if at all, do they benefit from using the LIIs?
  5. What, if any, are the benefits to the wider population of their use of the LIIs?
  6. Could the users have obtained the information they acquire from the LIIs from alternative sources? If so, which categories of information and would this have cost them (both in terms of time and money)?
  7. Which categories/pieces of information on the LIIs do they consider to be most valuable?
  8. What categories/pieces of information not currently present on the LIIs do they consider the most valuable to add?
  9. What features/functions do they think would be most useful to add to the LIIs?
  10. How did they know about the LIIs?
  11. Related to the above, what categories of people could find the LIIs to be useful resources but are either not using them or are under-represented in the user groups?
  12. Are there any unintended negative consequences from publishing information on LIIs?

This research project examines these sub-questions as a route to answering the overarching research questions. The questions also form the basis for the surveys and interviews conducted with users and stakeholders. The global FALM movement holds a theory of change that is based on free, open and accessible legal information acting as a catalyst and driver for the promotion and operation of justice and the rule of law. This theory of change also influences how this research has been framed. It approaches impact assessment as an ongoing activity, rather than a one-off task. Using the information already available on the LIIs in sub-Saharan Africa to inform the study, the research examines multiple strands of enquiry concerning their operability, sustainability, quality, value and potential.

The resulting conclusions will review these research questions and highlight key areas in which LIIs can produce value and impact, can positively develop, and can improve access to, and the operation of, justice and the rule of law.

Research Methods

In order to build a rounded and comprehensive picture of the African LIIs and how they operate, a three-stranded approach to the research was considered to be optimal. This would allow for both qualitative and quantitative methods to be employed, and provide the widest possible scope for evidence gathering from a range of users and non-users of the LIIs.

The first strand of the research consisted of a desk-based investigation of existing academic and practitioner literature on the operation of LIIs and any impact or value that had previously been detected. While this particular study focuses on the African LIIs, the literature review encompassed papers and studies examining a range of LIIs worldwide to build a picture of different modes of operation found across the globe. A broader scope for the literature review was also necessary given the paucity of analysis available on the African LIIs, and it is hoped that this research will contribute much-needed analysis to this field.

The second strand of the research consisted of a survey component, in which surveys were placed on 13 of the African LIIs, and were distributed through social media and other electronic channels to both users and non-users of the LIIs in the countries covered. Only 11 of the LIIs surveyed are included later in the findings section, due to a lack of responses on AbyssiniaLaw and AfricanLII. The purpose of the surveys was to gather a wide range of views from users of the LIIs, and to identify where the greatest value in each LII occurred. Surveys enabled the study to gather this evidence in volume and to access opinions from individuals that may have been inaccessible through other methods. The LIIs surveyed were:

The surveys for each LII contained approximately 16 questions, and were almost identical, except in cases where certain options, information or features did not appear on certain sites. The similarities between the surveys were maximised to ensure that the surveys could be analysed comparatively.

The third strand of the research was conducted as a comparative case study of three LIIs: Ghana, South Africa and Uganda. A case study component was included to enable in-depth, qualitative enquiry to uncover information unlikely to be meaningfully collected by a survey or other quantitative, arms-length instrument. A comparative element was considered necessary in order to highlight both similarities and probable differences in the use and value of LIIs in sub-Saharan Africa. Mindful of the significant differences in legal landscape and cultural diversity across the three sub-Saharan regions, it was not anticipated that LII users in each case study country would necessarily hold the same views or use the LIIs for the same purposes.

The three case study LIIs were chosen in consultation with the Indigo Trust and African LII. Each LII was chosen based upon user traffic and a consideration of region, history of the LII, legal environment, and its resourcing.

  • GHALII (Ghana LII) was chosen because it is a relatively young portal (four years old), has comparatively low user numbers, is within the western region of Africa, and has a small dedicated team working on it.
  • SAFLII (South Africa LII) was chosen because it was the first African LII, has a significant user base, is within the southern region of Africa, and has a dedicated team working on it. It also exists within a relatively affluent region of Africa, and therefore could provide an understanding of how important a LII might be in a region where the legal profession is comparatively well-resourced.
  • ULII (Uganda LII) was chosen because it is a relatively well established LII in a comparatively small country, with comparatively high volumes of users. It sits within the eastern region of Africa, and has a very small dedicated team working on it.

Field trips to each of the three case study countries were conducted during January and February 2019, primarily for the purposes of holding semi-structured interviews. A total of 66 interviews were held. Individuals interviewed included the managers of the LIIs, legal practitioners, members of the judiciary, legal administrators and librarians, government officials and politicians, civil society groups working on legal issues, campaigners and community groups, students and academics, and specific individual users. The research participants interviewed were identified through existing contacts with the LIIs in-country, the desk-based research, recommendations, and snowball sampling. All interviews were conducted in English. While the majority of individuals were content to participate ‘on the record' in these interviews in an official capacity, the small scale of this study means that names have not been published to protect the identity of interviewees. However, all research participants have agreed to allow publication of their organisational affiliation to provide as clear a picture as possible of the relevant and broad sources of information that this report is based upon: this list can be found as an appendix to this report.

The semi-structured interviews were composed of questions grouped according to the interviewee's affiliation, where individuals involved in running LIIs were asked more in-depth questions on the management and operation of the LIIs, and users were asked more questions concerning features, accessibility, useability and desirable additions to the LIIs.

Interview timings were dictated by the time made available to the researchers by interviewees. Occasionally more senior individuals could only spare 30 minutes, whereas other managers and users of the LIIs were able to give more time. Interviews mostly lasted between 45 and 90 minutes to allow for in-depth exploration of the themes of the research, and were conducted primarily in person at the interviewee's place of work.

Two researchers were present to conduct interviews, and detailed notes were taken, and later coded manually to identify overarching themes and sub-themes.

Literature review

It has been argued that every government has an obligation to provide free public access to legal information (Mitee, 2017a), and that this should include primary sources of law (principal and subsidiary legislation, judicial judgements, and relevant legal instruments); bills; and all other legal government publications (Mitee, 2017b). It is generally agreed in the literature (Bangani, 2018; Greenleaf et al, 2011; Masson & Tahir, 2016; Mitee, 2017a; Mitee, 2017b; Vallbe Fernandez & Casellas, 2014) that free public access to legal information promotes awareness of the law. The benefits can be observed both among individuals and organisations who understand their rights and duties, and within the state, which is able to provide seamless services and justice. This is particularly important in developing countries, where ignorance of the law can often be cited as an excuse for contravention of it, but cannot be used as a legitimate legal defence. Access to legal information is also considered a basic requirement "to facilitate sustainable development; enhance law reform; enable national and transnational legal research; and to promote the principles of democracy, including transparency and accountability" (Mitee, 2017b). Writing in 2019, it could be argued that online legal information constitutes the most appropriate and accessible format that has the widest reach, greatest searchability, greatest versatility, and lowest cost when compared to traditional printed formats. Simply placing legal information online, however, does not necessarily mean it is accessible, and Mitee (2017a) has demonstrated the difficulties in collating relevant legal information even in countries considered to be at the forefront of digital publication of government information, such as the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK.

Notes (hide):

1: Mitee, L. E., (2017a) Towards enhanced public access to legal information: a proposal for official networked one-stop legal information websites, European Journal of Law and Technology, Vol 8, No 3, 2017.

2: Mitee, L. E. (2017b). The Right of Public Access to Legal Information: A Proposal for its Universal Recognition as a Human Right. German Law Journal, 18(6), 1429–1496.

3: Bangani, S. (2018) Open access to legal resources in South Africa: the benefits and challenges. Library Philosophy and Practice. (e-journal). 1892.

4: Greenleaf, G., Vivekanandan, V. C., Chung, P., Singh, R., & Mowbray, A. (2011). Challenges for free access to law in a multi-jurisdictional developing country: building the Legal Information Institute of India. SCRIPTed, 8, 292.

5: Masson, M., & Tahir, O. (2016). The Legal Information Needs of Civil Society in Zambia. J. Open Access L., 4, 1.

6: Mitee, L. E., (2017a) Towards enhanced public access to legal information: a proposal for official networked one-stop legal information websites, European Journal of Law and Technology, Vol 8, No 3, 2017.

7: Mitee, L. E. (2017b). The Right of Public Access to Legal Information: A Proposal for its Universal Recognition as a Human Right. German Law Journal, 18(6), 1429–1496.

8: Vallbé, J. J., & Casellas, N. (2014). What's the Cost of e-Access to Legal Information? A composite indicator. In Doing Business: Past, Present, and Future of Business Regulation: McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University: February 20-21, 2014 World Bank Group.

9: Mitee, L. E. (2017b). The Right of Public Access to Legal Information: A Proposal for its Universal Recognition as a Human Right. German Law Journal, 18(6), 1429–1496.

10: Mitee, L. E., (2017a) Towards enhanced public access to legal information: a proposal for official networked one-stop legal information websites, European Journal of Law and Technology, Vol 8, No 3, 2017.

The idea of a ‘Legal Information Institute' (LII) was first conceived in Cornell University in 1992, receiving support from the Cornell Law School, as well as the National Center for Automated Information Research and the Keck Foundation. Other academic institutions in Canada and Australia later followed suit, and soon a larger group coalesced, collaborating under the same banner of legal information institutes. In 2002 this group established the global Free Access to Law Movement (FALM), which has over 60 active members. Their ideology, expressed in the Declaration on Free Access to Law, is based on the rights of individuals to effective and free access to public legal information, and additionally, the right of those who wish to reproduce that information to meet that need, to be able to do so.

The Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) has been leading many of those developments since 1995, and operates one of the most well-used LIIs in the world, with over 700,000 daily users. Since 2000 it has been working with organizations in other countries to develop domestic LIIs, and also operates collaborative portals for those FALM members who wish to participate, such as WorldLII, CommonLII and AsianLII. AustLII is the primary technology supporter of SAFLII in South Africa.

While there are numerous publications concerning the establishment of the LIIs around the world, there is very little literature concerning the wider impact of the LIIs upon the legal profession, legal institutions, or their wider societal impact. Much of the existing literature focuses upon country-specific contexts and the nuances of individual legal systems. As such, this research sought to provide a contribution to knowledge in this area with regard to the LIIs in sub-Saharan Africa.

In arguing the need for well resourced and developed LIIs, in particular in developing countries, several authors have pointed to the difficulties individuals and stakeholders experience in accessing legal information, even where is should legally be available to them (Greenleaf et al, 2011; Masson & Tahir, 2016; Mitee, 2017b). These authors note that in countries such as India and Zambia, government presents significant, if not deliberate, barriers to the provision of legal information that frustrates both citizens and legal stakeholders in understanding and exercising their legal rights and responsibilities. In Zambia, legal practitioners were using ZambiaLII to access legal rulings; however, NGOs in the country, who were also interested in accessing legal information, were neither aware of the LII, nor possessed the necessary legal training to fully take advantage of the resource (Masson & Tahir, 2016). Similarly in South Africa, Bangani (2018) suggests that inequality in access to the internet, and inequality in educational standards mean that SAFLII is inadvertently a much less ‘open access' tool than it was intended to be. This raises questions of whether the LIIs should be a solely legal resource, where effective usage is dependent upon self-determining entry requirements such as the ability to understand the language of the law, or whether LIIs have a wider role in bridging the gap between legal professionals and the wider civil society and citizen sphere.

Notes (hide):

11: Greenleaf, G., Vivekanandan, V. C., Chung, P., Singh, R., & Mowbray, A. (2011). Challenges for free access to law in a multi-jurisdictional developing country: building the Legal Information Institute of India. SCRIPTed, 8, 292.

12: Masson, M., & Tahir, O. (2016). The Legal Information Needs of Civil Society in Zambia. J. Open Access L., 4, 1.

13: Mitee, L. E. (2017b). The Right of Public Access to Legal Information: A Proposal for its Universal Recognition as a Human Right. German Law Journal, 18(6), 1429–1496.

14: Masson, M., & Tahir, O. (2016). The Legal Information Needs of Civil Society in Zambia. J. Open Access L., 4, 1.

15: Bangani, S. (2018) Open access to legal resources in South Africa: the benefits and challenges. Library Philosophy and Practice. (e-journal). 1892.

Regardless of the philosophical argument concerning which audience the LIIs should be aimed at, they are currently extremely well used around the world. Thomas Bruce (2015), the co-founder and director of the Cornell University Legal Information Institute, stated in 2015 that ‘Today [2015], the website that we built is visited by more than 30 million people each year, from more than 240 countries and territories.' (Bruce (2015)). LII usage has also been shown to increase alongside the growth in the volume of case law uploaded, as noted in India (Greenleaf et al, 2011), and LIIs have been repeatedly proposed as a key solution in the provision of official legal information where physical difficulties exist (Greenleaf et al, 2011; Masson & Tahir, 2016). In Africa, LIIs have also been argued to be a tool for increasing the use and legitimacy of domestic and regional law, and a way to overcome reliance on international case law from the UK or Europe (Fombad, 2014).

Notes (hide):

16: Bruce, T. (2015) Statement for the Side Event Providing Access to Legal Information to Accelerate Sustainable Development, New York, 24 June 2015.

17: Bruce, T. (2015) Statement for the Side Event Providing Access to Legal Information to Accelerate Sustainable Development, New York, 24 June 2015.

18: Greenleaf, G., Vivekanandan, V. C., Chung, P., Singh, R., & Mowbray, A. (2011). Challenges for free access to law in a multi-jurisdictional developing country: building the Legal Information Institute of India. SCRIPTed, 8, 292.

19: Greenleaf, G., Vivekanandan, V. C., Chung, P., Singh, R., & Mowbray, A. (2011). Challenges for free access to law in a multi-jurisdictional developing country: building the Legal Information Institute of India. SCRIPTed, 8, 292.

20: Masson, M., & Tahir, O. (2016). The Legal Information Needs of Civil Society in Zambia. J. Open Access L., 4, 1.

21: Fombad, C. M. (2014). Africanisation of legal education programmes: The need for comparative African legal studies. Journal of Asian and African Studies, 49(4), 383-398.

In a policy report by the Southern African Institute for Policy and Research, the LIIs in South Africa and Zimbabwe were shown to provide significant benefits to practitioners, students and the judiciary in increasing the access they had to new and relevant case law (Hinfelaar & Kapijimpanga, 2017). This research emphasised the usefulness of the PocketLaw initiative in rural areas, confirmed the value of these resources in assisting individuals studying and practising law who come from poorer backgrounds, and highlighted areas for potential improvement concerning the value of lower level court judgements (magistrates courts).

Notes (hide):

22: Hinfelaar, M, Kapijimpanga (2017) P, Ethnographic Research on the Impact of Legal Information

In developing the Indian LII, Greenleaf et al, 2011 suggest that the following factors are key elements:

Notes (hide):

23: Greenleaf, G., Vivekanandan, V. C., Chung, P., Singh, R., & Mowbray, A. (2011). Challenges for free access to law in a multi-jurisdictional developing country: building the Legal Information Institute of India. SCRIPTed, 8, 292.

  • Early identification by an established LII of local partner organisations with substantial non-commercial reasons to wish to establish free access to law, and their involvement in all stages of the project.
  • Adoption of a broad approach to content acquisition, including all "five pillars" of free access content (legislation, case law, treaties, law reform and open scholarship), so as to create a LII with the richest possible search results and serving the broadest audience.
  • Utilisation of available online resources to build an initial system quickly, with impact.
  • Active collaboration by local partners to source data previously not available online.
  • Active collaboration with other free access to law providers, particularly from the NGO sector, including swapping and sharing of database content.
  • Continuous involvement by the established LII in technical assistance, and possibly in governance.
  • Development of a funding model relying on diverse sources of funding.

These considerations influenced the design of the survey and interview questions for our research, and provided valuable thought guidance in investigating the operation and development of the LIIs.

From the scant peer-reviewed literature mentioning the LIIs that exists, it is clear that there is a small but committed global movement promoting their use and value, and considering vital questions about their optimum operability and sustainability. Unfortunately, almost nothing has been studied, peer-reviewed and published demonstrating the positive (or otherwise) impacts of the LIIs, and therefore this study began with a very low level of knowledge to build on.

AfricanLII

In order to give context to the following case studies, it is prudent to recognise the work of AfricanLII in assisting to establish and support the network of African LIIs. AfricanLII is a programme of the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit at the Department of Public Law, University of Cape Town. It is an overarching African access to law initiative designed to help individuals, organisations and governments build and maintain sustainable free access to law portals. AfricanLII acts as a developer and convener of 16 African LIIs, providing financial assistance, technical support, development opportunities and collaborative networking convenings. AfricanLII also provides a pan-African legal search engine and hosts regional legal materials for free access, such as ULII and GHALII, which form part of this study.

The benefit of the support provided by AfricanLII cannot be understated. In many cases, AfricanLII is integral in assisting to establish in-country LIIs. The majority of online LII portals in Africa are hosted by the AfricanLII organisation, meaning that managers of the LIIs in-country do not have to develop their own sites or financially support their hosting and maintenance. AfricanLII will also often act as a ‘parent' organisation, providing training and financial support where possible, and inducting new managers to their roles.

The convening of this niche sector is vital for LII managers to build peer support networks and to work on their respective strategies for development. LIIs are generally small and underfunded in Africa, and as a result can be very isolated; however, AfricanLII holds an annual convening, the Open Law Africa conference, which brings the community together to examine current issues and strategise over future activities.

While this report focuses primarily on the impact of individual LIIs at a country level, the capacity building work conducted by AfricanLII is an important factor in the eventual success of the country-level LIIs. Indeed, many of the later recommendations in this report should include the involvement of AfricanLII in their implementation, as this organisation provides a more strategic and targeted approach to the development of LIIs across Africa than can be achieved by those LIIs individually. While few research participants cited the work of AfricanLII as integral to successful impact, it nonetheless plays a key role in the ongoing existence and success of the LIIs in Africa.

Case studies

The findings of this report are primarily presented comparatively in the next section. This section provides a brief overview of the three countries in which the case studies took place. The purpose of this section is to draw attention to specific local and contextual factors that are unique to each country and each LII, and explore the implications these may have in shaping how the LIIs are operating and being used.

Ghana

The Ghana LII is the youngest of the LIIs examined as a case study for this report. It was established in 2015 as an independent non-profit organisation jointly by its current Director, Eric Apeadu, and by interested MPs and legal professionals. It has two full time dedicated staff, and an additional casual member of staff. GHALII has recently established a permanent office base in central Accra, but relies on the use of equipment at the University of Ghana, some 45 minute drive away, to scan and upload documents. GHALII is part funded by AfricanLII, and receives some in-kind support from its very limited circle of trustees and supporters. GHALII estimates that it attracts approximately 16,000 unique users per year. A breakdown of key findings from the GHALII user survey is included below, leading into a narrative analysis which includes findings from the fieldwork and interview aspects of the research.

GHALII: users and demographics

The survey placed on GHALII gathered only 26 full responses from individuals that used the website (with an additional six who stated that they do not currently use the website). The results are discussed here to be illustrative, but these results are unlikely to be representative of the general userbase.

Utility

GHALII is fundamentally useful to legal stakeholders in Ghana.69% of respondents stated that they could continue to do their job but with more difficulty without GHALII, 23% felt it would make no difference if GHALII was not available, and 8% said that they could not continue their work to the same standard without it.

Gender and Age

The majority of respondents were male, and the largest group of users was between 20-29 (46%).

Location

This represents a higher proportion of users living in a rural area than is typical across all the AfricanLII surveys (although it should be noted that this 12% of respondents represents only three replies).

Respondents to the survey scored their internet reliability on a ten-point scale (where ten was most reliable), and there was a collective average of 7.307. Only one respondent (giving a figure of 4%) scored less than a five. Scores of an eight, nine or ten were given by 46% of respondents.

Employment

Examples of others: nurse, teacher, tax consultant.

Usage

Ten respondents said they had used another service before GHALII (examples given include Google and Ghana Law Finder). Five continue to use GHALII alongside other services, three switched because of better material on GHALII, one because it was cheaper and one because they lost institutional access to a different service.

58% of respondents sometimes or regularly print from GHALII (12% regularly). 23% rarely print and 19% never print.

When asked about increased features, most respondents wanted more of the same, with more cases and more legislation being the most popular choices.

Management and finance

GHALII has a legal status as an independent NGO, and therefore sits outside of government or other institutional control. It has a board of trustees who meet approximately three times per year, and who provide advice and guidance on the overall direction of the organisation. Day to day running of the organisation is conducted by Eric Apeadu.

Somewhat unusually for a LII, those responsible for developing and establishing GHALII, and who work on it currently, are not all qualified legal professionals. GHALII staff originate from NGO and IT backgrounds, and the co-founding MP, (Hon) Osei Bonsu Amoah, while having a background in Law, had been sitting as an MP for over ten years at the point GHALII was established. Additional legal professionals were later appointed to the trustee board.

GHALII's status as an independently constituted NGO means that it has the ability, if it so wished, to raise funds independently, whether that would be through subscription or membership fees, grants or services. Currently, GHALII operates on a very low level of seemingly unsustainable funding, which is currently $18,000 and awarded from AfricanLII. The ideal budget level was considered to be $30,000 per year, which would enable an increase in content, and would also fund more managerial and strategic activities. GHALII has suggested it would like to raise further funds for its future operation, but at this point has not clearly identified a path forward or begun work to improve the likelihood of sustainability beyond its current one-year grant from AfricanLII.

Information access

Access to the legal information GHALII requires is not simple, and a complex field of interests must be navigated to secure different types of information. One of GHALII's biggest challenges to sustainability is the incoherent and wasteful process of securing and uploading documentation. In order to publish legislation or the weekly gazette (in which amendments to law are published) , a member of GHALII must get the right amount of cash, physically go to the Assembly Press building in central Accra, purchase the gazette or legislation (which is available in hard copy only), make the 45 minute journey to the University of Ghana, pay the relevant team at the University of Ghana to scan the documents, and then return to the GHALII office to upload the documents onto the site. This process can take half a day, and requires multiple payments for hard copy, transport and copying. Given that all documents printed by the government-owned Assembly Press need to be produced as a digital copy as the first step in the printing process, it is somewhat absurd that such copies cannot be made available, even if at a fee via a subscription or one-off payment service. During the interviews conducted in Ghana, this issue was raised several times by the interviewers; however, there was very little will evident to push for changes to this process, both from within GHALII and from the government perspective.

Access to case law does not require the same level of financial exchange as legislation, but remains a complex process dependent upon unofficial goodwill and access to the right people. Copies of cases are not automatically passed on to GHALII; rather the process depends upon the judges that make the ruling directing the cases to them. That being so, and because many do not know about GHALII's existence, many cases fall through the cracks. Other case law is passed to GHALII from contacts within university and other legal libraries. GHALII does tend to upload the most recent case law more quickly than other platforms, but as noted above, it is not comprehensive, and much case law remains unreported and unpublished.

GHALII visibility

GHALII currently suffers from a lack of visibility amongst those that might well find the service useful. The majority of potential stakeholders simply do not know what it is or that it even exists; however, those within the sector see the value of GHALII and would be open to assisting in promoting its use. During this study, several librarians stated that the best way to improve usage would be to hold training and showcasing at different events aimed at the legal profession. While there may be budgetary constraints that limit GHALII's ability to conduct such events with any frequency, something so simple that could raise the profile and usage of GHALII would be a valuable first step towards subscription/support from practitioners — and financial sustainability.

Competitors and cultural barriers

Ghana represented the most diverse of landscapes in which legal information is accessed, and significant competition amongst GHALII-style portals was found to exist. This is due to a number of factors:

  1. There is a persistent hard-copy culture in Ghana. Even younger generations who would be expected to migrate to online methods of study and practice still reach for hard-copy textbooks first. This was considered to be how law was practised, and deviation from this was not seen as desirable. This hard copy culture is perpetuated by the fear of online copies being tampered with, as explained by participants in this study including this law librarian: "People don't yet think to look online, and they are worried that the cases they do find online are not genuine cases that they can cite. They need to be reassured of their credibility. In 1990 there was an issue where a case was edited and when it got to the court [...] it was found out, so there is a natural reticence to use online cases because people think they are edited."
  2. Students, who constitute a significant portion of the userbase in many LII countries, do not generally do much legal research in Ghana, as the majority of university libraries already have the relevant cases saved to flash drives or hard copy folders, ready for students to use. This means that they have no need of a service such as GHALII, because the relevant materials are provided. This is reiterated by this research participant, a librarian at the University of Ghana Law Faculty: "A lot of students, once they leave university, they don't know how to search other cases, because they are quite narrowly focused on the few cases they are given in the course. They don't therefore develop the skills to properly research a lot of cases."
  3. The legal system in Ghana in many ways remains more static and tradition-based than in other countries in Africa. This manifests itself most clearly in a reliance on international law and older UK common law, which are considered suitable for argument in court, and there is no emerging preference for domestic, Ghanaian, case law at present.
  4. Poor internet reliability means that many stakeholders who do venture into the digital realm prefer to use a static offline database such as Digital Attorney or LawFinder, as explained by this research participant: "Lawfinder and Ghali are virtually the same, but Lawfinder has an index, and is not internet based, so it's easier to use on a pen drive or laptop, especially if you don't have a good internet connection."
  5. The reliance on international and common law means that portals such as GHALII, that are more focused on domestic law, are not likely to be as popular as other sources.
  6. There are multiple online subscription-paying and free portals that have a range of different but relevant law for Ghanaian practitioners, such as LawFinder, HeinOnline, and DennisLaw. LawFinder is an offline database for which the annual updates cost $300. HeinOnline only offers short-term subscriptions to individuals for select databases. Subscriptions include 24-hour, 48-hour, or one-week access and are limited to five downloads per day. Costs are currently $29.95 USD for 24 hours, $49.95 USD for 48 hours and $79.95 USD for a week. DennisLaw is currently free to use; however, it is run by a private legal practitioner, and research participants were aware that a charging structure for usage was likely to be implemented in the near future.

All of these services were cited by participants in this research as being well used. Below are some of the research participants' thoughts on what different legal information services in Ghana offer:

  • Librarian, Ghana School of Law:

LawFinder and Ghalii are virtually the same, but LawFinder has an index, and is not internet based, so it's easier to use on a pen drive or laptop, especially if you don't have a good internet connection.

  • Librarian, Ghana School of Law:

LawFinder also has the gazette and the legislation, so it's pretty much the same as Ghalii. Ghalii is more up and coming, and doesn't have anything different to LawFinder at this time. Ghalii is a relatively new resource, but in time in a few years, I think more people will use it. LawFinder is downloaded onto your computer for life, and you only pay a fee [$300 USD annually] to get the annual updates.

  • Student Body President, Ghana School of Law:

LawFinder on the laptop is also very useful. This is much more useful than Ghalii, as it has more information and you don't need an internet connection. My LawFinder is 2013, so it doesn't have as much updated, because it has to be updated once a year. LawFinder should really be free, but sometimes it's encrypted. In reality most people usually don't pay, they just work around the encryption. Access to LawFinder is therefore generally accessible for free.

  • Employee, Ghalii:

Believe with DennisLaw we're all doing the same thing.

  • Librarian, Ghana University Law Faculty:

For our students, I'm not able to tell whether they they use Ghalii or not. Even if they use it, it is not very popular. They don't do much with it. We have standalone databases in the library that are locally prepared. We have Digital Attorney, and we have LawFinder as well. These are alternative sources, and are standalone databases that certain individuals within the university have prepared.

The complexity of the legal information landscape in Ghana, and the cultural behaviours that characterise it, mean that achieving significantly higher penetration would be challenging. The attitudes to law, traditional practices and a preference for international and UK common law, coupled with the government's lack of will to digitise legal information, and platform competition, mean that the user base is likely to remain relatively small in the short term.

Impacts of GHALII

GHALII undoubtedly provides access to legal information that citizens outside of the legal profession would be unlikely to have access to elsewhere. This research found evidence of citizens using GHALII to research their own legal matters, and that there was knowledge of defendants successfully using the information accessed to compel their own legal representatives to act or argue certain points. It is not clear how prevalent this is, and given the complexity of case law, it is unlikely that this user group represents a significant portion of the userbase. As noted previously in this section, the tradition of using hard-copy formats for legal research amongst the profession itself means that there is no significant difference in general access to legal information between wealthier and less wealthy stakeholders. Unlike in the two other case study countries, in Ghana there was no evidence of students, practitioners or other stakeholders being unable to engage with the legal system on an equal footing without GHALII.

If Ghalii were to disappear tomorrow, the impact would not be felt as widely as if Ulii or Saflii disappeared, mainly due to the preference for hard copies and the existence of similar services. That is not to say that it would not be missed at all — far from it — but it would be missed only as one component of a diverse landscape of legal resources, as illustrated by the following research participants:

  • Librarian, Parliament Library:

If Ghalii disappeared it would make a difference, the arrangement and resources are very good. Would be lacking something, although we have other resources we'd be lacking if didn't have Ghalli.

  • Farmer, user of Ghalii:

It helps me argue with the lawyer, to say let's do this and they ask why. I'd feel like I'd lost something as I rely on [Ghalii] to argue with.

  • Student Body President, Ghana School of Law:

I don't use Ghalii. But, if Ghalii disappeared tomorrow it would make no difference because of DennisLaw which is a new service and it is free online. They might go commercial in future, and it's run by a lawyer, but it's free right now.

  • Former Librarian, University of Ghana Law Faculty:

I'm sure it's a very excellent source to complement what we have. If it's not there it's taking part of our power away as a librarian, as I'd have fewer sources to search.

  • Librarian, University of Ghana Law Faculty:

If Ghallii disappeared tomorrow it would be disastrous for some of us. When I'm at home, I use Ghalii because it's free, I think also most lawyers don't know about Ghalii, but it's because most lawyers are not very conversant. They are not adapting to online sources, and they prefer to continue using physical resources. If I go to court and I see a notice about Ghalii, then that might be helpful. At this point it's still not popular though, not too many people even know about it.

Head Librarian, Ghana School of Law:

If Ghalii didn't exist it wouldn't be good. For latest cases we are relying on Ghalii. For 2018, Ghalii is the only place that has the cases. So law practice would cost more and take more time if I had to go and get a hard copy from the assembly press.

Future improvements and ambitions

GHALII, as a relatively young platform and organisation, did not produce a clear or coherent plan for future development or articulate a clear idea of what kind of service it should be. Interviews with staff and trustees produced a wide range of ideas and beliefs as to what GHALII could or should be, but these differed significantly from each other. Some interviewees believed that GHALII should focus on being a resource for citizens, which would provide advice and guidance at a level understandable for individuals outside of the legal profession, whereas others believed the resource should be more of a professional platform, similar to those operating elsewhere, and catering to legal professionals. This incoherence probably originates from the wide spectrum of contact made with GHALII by users through their contact form on the site, which ranges from significant email traffic requesting the most basic legal advice, to specific requests for individual case law. GHALII currently answers all of these enquiries, and makes referrals to other services such as Legal Aid where possible. A potential future partnership with Legal Aid was discussed, but no firm plans currently exist for what that partnership will look like.

The idea of using a subscription model was discussed, but in vague and distant terms, and there was no indication that a regular donation model from legal associations had been considered.

It is evident that Ghalii needs further improvements and content before it can fully compete with other similar services available in Ghana, as highlighted by these interviewees:

  • Librarian, University of Ghana Law Faculty:

We should find a way to make Ghalii the same as way students talk about Law Finder. Should make Ghalii the go to place. Ghalii first needs legislation there, needs high court judgements, for someone to depend on it as go to place.

  • Student, Ghana School of Law:

We don't have issues so much with internet access when we need it, but the Ghalii information is limited. We would need a lot more information on there before there was a critical mass that would make it indispensable.

  • Librarian, University of Ghana:

Unless it's properly indexed than it's difficult for me to use. Having those formats on Ghalii would be helpful. Powerless without indexes as a librarian!

Political support

GHALII faces challenges in its development, most significantly from a lack of political will to make legal information freely accessible. There is no legal obligation upon the government in Ghana to make legislation or case law freely accessible. Even the newly passed Freedom of Information law allows for information to be made available only at a charge. Currently, legislation passed by the Parliament is printed by the government-owned Assembly Press, and is then purchased by the Parliament for its 275 members and additional support and library staff.

This process of the Parliament essentially buying back its own work is not challenged or seen as a wasteful process, even by MPs. The government also appears lethargic in moves towards general digitisation, and indicates that its primary interest in migrating information online would be to monetise that information through payment and subscription services, much like similar datasets that have been digitised in Nigeria

A lawyer who participated in this research stated: "Once presidential assent happens, the law goes to the Assembly Press, but they have a lot of backlog for printing, so we should be able to secure that soft copy. But it's a business, and they don't want to give away this information for free." This presents two difficulties — basic digitisation occurring at all, and then gaining free access to those digital files. While government-produced legal information cannot in itself be copyrighted and therefore could be easily copied onto a free web service such as GHALII, this nevertheless presents a financial cost in accessing the information in the first instance.

Currently, there does not seem to be the political will within either the government or the judiciary to champion free access to legal information or for a service such as GHALII. As one of the law librarian research participants notes: "The publisher for supreme court of law reports came to our office one time and we tried to convince him to put law reports online and he wouldn't take it. Depends on individual. Don't buy idea because they think we don't have capacity to protect it and think people will copy it and tamper it."

South Africa

SAFLII is the oldest of the African LIIs, established in 2006 through a project with the Constitutional Court of South Africa. The portal was later spun out and found a new home at the University of Cape Town. SAFLII currently has approximately 1.6 million users per year, and the results of the survey highlighting demographic and usage statistics are shown below.

SAFLII user demographics

The survey placed on SAFLII received 76 full responses. This does not represent a high enough number of responses to be considered fully representative of users, in particular given that the majority of respondents arrived at the survey site via social media, rather than via the SAFLII website. This was due to the inability of the SAFLII technical structure to display the survey across the site itself, on case report pages as well as the home page. As such, it was primarily social media users who followed SAFLII through Twitter or Facebook and responded to the survey.

Gender

This is a higher representation of women than other sites surveyed.

Age

The average age of respondents was 45. This is generally an older profile than other AfricanLII sites.

Location

This represents a higher number of respondents from a major urban area and fewer from the capital than the general results of surveys, reflecting use spread out over several cities.

Employment

‘Other' consisted of six self-employed respondents, two small business owners and two unemployed respondents. Compared to other sites surveyed, SAFLII has a higher proportion of retired users and fewer full time students.

Sector

Compared to other sites surveyed, SAFLII has higher user representation from the public sector.

Profession

The ‘other' group mostly consisted of librarians, as well as some marketing and consulting job roles. The ‘not employed' category included several who responded as ‘retired' or ‘volunteer' in the employment status question.

Internet access and offline content

Internet access was reliable for most respondents to the survey. Out of ten, the average score for the perceived reliability of internet connectivity was 8.1. 54% gave a score of nine or ten, and 86% a score of seven or higher.

Most respondents print content from SAFLII at least sometimes. 97.2% percent of respondents had not used Pocket Law, compared to 2.8% who had.

Alternative Resources

Of the 68% of respondents who previously used other source, most users had not entirely switched, with 67% using SAFLII alongside other sources of information. Quality of material and cost were a joint motivation for the 12% of those who switched entirely.

Most respondents (64%) believed that they would have a harder time doing their job, but could still perform their work without SAFLII.

*Current and future usage*

Regarding new or additional features, South African respondents were, as in Ghana, hoping for more of the same, rather than novel features.

Management and finance

SAFLII was originally run by Tererai Mafukidze and Mariya Badeva-Bright; and the Director is currently Carina Pillay, who has a small staff team and a rotating cohort of interns to support the site. Mariya Badeva-Bright remains very involved with SAFLII through her role as Director of AfricanLII. The SAFLII team do as much as they are able given their limited resources, and state that they could do significantly more if they were better resourced. While there is a reliable stream of students available to take up internships at SAFLII, there is an obvious and ongoing cost to training an intake that rotates every few months. SAFLII is active on social media and conducts promotional activities where possible, but these activities are not a priority.

SAFLII has a governing body overseeing its work; however, this is a very light-touch authority, meeting only once or twice a year. Its membership includes individuals in key management positions within the University of Cape Town, as a result of the support provided to SAFLII by the institution, including providing it with premises. The governing structure and situation of SAFLII firmly within the institution's structures currently leaves SAFLII vulnerable to the preferences of the University of Cape Town, and it may be prudent to investigate routes to reducing this vulnerability through strengthening the governing body and altering its composition.

SAFLII currently has a budget of approximately two million Rand (approximately $143,400), but this is due to be halved this year, with plans to plug the deficit with regular donations from Advocates and other legal professionals collectively through the regional Bar Associations. This is piecemeal at present, with different Bar Associations providing different levels of support, and SAFLII would benefit from developing more strategic and focused fundraising campaigns to secure both grant funding and ongoing giving from legal professionals. The University of Cape Town provides in kind support in the form of premises and governance, and SAFLII also receives in kind support for development and technical requirements from AUSTLII in Sydney. While Carina described a very good working relationship with AUSTLII and noted that their support was always available, it is not ideal for SAFLII to be reliant on developers at such a distance who could theoretically pull their support at any time. The way in which SAFLII is built also presents some technical inefficiencies that monopolise the time of the Director, and that could be resolved by migrating SAFLII to a platform that would be easier to manage and maintain. In addition, the SAFLII mobile app creates an additional level of complexity and maintenance for the SAFLII team, and, as it is also supported by AUSTLII, it is reliant upon remote developers to provide maintenance. At the time of the fieldwork being conducted, the SAFLII app had been suffering serious glitches that had reduced its usability for a significant period of time (over two months), and was in need of maintenance to rectify the issue.

Information access

Access to legal information in South Africa, while not perfect, is significantly easier to achieve than in the majority of other African countries. Current legal information is digitised and digital copies are theoretically available for free to SAFLII for publication. Formatting is problematic in many cases, with certain judges believing Word documents can be tampered with, and therefore only providing scanned PDF files which then have to be reformatted at some time-cost to SAFLII. There is also difficulty in accessing all of the judgements made in South Africa, and in reality, access to the latest judgements can be dependent upon the specific judges and courts involved, with efficiency dropping significantly in more rural areas. Volume is also an issue, with SAFLII's resources only permitting upload of a portion of the cases heard. Considering these difficulties, SAFLII manages to produce an astonishing output and was regularly cited as the quickest platform to upload new case law: "Saflii is very fast at uploading the case law - much more so that the paid for service" (Attorney), "You get far quicker access on Saflii, they have an amazing turn around time. sometimes within days." (Attorney, Women's Legal Centre). In addition to the SAFLII website and the app, the Pocket Law project was also available to practitioners in South Africa, and could supply content via an offline USB drive. This was well used by practitioners in more rural areas of the country where internet connectivity was unreliable.

Visibility

SAFLII is extremely well known in South Africa. While usage dwindles amongst significantly older legal practitioners, the majority of stakeholders in South Africa are very aware of SAFLII and use it frequently. This is evidenced across the profession, from students to individuals who have practiced for over 30 years. Advocates (South Africa's equivalent to barristers) are more likely to find SAFLII a vital resource than attorneys (the country's equivalent to solicitors); however, both levels of practitioner use the site. The judiciary find it useful in growing and solidifying the prominence of domestic law, and now that SAFLII can officially be cited in court, judges welcome its use in the courtroom.

As a resource SAFLII is well known and loved, but the organisation behind the site is little known. This constitutes a real problem for its continued operation. SAFLII is simply taken for granted as a resource. Numerous heavy users of SAFLII had never given any thought to how the site is funded or maintained, but were enthusiastic about supporting it financially when the issue of its sustainability was raised. "We have seen a general plea for funds. We all have this service available to us that is magic and free, but no one knows where it is, who pays for it, who runs it etc." (Attorney, Women's Legal Centre).

Competition and culture

There are a number of online legal information portals available in South Africa; however, SAFLII is the only one that is completely free to use. The most prominent competitors are Lexis Nexis and JutaStat, which have traditionally dominated the market in legal information publishing in South Africa. These portals provide comprehensive and historic case law, as well as access to international law and common law. Both platforms are extremely expensive to subscribe to (over 5,480 Rand, or $394, a month) — an extortionate price for most individual practitioners), and while subscriptions can be segmented, even the most basic access can cost thousands of Rand. Generally, the only subscribers to these portals are the university institutions and the high profile legal firms and chambers. The cost of subscriptions is too high for individual practitioners (who make up the bulk of practitioners in South Africa), and too high for students. Some advocates interviewed have actually left their chambers because the cost of contributing to these databases is too high. As a research participant put it: "SAFLII is very helpful for up and coming law firms, for a startup law firm paying the 20k [for paid-for legal subscription services] would be quite intense – a lot more people are going on their own as opposed to getting stuck in a firm. There are a lot of black lawyer movements being encouraged to set up on their own — without SAFLII everything would be behind a paywall."

Users of SAFLII were clear in their preference for SAFLII above these other online portals, even disregarding the comparative cost. SAFLII was considered significantly easier to use, and in particular the ability to search via Google and be taken directly to a relevant case was cited as invaluable. SAFLII's boolean search function ensures that advanced search, both through the site and via Google, is extremely effective. In comparison, Lexis Nexis and Juta were considered clunky and their search prone to be time-consuming (as they do not currently provide a boolean search function), and were also noted to be much slower than SAFLII in uploading new cases. "If I search for cerebral palsy and general damages I can find it on SAFLII but I just get too many results on the paid for services" (Advocate interviewee), "I use SAFII every day because JutaStat has no boolean search" (Advocate interviewee).

While there are currently reports that these platforms are redesigning their offering to bring it more up to date, the consensus among users was that SAFLII is the first place to look for domestic case law, and only if the case cannot be found on that platform, will users look elsewhere.

Impacts of SAFLII

More so than in any other case study, the LII in South Africa is a vital tool for improving social justice. Its function in this can be considered in three stages:

  1. SAFLII practically reduces the gulf in resources available to students of law. While universities provide students with free access to Lexis Nexis and JutaStat, as well as SAFLII, those subscription-only resources are exclusively available on campus. Students from poorer backgrounds, who struggle to afford to stay in university, often return to their homes whenever possible to reduce the cost of living. Prior to SAFLII, these students would inevitably suffer in their studies, as they were unable to access necessary legal resources away from campus. SAFLII enables these students to remain in university and produce work of comparable quality with students that have access to the resources on-campus. This facilitates a greater number of law students from a wide range of backgrounds to complete their legal education.
  2. SAFLII removes one of the most significant financial barriers to entering private practice, which is the cost of library or online subscriptions to legal information. Without access to case law, it is impossible for an individual to enter private practice, particularly if they are doing so independently. One enterprising law student who decided to move into private practice calculated that it would be cheaper for him to re-enrol in the University of Cape Town degree program in order to keep access to Lexis Nexis and JutaStat, than it would be to subscribe to them himself. The removal of this financial barrier means that individuals from poorer or comparatively disadvantaged backgrounds are not completely blocked from entering the profession in the event that they are not recruited by one of the larger law firms. This was highlighted by multiple interviewees: "There are thousands of aspiring lawyers out there. Without a Saflii, those people are never going to fulfil their potential. What would they do to educate themselves or pursue knowledge of the law?"(Advocate), "If previously disadvantaged people are just starting out, the LII is totally necessary. The Johannesburg bar has assessed a need amongst the newer incumbents for the use of Saflii as well as the subscriptions." (Advocate).
  3. The fact that SAFLII facilitates greater diversity within the legal profession enriches the sector as a whole, but vitally, ensures that there are legal practitioners with a wider range of life and cultural experience, who are able to empathise with, and champion, a broader range of issues. Whereas the legal profession in South Africa was, until very recently, monopolised by one social and racial group, a new wave of legal practitioners with more diverse backgrounds and experiences are now accessible to communities that previously would have considered themselves excluded from the law.

SAFLII has been key in diversifying and demystifying the legal profession in South Africa, and interviewees were quick to emphasise this point. More than one participant very earnestly professed that it would be a disaster for social justice in South Africa if SAFLII were to disappear.

Evidence was found that SAFLII enables its users to be more efficient. Research participants claimed that using SAFLII saves them time and money as they don't need to go to libraries to do research: "It would take me much longer to do my work without SAFLII (including I would have to go the library) which means that it would be much more expensive for my clients" (Personal injury advocate). Some lawyers have won cases based on the information they found on SAFLII:

"It is finding the small things that can swing a case for a client — impossible to find on the paid for services but can be found on SAFLII. For me SAFLII is brilliant because I can find the one case that no-one knows about that can make the whole difference for a case. I had an instance recently when the opponent had a load of old cases from the paid for services. I had a single case from SAFLII that was much more recent (and wasn't on the paid for services) and the judge made the judgement in my favour on the basis of this case — despite the fact that my opponent was much older and more senior."(Lawyer)

"My assistant was able to find three cases on Saflii that she could use — and as it turned out the outcome hinged on one of the cases that was found" (Professor, UCT Law Clinic)

If Saflii were to disappear, the impact would be widely felt in South Africa, as practising law would take more time and be more expensive. Most significantly, the legal profession would be practically inaccessible to economically disadvantaged individuals, which would dramatically affect the legal landscape; as reiterated by the following research participants:

"If Saflii disappeared tomorrow it would make a massive difference to us. Our budget would take a massive hit, and this would take money away from students." Professor, WITS University

"It [Saflii] helps poor black South Africans who have previously no access to the law and can't afford books and paid for services." (Advocate)

"If Saflii disappeared tomorrow it would change the landscape of the law for thousands of people. People ask us questions all the time, they need us to answer. Without Saflii, that takes more time." (Advocate)

"The development of the common law would be diminished without SAFLII" (Advocate)

"Lexis Nexis is too elite and too upmarkety. If you're earning a lot of money then this is fine, but Saflii is utterly critical that it's free. If it fails then its only the rich that will be okay". (Advocate)

"The easiest way to hurt the poor is to get rid of Saflii". (Advocate)

"If Saflii disappeared tomorrow it would make things more frustrating, we'd have to do things the longer way." (Lawyer)

"Sole practitioners operating at magistrate level, would suffer. They rely almost exclusively on Saflii." (Lawyer)

Future improvements or ambitions

While SAFLII was considered a vital part of the legal toolbox, there were a number of users who discussed improvements or new features that they would find useful. The most basic of these suggestions tended to focus around the search function, which could benefit from additional filters; however, it was clear that a number of individuals simply did not have the requisite search skills to gain full benefit from the search function provided, either on the site itself or via Google. Tutorials on how to search more effectively may be useful, however a majority of users do not visit the homepage, but go directly to the relevant case reports, and because of the way SAFLII is built, new items such as links to tutorials cannot easily be added to these pages. As such, many users may miss out on such a useful tool.

Many users mentioned older case law as something they would find useful, or even more of the current case law, as many users were confused about why certain cases were available whereas others were not. "The fact that the old cases aren't on Saflii can be a bit annoying. Lots of the cases we teach are really really old, so the students have to physically go to the library, and they aren't very good" (Law professor).

Others noted that they would benefit significantly from being able to see the pleadings, rather than only the final judgement made, as highlighted by this Advocate interview: "If Saflii had access to pleadings then it would be absolutely cutting edge".

Multiple users consulted for this research would like to see better indexing and formatting of materials on Saflii: "One thing which would cause Saflii to destroy JutaStat would be an indexing system. Both JutaStat and Lexis Nexis have very advanced indexing systems. Used to be called the nota-UP, they were books that were published, and they used to go through the cases and when a new case referred back to the original." (Advocate), "The formatting [on Saflii] isn't consistent. And that's sometimes problematic, so it's not always in the nice justified spacing etc that is the formal requirement." (Advocate Legal Practitioner).

In general, users were hungry for more of everything, but found the service invaluable as it is.

It was clear from discussions with the Director that SAFLII has ambitions to increase its income and secure funds from a number of different places, including from an endowment and from private practitioners. Currently these plans do not allow for a large increase in SAFLII's staffing, but would put it on a more stable footing and reduce its financial reliance on the University of Cape Town. As noted previously in this report, the organisation would benefit significantly from a more strategic approach to funding, although the authors recognise that this would require resources to be redirected from elsewhere. The interviews conducted suggested that there is a large legal community in South Africa that would be happy to contribute to SAFLII's costs, but that crave a structured way to do so.

Political support

SAFLII has the symbolic support of both the judiciary and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, as well as the support of the bar associations, individual chambers, and leading law academics. The value of SAFLII was stressed by the most senior research participants from each of these groups, and the potential disappearance of SAFLII was described by the Ministry as unthinkable for South Africa's legal system. In addition to its use as a resource, the judiciary use SAFLII to encourage and embed the use and precedence of domestic case law over international law, thus perpetuating SAFLII's usefulness over subscription platforms that focus more heavily on case law from European countries.

Should SAFLII find itself in need of financial or other support, a wide range of users and supporters noted their willingness to contribute. SAFLII's key challenge is in prioritising activities to focus on within the small team it has, and persuading more rural and non-technical stakeholders to embrace the platform, in particular members of the judiciary who are not supplying judgements.

Uganda

ULII, the Ugandan LII, operates on the AfricanLII platform, and has one of the highest number of regular users amongst the African LIIs, with over 250,000 individuals per year using the site. ULII has been operating for approximately eight years, and holds domestic cases post-2004. While ULII has a significant userbase, it contains only approximately 10,000 cases, which is low compared to SAFLII's approximately 65,000, and Kenya Law, which has over 100,000, but much higher than smaller LIIs in Ghana (only 664 judgements) and ZimLII (6,649 judgements).

ULII users and demographics

Uganda had the greatest response rate to the survey, with 264 responses, 259 of which were from users of the site. These respondents arrived at the survey from a mix of social media and from ULII itself, and therefore the sample should broadly represent the ULII user base.

This was above the average percentage of men compared to other African LII sites. There were two ‘other' responses and one ‘prefer not to answer'.

ULII has a relatively young user base with an average age of 31. This is around nine years younger than users of SEYLII, and 12 years younger than users of SAFLII, but this also probably reflects differences in overall country demographics between those countries as well as profiles of use of the site.

Out of ten, the average score for the perceived reliability of internet was 6.9. 24%gave a score of nine or ten, and 53% a score of seven or higher. 25% of respondents had a score of four or lower. This is on average a less reliable internet score than given by users of SAFLII.

This is a higher portion of full time and fewer part time workers than the average over other African LII sites.

‘Other' was typically accountants, economists and bailiffs. ULII had a higher number of judges and students than the average across other African LII sites.

Prior to using ULII, only 4.4% of respondents were using paid legal databases; the largest group (25%) were using previously online resources (searched for through Google, newspapers' sites and blogs). Other groups were using hard copies of law reports, often through access to Court Libraries.

8.8% were using LIIs from other countries. Most respondents (57%) continued to use other databases.

‘Other reasons' included having more local content, easier access and being recommended by a lecturer.

Usage

Most respondents used ULII for education or academic purposes — 36% of respondents who gave their profession as lawyer said they used the site for academic research.

Usefulness of service

72% of respondents said that it would be more difficult to do their job without ULII, but that they could continue to their job in its absence. 14% said they could not continue to do their job, and 14% said they could and that it would not be more difficult than currently.

The following chart and table shows how different professions answered this question. Bars with pluses (+) or minuses (-) mark where a section is statistically different (more than two standard deviations between expected and actual on a chi-square test) from the results of all respondents (respondents who answered with more than one profession are counted twice). This shows that a greater amount of students than lawyers would find it impossible to maintain access without ULII.

Respondents ranked current features of the site as follows:

And in terms of future features, were interested in greater coverage of existing areas:

Which could simply reflect that this is a survey of current users, who by their very nature are likely to favour the existing features; whereas the market for new features is elsewhere and currently not using the site.

Management and finance

ULII presents a third type of management structure for a LII, as it sits completely within government structures. It is currently located in the Law Reporting Department, which is a small sub-department of the Judiciary of Uganda, and is housed externally within the Judicial Training Institute. ULII Director Daniel Bwambale is a legal professional with experience as a magistrate, and is very embedded within the department of the judiciary. Daniel works across several teams within the judiciary to operate ULII, and has a small team of two people, plus one occasional intern, to conduct ULII business. As a team within government, ULII does not have full control of its budget of 350 million Ugandan Shillings ($100,000), which is dictated and managed by the overall finance manager for the department. Additionally, it does not even have its own protected budget within the department at present, which presents challenges in acquiring and managing external funding. Some concerns emerged with regard to the ULII budget in conversation with Daniel, who suggested that any surplus funds unspent at the end of the financial year would be drawn back into the general judiciary department budget (instead of being rolled over to the next year). This is clearly something that would raise red flags for external funding organisations, if not necessarily individual donations from domestic individuals and associations.

ULII's position within the judiciary is both a blessing and a curse. Daniel is an energetic and innovative individual with significant ambitions for ULII; however, his position within the judicial bureaucracy presents specific barriers. Positively, he is able to access judiciary and government figures as a colleague rather than as an external campaigner, and therefore has the ability to drive change in law reporting from within. He is able to do this at a steady rate, and encourage and educate relevant stakeholders within the department to embrace the benefits of ULII and law reporting online. However, he is constrained by structure and etiquette, and the generational composition of the department as a whole. Many senior figures within the department are not technology users, and therefore do not fully grasp what ULII is or what it does. This was evidenced by the whimsical purchase of new annual licenses for Lexis Nexis in early 2019, a platform that has no Ugandan cases save for those it has generated through the ULII API. This purchase was made in part to allocate a budget surplus, rather than to answer an identified need; however, it demonstrates the detachment of financial decision-makers from teams lower down the hierarchy, who could have used that money to significantly improve ULII's database offering.

Information access

Access to case law is patchy in Uganda, and access to case law pre-2004 is extremely difficult. Case law ceased to be published by any organisation in Uganda in 1976, and official publication was only resurrected in 2004. Case law from the intervening years is therefore only available in a small number of locations, and generally only in hard copy format. The Law Development Centre is now responsible for publications: this organisation has a preferred focus on training and development of legal practitioners, students and stakeholders, with publications being a small and relatively minor aspect of the business that does not benefit from active development. As such, the production and dissemination of case law has been very incoherent, and has suffered from poor quality formatting and inconsistency in publication timing. Legal professionals are crying out for better quality of production, and for the publication of case law produced between 1976 and 2004.

Barriers to acquiring newly produced case law arise from the judiciary, some of whom do not provide their judgements for ULII to upload. This is particularly true of the judiciary outside of Kampala, whose cases are rarely provided to ULII. A lack of resources also throttles ULII's ability to upload new case law, as their staff can only operate at a pace determined by their antiquated equipment. This lack of resources further manifests in their inability to format uploaded cases, as they lack sufficient funds to pay for the necessary software licenses.

Visibility

ULII is extremely well known amongst stakeholders in the law in Uganda under the age of 45. The majority of law students use ULII, and the majority of practitioners and legal professionals under the age of 45 rely on it. Its visibility diminishes significantly for the over 45s, many of whom remain committed to practising with hard copy resources. Daniel does as much as possible to promote ULII, and works with law schools and the judiciary to raise its profile. As with SAFLII, many of the biggest fans of ULII do not really understand who operates it, how, or the cost of it. These participants were often surprised to hear about ULII's operation and management, and several participants compared it favourably to KenyaLaw, which they were aware had significantly higher volumes of human and financial resource.

An increase in visibility about ULII as an organisation, its goals and ambitions, as well as its usefulness as a resource, could improve the ability for ULII to fundraise from private practitioners and legal associations if it had the ambition to do so in future.

One Kampala-based lawyer who participated in this research said:

UlII is still the go to place. If the site closes for a day, people would quickly realise that the platform needs to be supported. People don't realise it's just a small team, and they take the resource for granted. You might want to close it down for a few days just to make people realise how much they need it and encourage them to donate to it. Lawyers will understand the need to support the ULII if you lay out how easy it would be to make it better.

Another Kampala-based lawyer noted:

The thing is we take it [Ulii] for granted. We don't even really care who runs it, we just need it. I didn't even know it was under the control of a department. People just don't understand how it works or what's at stake.

Another newly qualified lawyer who took part in this research said:

The marketing of ulii is quite poor, as we had no idea the organisation is so small. We would be happy to hear more about it.

Competition and culture

There is little competition for ULII in Uganda in terms of platforms offering the same, similar or better content. The use of subscription portals such as Lexis Nexis in Uganda is extremely low, with few institutions holding a subscription outside the main law libraries. The judiciary has purchased licenses for 150 of its most senior staff; however, in the context of senior staff in the judiciary being non-technology users it is unlikely that this will be renewed for a second year. Currently a minority of judiciary staff are using their Lexis Nexis subscriptions as the accounts have been set up using their official email addresses, which most rarely use, opting to use personal email addresses instead.

The only main competitor to ULII is Uganda Online Law Library, a subscription service costing $300 USD per month for a single person subscription, which is a significant cost for individual practitioners. This does have additional cases, as well as some international law; however, it is not sufficiently better than ULII that practitioners can't live without it. ULII is the first, and in many cases, one-stop shop, for Ugandan case law, as reiterated by the following research participants, who are all lawyers:

"We left Uganda Online Law Library because it was expensive and Ulii was better. Uganda Online Law Library is not making money anymore because people don't need it. A small fee on our law subscription say $2, would be a lot of money, and would really help take Ulii to a new level."

"My first port of call for a Ugandan case is Ullii, and only after that I look elsewhere. I used to pay for Uganda Online Law Library, but now Ulii has those cases for free."

"Sometimes I look for laws online. I use Ulii primarily. This is despite us spending money subscribing to Uganda Online Law Library. Ulii is easier and more up to date."

Several advocates stated that they couldn't even remember visiting a library in the last five years, because they rely solely on the case law in ULII to practice, as reiterated by these lawyers:

"We used to pay 50,000 shillings (around $20 USD) every year to access the high court library, we no longer use the high court library so no need to pay, but if it could be channelled to Ullii to encourage e-code system. I hope they do this. I believe it should be possible."

"Ulii reduces the time spent doing research. I can probably do a higher volume of cases because I don't have to spend a significant amount of time in a library."

Impacts of ULII

The LII's impact in Uganda does not have a clearly defined social justice or social good aspect in diversifying or extending the reach of the legal profession in Uganda. Legal professionals from both ends of the wealth spectrum rely on ULII equally, and individual practitioners rely on it as much as those in larger law firms. There was no clear evidence that ULII disproportionately benefitted legal professionals from more economically disadvantaged backgrounds, or that without it, they would not have been able to practice. Neither does ULII provide students from lower economic status backgrounds with any additional competitive help, primarily because higher education funding in Uganda is, comparatively in Africa, fairer to people from poorer backgrounds. ULIIs key strength is in its influence in improving the fundamental quality of law being practised in Uganda. The main difference in ULII usage within Uganda is a generational one. Younger lawyers are increasingly better equipped to argue cases because they have embraced a technology which provides up-to-date case law, and the judiciary, while not all users of ULII, encourage the use of domestic case law in legal arguments in order to strengthen and broaden the quality and scope of domestic case law, and reduce reliance on case law from the UK.

As one research participant, a lawyer from a Kampala-based legal practice, noted: "Losing Ulii would kill a whole generation of lawyers. I am only 27, and I would not be able to practice at all. It is that important. We wouldn't even know where to start. All people in this practice use Ulii. Even the older guys are catching up."

Another lawyer who participated in the research reiterated the generational difference: "Even though we pay for subscriptions, Ulii is where we go first. If Ulii disappeared tomorrow it would be a disaster. Ulii provides almost everything. Younger lawyers these days don't even know how to use a library, and even if they did, it's unlikely they would be able to find everything they wanted there either."

Some research participants believed that without Ulii "justice and the rule of law in Uganda would suffer" as "people would just make up decisions as they go along with no reference" or "judgements would be based on personal views on who you appear before", as vital legal information wouldn't be readily available to legal professionals.

It was also believed by some research participants that the existence of Ulii means the lowering of the cost of law for litigants, as reiterated by these interviewees:

"The convenience of research would be affected [if Ulii disappeared tomorrow]. None of us would like to go back to libraries to trace a copy, which isn't easy giving record keeping at library. Would increase cost — cost would probably go back to client." Lawyer, Kampala-based law firm

"You can attend to more cases in a day when using Ulii instead of libraries. It does bring costs down actually." Registrar, Ugandan judiciary

If Ulii were to disappear tomorrow, the impact would be widely felt in Uganda, as reiterated by the following research participants:

"Closing of Ulii would shatter us." Uganda Law Society representative

"We literally couldn't survive without ulii. We are big fans." Lawyer, Kampala-based law firm

"If Ulii closed tomorrow I would be very frustrated, because it's the easiest and simplest resource." Lawyer, Legal Aid

"If Ulii shut down it be like giving a lifeline then trying to drown you. It contributes to quicker education and making courts do duties as required." Judge

"If you take Ulii away it'll be very hard as alternatives are very expensive and not as efficient." Lawyer, Legal Aid

"If Ulii disappeared tomorrow the consequences would be grave, because we don't have properly stocked research centres or libraries. The librarian might not be up to date on every field, and won't be able to help you. They won't be able to direct you to the best books. We don't have that resource to support the profession. We would always prefer digital resources. If ulii closes, we have nothing digital to support our work." (Judiciary staff member)

Future improvements and ambitions

Daniel outlined a number of ambitions and improvements for ULII during this research. Addressing the difficulties presented by the current management and financial arrangements, he is suggesting the ULII become a more independent entity (a registry) within the Judicial department, enabling it to hold a ringfenced budget. He is also promoting ULII within the department to senior figures, and hoping to gain support for more case law to be added to ULII, and for a slightly higher budget in order to access older cases.

Externally, Daniel has begun attempting to fundraise for ULII in order to increase their financial and human resources; this is, however, somewhat contingent upon upgrading their status to a ‘registry'. ULII has access to a large IT training suite (a resource owned by the Judicial Training Institute) in its current location free of charge, and hopes to recruit higher numbers of interns to work on uploading cases to increase the size of the database. This fundraising is primarily aimed at practitioners at present, but he has plans to explore additional grant funding.

A number of participants conveyed a desire for additional features and more cases; however, many were currently not using the search function as effectively as is possible to identify relevant cases, and so much like in other areas, training in advanced online search may be beneficial.

During interviews with representatives from the Uganda Law Society (ULS) they suggested that Daniel present about the importance of Ulii and its financial challenges at their forthcoming AGM, in order to garner support from its members. They were confident that ULS members (of which there are around 3,000) would be willing to pay a small subscription for Ulii ($3 a year was mentioned) in order to help keep it going, as it's such a valuable resource to the legal profession in Uganda. It was also suggested that providing ULS members with trainings on how to use online resources like Ulii would help increase usage.

Political support

Given ULII's location within the judiciary, it has a relatively high level of symbolic political support; however, this could be increased and consolidated by educating senior officials on the benefits of ULII for the government and profession as a whole. While it is currently known as something that the government ‘does', many still do not know what it actually is. In one meeting during this research with senior officials, when ULII was explained to them properly, they were incredulous that they had recently spent such a significant sum on Lexis Nexis.

The practising judiciary are also supportive of ULII given its benefits to consolidating domestic case law. The judiciary are eager for Ugandan case law to take precedent over cases from the UK or elsewhere, and ULII has become a key tool in achieving that goal.

The legal profession as a whole repeatedly stressed the importance of ULII and its continuing operation, and it was described as ‘the backbone' of the profession. A loss of ULII was variously described as something that would be ‘catastrophic' for the profession, and would ‘take it back to the dark ages'.

African LII surveys

The results of the survey aspect of the research correlated with much of the findings from the fieldwork, and confirmed that the LIIs are a well used and much valued resource to individuals in the legal profession.

Between January to 11th March 2019, a survey was run for users of 13 LIIs in sub-Saharan Africa. Several of these surveys are excluded from the below analysis. One survey received no response and another received fewer than ten; another survey was for the African LII hub site and so is excluded. This leaves ten surveys as the basis of the below analysis.

Not all surveys ran for an equal amount of time, and not all surveys received equal amounts of local promotion. That, combined with differential usage of the LII sites means that the numbers vary country by country. Results from the surveys are examined, but in many cases the results cannot be said to be statistically significant between countries.

This section helps to explain how the context of LIIs varies, and how the usage and idea of impact can vary between countries too. While LIIs tend to be fundamentally similar in features, they have variations in the age, gender balance and profession of their users. This reflects that while the software is similar, the circumstances of their use in different countries is not, which affects their potential impact. Variations in internet access mean that the viability of online tools is different in different locations, with different countries users being differently likely to have to print documents.

The degree to which the service is seen as essential also varied: while a clear majority of respondents were aided by the presence of the LII, in some countries the number of respondents who depend on the LII is far larger. For instance, in the cases of both ZimLII and SeyLII , over 25% of respondents say it would be impossible to maintain access to law without them. Similarly when split by profession, students tend to find LIIs more indispensable than lawyers do, but this also has national variations, with lawyers in Zimbabwe finding the platform more indispensable than lawyers elsewhere. While students generally have high scores for depending on the LII, this is especially the case in South Africa.

Across all sites there were 690 respondents; however, over half of those are accounted for by just two surveys. This is probably a consequence of the level of promotion of the survey via social media, and the size and engagement of social media followers in those two countries.

Site users

Only 40/690 (5.7%) of responses had not used a LII site. While these results are tested to see if there are differences in demographics, the overall number of responses may be too small to detect effects. Unless they are explicitly discussed, they are excluded from the below analysis.

From these respondents, the reason most often given for using another source over a LII was that another source was more trusted, but 60% of these users gave another reason.

Gender

The average gender ratio of a service is 62.6% male. With the amount of data collected, a chi-square test shows that that SAFLII, Zimlii, Leslii, and ULII differ from the average (shown in orange on chart below). There is no significant difference in gender between users and non-users.

Age

The average age of a user of all services was 34.4.

For many of the LII sites, the sample sizes of the survey were too low to draw meaningful conclusions about the age of the userbase. However, a Tukey HSD test (which compares the means of all possible pairs to determine where variance is likely not to be due to random change) shows that:

  • The average user of SAFLII is on average 12-13 years older than all services except NamibiaLII and SeyLII.
  • The average SEYLII user is around nine years older than ULII and Zimlii users.

As such, we can only really be sure that SAFLII users have a meaningful difference (older) from the majority of respondents (marked in orange on chart).

Switching analysis to between user and non-users, there is not a statistically significant difference in age.

Location

Respondents were asked if they lived in one of: capital city, major urban area, minor urban/suburban area, or rural area. This question was excluded from the survey for the Seychelles.

Examining the standardised residuals of a chi-square test, the following individual LIIs showed a difference from the expected distribution:

  • Leslii and Ghalii were more likely to have users in rural area than the above.
  • Malawi and Saflii were more likely to have users in a major urban area, and those users were less likely to be in the capital city than the above.
  • Ulii users were less likely to be in a major urban area than the above.
  • Zambialii users were more likely to be in capital city than the above.

The distribution of non-users of services had a statistically significant greater number in rural areas than expected (with a value of 4 compared to the 1.6 that would be expected based on overall responses).

Sector

The survey asked if respondents were a part of the public, private, education or non-profit sector.

Respondents had the option of selecting several of these, and 30 respondents did so. 22 chose a cross between private and another sector, and the largest single crossover comprised 12 respondents selecting both private and education. Counting these respondents fractionally but rounding in the table below24, the following is the distribution of sectors across all surveys.

Notes (hide):

24: As respondents could submit multiple sectors, professions and employment statuses, these are counted fractionally (eg someone who is in both the private and education sectors contributes 0.5 to each).

Dropping the multiple-sector respondents and examining the standardised residuals of a chi-squared test, certain LII sites have distributions that differ from the general pattern to a statistically significant extent. There was no significant difference between users and non-users.

  • MalawiiLII- less education sector and more public sector.
  • NamibiaLII- less private sector.
  • SAFLII- less public sector, more public sector.
  • ULII- less private sector, more public sector.
  • Zimlii- less education and public sector, more private sector.

Employment

The survey asked respondents if they were employed full or part time, or were a student full or part time, or were retired or a volunteer. Respondents had the option of selecting several of these, and 72 respondents did so. These responses were counted fractionally but are rounded in the table- the following is the distribution of sectors across all surveys.

Dropping the multiple respondents and examining the standardised residuals of a chi-squared test, certain LII sites have distributions that differ from the general pattern to a statistically significant extent.

  • ULII- more full time and fewer part time users.
  • Zimlii- fewer part time users.
  • SierraLII- more part time users.
  • SAFLII- more retired users and fewer full time student users.
  • NambiaLII- more part time student users.
  • GHALII- more volunteer users.

Profession

The survey asked respondents to select their profession form a range of options. Respondents had the option of selecting several of these, and 44 respondents did so. Counting these respondents fractionally (rounded in table below), the following is the distribution of sectors across all surveys.

Dropping the multiple respondents and examining the standardised residuals of a chi-squared test, certain LII sites have distributions that differ from the general pattern to a statistically significant extent.

  • GHALII- more journalist users.
  • MalawiLII- more lecturers, legal admin or paralegal users.
  • Namibia- more civil society users.
  • SAFLII- more lobbyist users; fewer student users.
  • Seylii- more legal admins or lobbyist users.
  • Sierralii- More not employed users.
  • ULII- More judges and student users.
  • Zambialii - More lecturers and student users.
  • Zimlii- More judges and lawyers; fewer student users.

Internet reliability

Respondents were asked to score the reliability of the internet in situations where they might want to use a LII. The average of country reliability scores was 6.78 out of 10. The scores for each site are shown below. A Tukey HSD test shows that SAFLII users have more reliable internet access than users of MalawiLII, NamibiaLII and ULII, and that ZimLII users have more reliable access than users of MalawiLII and NamibiaLII.

Offline/printing

Respondents were asked how often they printed information from a LII to refer back to later, and the survey gave the option of "Never, "Rarely", Sometimes", and "Regularly". Faded bars represent where the the difference between expected and actual in a chi-square test is greater than two standard deviations — and where there is more than 95% confidence that the difference from the rest of the dataset is true. If a difference is larger or smaller than expected is shown on the table.

Usefulness of LII by country and profession

Respondents were asked if the LII were no longer available, would they be able to do their job to the same standard (or where this was regarded as inappropriate to the situation, if they would be able to have access to the same information). This is a three point scale covering:

  • Would not be able to do job/access information
  • Would be able to, but it would be more difficult
  • Would be able to do job/access information

Generally most respondents said that their work would become more difficult, but they would still be able to continue. Looking by country, the pattern is different in different places — but low levels of responses restrict interpretation. LIIs where a chi-square test says the result is statistically significant from the expected value (in this case meaning more than two standard deviations) are marked on the chart and table below: faded portions represent areas where there is not a statistically significant difference.

Even with the low number of responses, SeyLII's high number of users who would find it impossible to continue remains significant. ZimLII's larger than average number similarly stands up, while ULII's number of users who would find it impossible is smaller than expected given the general pattern.

But this country difference might simply reflect differences in the profession mixes responding to the survey. Switching the analysis to look at professions of respondents across countries, there are variations. This analysis duplicates responses where a respondent reported multiple professions.

However, a chi-square test finds that in general it cannot be more than 85% certain that the difference between the categories is not due to random change. Examining standardised residuals suggests that the only values that differ significantly are that judges are more likely to fall into the ‘more difficult' category than expected given overall responses, lawyers are less likely to fall into the ‘impossible' category, and students are more likely to fall into the impossible category.

Returning to the country comparison and focusing in on just responses by lawyers and students (as the two largest response groups), the data shows that lawyers find the site differently indispensable in different countries:

A chi-square test confirms that there are statistically significant differences to be found (marked on table below). ZimLII lawyers are more likely to find it impossible to continue access, GHALII lawyers are more likely to be able to continue to the same standard than other LIIs (although absolutely this still represents a small proportion) and SierraLII lawyers to fall into the ‘more difficult' category.

Switching to students, the only statistical difference was for SAFLII, where students were more likely than other LIIs to find it impossible.

Thematic findings

This section provides a comprehensive summary of the comparative findings of the research, grouped thematically, in order to draw together common issues, challenges and points of discussion across the LIIs. This section includes information gathered as part of the field work conducted in the three case study countries, as well as information gathered through surveys of LII users running in the case study countries, plus the seven other countries specified in the methodology section (Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Seychelles, Zambia, Zimbabwe). In keeping with the focus of this research, the emphasis within each of the themes discussed relates to how such findings can be used to inform better funding practice and development activity in order to improve and amplify the benefits of the LIIs in Africa.

User groups

As illustrated in the previous section, the composition of user groups across the African LIIs does not differ substantially. In general, it is common to see the majority of users fit into younger age categories (below 35 years of age), a majority of whom identify as male (an average of 62%), and the majority of whom are located either in the capital city, or in a major urban area. Many are in the target activity areas such as public or private legal practice, or in education, and many suggested that they would be incapable of performing their jobs to the same standard without access to the LIIs.

The groups using the LIIs are clearly not representative of the populations that they exist within, nor are user demographics typical of the demographic composition of the legal professions in the countries studied. The legal professions in these countries host a significant number of legal professionals and stakeholders above the age of 35, and this is a group very much missing out on the benefits of the LIIs. More than once during this research, legal practitioners recounted stories of how they were able to win cases as a direct result of using the LIIs, because the LIIs provided more recent and domestic case law than could be found in hard copy format or via subscription platforms. This has serious implications for legal professionals, and for their clients, as an older generation of legal professionals not using the LIIs could be placing themselves at a disadvantage. While generational change may be the only longterm solution to the LIIs creating an unlevel playing field, in the short term, the individual LIIs would benefit from widening their userbase to include older users — in particular, advocates and the judiciary. The LIIs would need to conduct significantly more promotion offline to achieve this, which is difficult given their scant resources; however, this additional promotion and recruitment of a different cohort of users may have the advantage of increasing a potential new donor base.

Connectivity landscape

The connectivity landscape affected the usage of the LIIs in each of the countries studied. While data coverage is generally of good quality in major urban areas in Africa, coverage becomes more patchy into more rural and lower populated areas. Access to appropriate hardware also reduces outside of major urban areas, with legal practitioners less likely to have smartphones or computers with internet capability. Survey data demonstrates the decreasing usage of LIIs outside of capital cities and other major urban areas, and the research interviews gathered supporting information concerning the lower likelihood of LII usage in more rural areas. Users accessed the LIIs through both mobile and desktop/laptop hardware, with mobile access appearing to be the preferred method, in particular because this could be done quickly in the courtroom itself. The cost of data connectivity in order to access the LIIs was a consideration for LII users, specifically those on low incomes and students; however, this only marginally affected use of the LIIs, and encouraged users concerned about data costs to search in a more targeted manner and to avoid browsing.

The African LII initiative ‘Pocket Law', which was designed to overcome connectivity barriers through the provision of a USB version of the LII was not well known. This is probably because the majority of both research participants and survey respondents were situated in urban areas, where Pocket Law is neither required nor promoted, and so does not provide any indication on whether that initiative is successful or not. While participants admitted it was a good idea, and could be useful in rural areas, there was some concern that irregular updating of the USB would disadvantage users, and a general lack of interest in using it to replace the LIIs. In countries such as Ghana, however, where there remains a preference for static content over internet based content, Pocket Law could be very successful and influential, providing that it was promoted and legitimised through official legal channels.

Domestic legal environment

The domestic legal environments, judicial structures and bureaucratic approaches to publication in each country had a significant influence over the usefulness and success of the LIIs.

In countries where there existed significant judicial enthusiasm for developing the breadth and depth of domestic case law, the LIIs were considered to be much more useful than in countries where this drive did not exist. The LIIs in each country were generally considered to be the best, free-access place for domestic case law, and where domestic case law was valued by the judiciary above international case law, the LIIs were considered core to any legal practitioner's toolbox. This was the same for Uganda and South Africa, even considering that the much lower volume of domestic case law held on the Ugandan LII only consisted of approximately 10,000 cases. Where domestic case law was not ascribed the same value, and where the judiciary and legal profession was content to continue using international case law, such as in Ghana, the LIIs were shown to be less valued and had lower usage.

The level of judicial enthusiasm for domestic case law also affected the rate and volume with which cases were produced and could be uploaded onto the LIIs. Justices who supported not only the LIIs, but free access to law, were more proactive in providing judgements for upload, often in user-friendly formats. Parliaments and government institutions with a commitment to producing and publishing case law and other legislation made it easier for the LIIs to access the necessary information digitally and upload that information efficiently. Governments and parliaments that lacked this commitment to digital and/or free publication, hindered the efforts of the LIIs to access the necessary information in digital or user-friendly formats.

The culture of the domestic, private legal profession was another factor in understanding the usage and usefulness of the LIIs. Strong, progressive legal associations, such as the Bar Associations in Johannesburg and Cape Town, as well as modern and aspirational chambers, and law firms dominated by ambitious young lawyers such as those in Uganda, were significant champions of the LIIs and of free access to law. These loose affiliations coalesced around the social and professional benefits of the LIIs, and quickly made it the norm for serious professionals to use them. Their use and support ensured that the LIIs were taken seriously as an official resource by both practitioners and the judiciary. In Ghana, private practitioners are more conservative in their practice and continue to conduct research in hard copy format in libraries, or through subscription portals offering international case law, and established norms are taking longer to shift. Because there is no senior practitioner or stakeholder community using the LIIs and demonstrating their value or legitimacy, these new norms are not currently being established.

In order for LIIs to amplify their impacts, the basic legal environment must be amenable to their use. Whereas small amounts of investment in LIIs operating on fertile ground could significantly boost quality and impact, where the local legal environment is not yet at the point of embracing them, more significant investment in campaigning and policy work on opening access to law and standardising digital publication would be required before investment in the LII itself could generate better outcomes.

Management structure and resources

As laid out in the case study sections, the LIIs in Africa have very different management and finance structures, and while no example presents itself as ideal, there are structures better suited to the operation of the LII than others. Each of the LIIs suffers a common issue of lack of resources, both financial and human, and in most cases capital. The small LII teams have the benefit of agility, but commonly struggle to keep pace with uploading and formatting, in addition to day to day management, promotion and work towards financial sustainability.

The governance of the LIIs is a key factor in the success of the platform. Governors who are invested in the LIIs and who take an active interest, attending regular meetings, are beneficial to LII teams. However, governors that have their own individual ambitions or who are in a position to use their association with the LII as a political bargaining chip are significantly less useful to the LIIs and can monopolise already scarce managerial time. LIIs that are governed by more senior individuals within a larger institution are most at risk of this. The LIIs operating in Uganda and South Africa are examples of LIIs where those governing also have entrenched individual loyalties and agendas within the larger institution that the LII sits within. Much of the time this can operate well, as those governors can act as champions of the LII to more senior individuals; however, this also exposes the LIIs to wider politicking, and leaves them vulnerable to institutional demands.

LIIs that are constituted as independent organisations have far greater autonomy and the ability to set their own agendas. This should be the optimal structure for a LII; however, it is understandable that this is so often not the case due to the reliance on larger organisations or institutions for resources. GHALII in Ghana is constituted as an independent NGO, and as such has been able to compose a balanced governing body of interested and influential individuals that are able to contribute financially and in kind, but who individually do not wield disproportionate power. This, at least theoretically, enables GHALII to set their own agenda and to campaign on a variety of relevant issues as an independent voice, as well as fundraise from a variety of sources. While GHALII is not currently undertaking these types of activity, its governance structure allows it to pursue such activity in the future.

LIIs that sit within larger institutions also have additional financial considerations and barriers that affect their autonomy and their ability to fundraise and account for their expenditure. The most difficult position amongst the case study countries was ULII in Uganda, which currently is unable to fundraise given its relatively minor status within the judiciary. Without financial autonomy, any kind of fundraising and accounting becomes difficult, and in the case of ULII, almost impossible if fundraising is attempted from larger international philanthropic organisations. Its hoped-for restructure into a registry within the judiciary may partly alleviate this issue, but probably not to the extent that it can secure larger grants. While these issues are not insignificant, there are benefits to LIIs being situated within larger institutions, especially the in kind support that they receive, such as office space and access to common facilities including hardware and connectivity. Each individual LII balances these benefits and constraints differently; however, LIIs should be encouraged to become as autonomous as possible within these larger structures, to reduce the risk to them from overarching institutional agendas, and to enable them to promote themselves as non-partisan, accountable and independent organisations.

The LIIs in Africa are generally digitally situated on African LII, with the exception of SAFLII, which uses a flat file structure and was built and maintained by AustLII in Sydney. The benefits of using the AfricanLII system are significant for the individuals running the LIIs, as expertise, support and maintenance is pooled, centralised and achieves an economy of scale. It also has the benefit of being part of a large continent-wide initiative with support from both leaders of AfricanLII who have been operating in this space for significant time, and from peers across the continent working on their own domestic LIIs. The digital structure of AfricanLII is superior to that of SAFLII, as it is a true database that is easier to work with, particularly for individuals with only minor coding skills. It also had the benefit of working on the background features and infrastructure that can then power the majority of African LIIs.

Currently work is being done by African LII to automate citations and produce summaries, features desired by the userbase. SAFLII's composition requires significant attention by the Director, whose time is often monopolised attending to code, adding to the myriad other duties to be performed. SAFLII is also difficult to update wholesale, as each page must be coded individually, and as such the system is likely to become increasingly clunky and unwieldy as time progresses.The inability to update pages across the site means that future fundraising efforts may be curtailed or promotions go unnoticed because the majority of users land directly on a case law page instead of going via the homepage. SAFLII's reliance on AustLII may also present issues in the future, and is an organisational risk that could be removed if the site migrated to either African LII, or a more suitable independent database-style structure. While relations between AustLII and SAFLII are currently excellent, the reliance on a maintenance team several thousand miles away, in another country, and in another institution, makes SAFLII vulnerable to decisions and changes it has no ability to influence. The fact that African LII is also situated in the University of Cape Town gives credence to the logic that SAFLII and African LII would be more effective working together on the same platform; however, the historic difficulties in relations between the two entities suggest that this may not happen. This is a clear example of the difficulties of higher institutional agendas negatively affecting the operation of the LIIs.

Further investment in rationalising or standardising the management and financial structures of the LIIs could be beneficial in the long term in placing them on a more stable footing; however, given the spectrum of current situations, it is unlikely that many of the LIIs would be able to constitute as an independent organisation and retain the institutional benefits currently made available to them. This is a dilemma unlikely to be solved by small investment, and would, rather, require the kind of unconditional support from institutions that could provide real autonomy.

Political will

The level of political will to support free access to law in each individual country will naturally influence the ability of the LIIs to operate and flourish. In countries such as Kenya and South Africa, there is an established commitment to make legal and legislative resources available in digital and free formats. Countries that have Freedom of Information legislation already enacted provide LIIs with a legislative imperative to provide information, and a nascent culture of domestic case law precedence in courtroom pleadings supports the logic of producing and publishing case law and legislation in a digital and accessible format.

Support not only from the judiciary, but from politicians, government bureaucracies and legislatures, further nurtures the ability and capacity of LIIs to publish necessary information. The main risk to the ability of LIIs to access and publish information is that governments withhold the information from the public domain. This is a particular risk in countries where there is no legal obligation on the government to freely publish information it produces. Even countries with operational Freedom of Information laws are able to charge for certain information, and there is a risk in some countries that legal information may fall into this category. Currently in Ghana, GHALII must pay for copies of the legislation it publishes, and Ghana's forthcoming Freedom of Information law will allow a formal charging regime for information requested. It is not imposible for governments to attempt to monetise their legal information (as Nigeria has done with many of its datasets), and therefore political will to recognise and support the publication of legal information is key in supporting the LIIs to be successful and relevant.

Political supporters of the LIIs, both within the judiciary and within Parliament, are crucial in promoting the access that LIIs require, and in ensuring their legitimacy and use.

Educational environment

The LIIs provide a valuable resource to students of law, and the universities that serve them. Libraries in many countries in Africa suffer from severe underfunding and shortages, and prior to the rise of online databases, a whole class of students would either need to share the single case law book stocked by the university library, or have access to the book through other (private) means. The development of the LIIs means that students are able to access relevant case law and complete assignments more efficiently and without competing with other students for scant resources. The universality of the LIIs means that students can even complete assignments when they are away from campus, which is not possible when using university login details for subscription platforms.

A significant benefit of the LIIs is evidenced in South Africa, where the existence of SAFLII is not only a useful tool for professionals, but a key tool for improving social justice and levelling the higher educational playing field for individuals from low income backgrounds. The higher education funding system is such in South Africa that, even though students can just about afford tuition fees, living expenses are almost impossible for some students to meet, and as such, free legal resources that can be used off-campus enable students from poorer backgrounds to continue their studies even when they are financially forced to return home. Following on from this, LIIs provide the resources necessary for individuals to set up their own private practice once they graduate. Without this resource, newly qualified practitioners would either need to subscribe to paid for platforms, pay for library resources or be lucky enough to join an existing firm with access. Without access to the LIIs, individuals would not be able to consider setting up their own individual practice, and this would reinforce the white, upper class capture of the legal system in South Africa.

Even where LIIs exist in places where the education landscape is more evenly balanced between students from different backgrounds, LIIs provide a valuable and universal educational resource that significantly supplements university resources. Higher volumes of case law on the LIIs would further benefit students of the law, and the addition of pleadings was cited by a number of participants as highly desirable in learning more about which arguments work, and which don't.

Competitors to the LIIs

The LIIs have competitor platforms in the majority of African countries; however, they were consistently found to be the only substantial free-to-access resource. The only exception to this was DennisLaw in Ghana, which is currently free to access with a personal login, but it expected to migrate to a subscription model in the near future. Lexis Nexis was the most common competitor across Africa, while JutaStat, Uganda Law Library, Digital Attorney and HeinOnline were variously popular in individual countries. The cost of subscription platforms varied, but was consistently significant across the countries studied, with Lexis Nexis charging several hundred dollars per month for even the most basic of subscriptions. Even static offline platforms such as Lawfinder and DigitalAttorney required subscription fees to be paid in order to update content on an annual basis.

Subscription platforms were found to be popular amongst older practitioners in South Africa, and amongst individuals that required broad access to international case law, such as in Ghana. Because these platforms were very expensive to access, only those in large, wealthy institutions, universities, or chambers tended to use these platforms by default.

Significantly, despite competitor platforms often charging extortionate fees, the quality of the services that they provided were not necessarily superior. Indeed, the information gathered for this study frequently demonstrated the superiority of the LIIs with regard to domestic content and user experience. The LIIs were found consistently to not only upload domestic case law at a significantly faster rate than their competitors, but to make that content easier to search. The search facility on Lexis Nexis was considered by many to be cumbersome and unhelpful in producing impossibly high volumes of cases, which then needed to be searched manually. Given that searching for relevant case law is one of the most significant and time consuming tasks a legal practitioner can undertake, the boolean search facility provided by the LIIs was repeatedly cited as one of the most useful features of the LIIs that was not provided by competitor platforms. At the time of writing, there is an expectation that Lexis Nexis will be updating its search function and revitalising its web portal; however, participants did not feel that this would be enough to warrant paying subscription fees.

Currently, there is no genuine competitor to the LIIs in Africa, and certainly no free-to-access competitor. Those that used competitor platforms generally did so either out of habit, or because competitor platforms contained significantly more international or historic content. Generational change will no doubt make the LIIs even more integral to legal practice in Africa, as individuals that use subscription platforms out of habit retire.

Room for improvement

User suggestions

While the LIIs were universally loved in South Africa and Uganda, and developing a small but committed following in Ghana, many research participants expressed common desires for additions or changes to the portals:

Search functionality: While the boolean search function produces very targeted results, many participants expressed a desire for a better search capability that would reduce the number of cases returned by any individual search. Users were not, however, able to elaborate upon what a better search function would look like. During interviews it became clear that many users simply do not know how to perform optimal searches, and that understanding how to undertake searches using advanced functions would likely resolve the majority of complaints on this point. Online tutorials on how to search effectively may assist some of these users; however, these tutorials should be promoted on the case report pages as well as the homepage to ensure that users that arrive at the site via Google searches do not miss these new guides.

Filtering: In addition to searching, users commonly requested a filtering function, where search results could be filtered by factors such as year of case, name of presiding justice, specific court etc. Some of these filters are available on the African LII platforms, but not on SAFLII, and the filters are inconsistent between sites.

Summaries and Keywords: In addition to searching and filtering, the ability to view case summaries and have better keyword association linked to the cases held on the LII would create further efficiencies in searching. Being able to quickly preview the summary and keywords would prevent users from loading reports that would quickly be identified as irrelevant. This would also reduce the data usage of users, by removing the need to load irrelevant pages in order to determine their relevance.

Citations: Several participants noted that being able to see other cases that had cited a particular case would be helpful in building robust arguments. Similarly, individuals would like to be able to see and be notified whenever any of their cases were cited in a judgement.

Pleadings: A number of respondents noted that, while having access to case law was sufficient, they would be fascinated and better prepared if the case files included the legal pleadings. This feature would enable professionals to better prepare for cases, and enable them to tailor their arguments to specific judges or courts. It would also act as a valuable educational tool, enabling students to see more clearly why certain arguments were more successful.

Increased volumes of case law: In this very simple and unanimous request, all respondents noted that they would like more case law, both current and historic, and for it to cover a breadth of subject areas.

Increased volumes of law from lower level courts and courts outside capital cities: Several participants suggested that rulings from magistrates courts and courts outside capital cities would be helpful for both study and in preparing arguments.

International case law: Individuals either practising international law, or those relying on international law for their arguments, noted that access to international law would be most beneficial for them. Particularly where the main repository for international law was a paid subscription service such as Lexis Nexis. While an increase in international law is not a high priority for the African LIIs, better links to external and international LIIs may benefit users.

Rationale of case law uploaded: Many users were perplexed at the choice of cases uploaded by the LIIs. Because many users simply had no understanding of how the LIIs operate on scant resources, they assumed that there must be some logic to how cases are chosen for upload. Users would appreciate understanding how the LIIs choose the cases that they upload.

Report suggestions

In addition to these suggestions made by users, the research team noted areas where improvements could assist users and the teams running the LIIs:

Formatting: The documents provided by the LIIs often suffer from ad hoc formatting. In addition, some users do not understand which formats to download in, and find themselves unable to work with the cases accessed. Standardising the formatting of uploads, and reducing the scope for individuals to download in the incorrect filetype would improve user experience.

Better inclusion of information on the LII itself: The majority of LII users know almost nothing about who is behind the LIIs, who funds them, what their resources are, or what their goals are — and yet most users rely on the LIIs to perform their jobs. Expanding and improving the information on the teams running the LIIs, including how they are funded, what their resources are, how the process of acquiring and uploading case law works etc, would remove a barrier between the LIIs and their users. The removal of this barrier would also increase the likelihood of users being amenable to providing financial support to the LIIs, in particular if users knew what additional features and information could be included once extra resources were in hand.

Online and offline tutorials: One of the most obvious factors in the LIIs being used inefficiently was the inability of users to use advanced search functions. Online tutorials can help with this, but meaningful in-person outreach tutorials in Bar Associations or university libraries would also benefit users significantly, and would provide an opportunity to teach users about all of the tricks and shortcuts that can be achieved with the LIIs, answer questions, and again bring down barriers between the LII teams and their users. In-person tutorials would also promote the LIIs, and such increased visibility is particularly important for LIIs that are not well established.

Information for citizens: The LIIs generally received communications from members of the public with varying degrees of legal understanding, who were asking questions about the law or about specific items of legal interest. LIIs staff felt obliged to answer these questions, even though in many cases they could be completely irrelevant or unrelated to the LII itself. A section on the LII sites outlining some basic legal facts, and providing relevant contact details for individuals seeking legal advice (such as details for Legal Aid or other advice sources), may reduce the user support burden, and would also provide an educational opportunity for individuals merely looking to understand legal information better. Cornell's encyclopedia function is another good example of making the LII slightly more accessible to individuals who are not trained in legal language or convention.

Sustainability and fundraising: The minimal resources available to the LIIs mean that most are focused on very short term initiatives to sustain their operations. Freeing up LII Director time would enable a more long-term and sustainable strategy for funding the individual LIIs. It would be possible to sustain the LIIs with very low levels of financial contribution from high volume LII users and other interested stakeholders, however none of the LIIs at present appear to have been able to formalise and standardise an approach to fundraising.

Critical success factors

Drawing together the survey results and the information gathered during the field work, and the summary provided above, the following points outline what the authors believe to be critical success factors in developing, maintaining and amplifying the impact of a successful LII in Africa:

Adequate connectivity and hardware: LIIs are most widely used in areas of good connectivity and where individuals have the financial means to access internet connected smartphones or computers.

Political and judicial support: LIIs that are recognised as legitimate and beneficial to the legal system by politicians and the judiciary have higher user volumes.

Interested practitioners and stakeholders: LIIs that are well used and cited by established members of the practitioner and academic community will have higher and broader user bases.

Basic information rights: Countries where there is a domestic legal obligation to publish legal information will reduce the administrative burden on LII operation and enable higher volumes of case law to be published.

A critical mass of case law/legislation: Users come to rely on the LIIs only when there is sufficient information held to make it worth their time consulting the sites.

Easy searchability: Since it is an integral part of the user experience, LIIs that have simple but effective search functions will retain users and generate more through peer networking.

A motivated and well-connected team: Teams running LIIs who are both energetic and motivated to make them a success, as well as being embedded in the legal community itself, will have a higher likelihood of securing necessary information, receiving in kind and financial support, and being able to promote the LII widely.

Autonomy: LII teams that have financial, managerial and technical autonomy are more likely to be agile and be able to set their own agenda according to local conditions and considerations.

This study has shown that where these factors are exhibited by the LIIs and the environments in which they operate, the LIIs are ultimately more successful and impactful.

Recommendations

The purpose of this research was to better understand the usage, operation, value and impact of the LIIs in Africa. A better understanding of these factors was key in identifying whether existing impacts of the LIIs could be amplified, and whether additional positive impacts could be achieved.

The main audience for this report is the commissioning organisation Indigo Trust, which has been supporting AfricanLII and related free access to law initiatives in Africa for some time. As a philanthropic funding body, these recommendations are tailored to highlight the most high-impact funding possibilities available to Indigo Trust.

1 - Develop the operational/managerial aspects of the LIIs

The directors of the LIIs interviewed for this study were clearly juggling a number of tasks and being pulled in several different directions. Some found themselves conducting fairly basic administrative or technical tasks, while also answering to governing bodies and attempting to engage in more strategic planning. While in many cases interns were available for support, the time cost of training and supporting them also impacted upon the ability of the small teams to conduct the necessary work. Each LII is different; however, even modest investment in expanding the human resources of the LII teams is likely to result in significant improvements not only in scaling up the volume of information available, but in enabling directors of the LIIs to put adequate time and effort into more long term strategy, fundraising and promotion. Much of this work could be co-ordinated by AfricanLII.

2 - Encourage standardisation/centralisation where appropriate

Many of the LIIs are extremely similar — in particular in their technical structure; their management and operation; and their challenges. While AfricanLII currently do a fantastic job of supporting the LIIs, there could be significant benefit in formalising, standardising or centralising certain functions to free up time locally for more meaningful work. AfricanLII already performs a centralising and convening function, and additional investment at that level would beneficially filter down to the individual LIIs. The fact that all the LIIs except SAFLII and LiberiaLII (not part of this study, and also supported by AustLII) are running on the same technical platform demonstrates an existing appreciation of this, and further collaboration could reduce the burden on individual LIIs. In particular, supporting SAFLII to migrate to the AfricanLII platform could reduce risk and improve efficiency for the SAFLII team. Elsewhere, the challenges of formatting, for example, while different in each territory, could be tackled technically centrally with only a small number of relevant software subscriptions needed, and an expert to conduct the work efficiently, rather than each individual LII paying for the relevant software license, and later struggling to understand all of its functions. User tutorials, or promotion/fundraising plans could be shared and a central repository created. Finally, regular peer networking and support could be more formalised to provide support and to facilitate the LIIs to customise and build on each other's work, rather than reinventing the wheel.

3 - Create the right conditions

In countries where the LIIs are still developing, where there is a lower user base, or where migration to digital channels for information acquisition and processing has not been fully realised, the best way to target investment that will benefit the LIIs is in supporting policy work with the statutory bodies responsible for the production and publication of legal information. The organisations working in this area may not necessarily be the LIIs themselves, but related organisations working more closely on information rights and digital development. While this may be a secondary and more long term investment, it will eventually create the necessary conditions for the LIIs to flourish. The LIIs cannot be properly impactful where they are starved of information, and where the local legal landscape is not in a position to embrace them, and so while investment in the LIIs in these countries would not necessarily be wasted, it is likely not to have as much effect as desired.

4 - Invest in hardware and software

Low level capital investment is often one of the least exciting methods of philanthropic funding; however, extremely modest investment in basic necessities for operating a LII would increase efficiency and output significantly for some LIIs that currently operate with extremely outdated and inadequate equipment. Modern scanners, computers and software licenses for some of the African LIIs with the oldest equipment would represent a small but significant improvement in operations and would again free up time for either increased output or other operational tasks.

Further research

This report has demonstrated the current and potential impact of the LIIs in Africa through survey data and case study field work in three countries. Whilst it is not an exhaustive piece of research, it should shed light on the relevant areas for investment that might be suitable for the Indigo Trust. Should the Indigo Trust, or any other interested institution be interested in delving deeper into the operation and impact of the LIIs in Africa, there remain a number of unanswered and pertinent questions:

  1. How are the use of LIIs changing the legal profession and the conduct of the judiciary?
  2. How can LIIs embed themselves more effectively outside major urban areas?
  3. Can consolidated platforms offering not only case law and legislation, but other governmental or parliamentary information, provide a more impactful service?
  4. Should the LIIs focus solely on information provision for practitioners, or offer a broader public legal service?
  5. At what point should the LIIs no longer be considered a ‘social good' but a resource for well-paid professionals?

These questions were outside of the scope of this study, but investigation into these questions would significantly enhance the global understanding of the impacts and influence of the LIIs in Africa.

Conclusions

The LIIs in Africa are evidently providing a significant positive impact, and are valued and well used by those within the legal profession. The two core questions that this research asked were:

  1. What (if any) positive impacts arise from the open, free, publication of legal information on LIIs across sub-Saharan Africa?
  2. How might any existing positive impacts be increased and novel positive impacts accrued?

This report identified a number of positive impacts of the LIIs, from furthering social justice in South Africa, to enabling young professionals to build their own law practices in Uganda. Senior legal officials stated that the loss of the LII would be a disaster for their legal system. Students stated that they would not be able to properly complete coursework without the LIIs. Individuals stated that without the LIIs they would have no understanding of their rights. In short, the LIIs in Africa are currently a valuable resource not only for well-paid professionals, but for improving social mobility and for assisting resource poor individuals.

These impacts can only be perpetuated by keeping the LIIs relevant, up to date and well resourced. The ongoing maintenance and addition to the LIIs will ensure continuing impact. These impacts could potentially be amplified through supporting the LIIs to develop professionally and collaboratively, and such development could in turn enable them to move towards sustainability. This report demonstrates that even modest investment in the LIIs could catalyse greater positive social and legal impacts, and would improve the quality and accessibility of the law in sub-Saharan Africa for all citizens.

References

Bangani, S. (2018) Open access to legal resources in South Africa: the benefits and challenges. Library Philosophy and Practice. (e-journal). 1892.

Bruce, T. (2015) Statement for the Side Event Providing Access to Legal Information to Accelerate Sustainable Development, New York, 24 June 2015.

Fombad, C. M. (2014). Africanisation of legal education programmes: The need for comparative African legal studies. Journal of Asian and African Studies, 49(4), 383-398.

Greenleaf, G., Vivekanandan, V. C., Chung, P., Singh, R., & Mowbray, A. (2011). Challenges for free access to law in a multi-jurisdictional developing country: building the Legal Information Institute of India. SCRIPTed, 8, 292.

Hinfelaar, M, Kapijimpanga (2017) P, Ethnographic Research on the Impact of Legal Information Institutes in Zimbabwe and South Africa, Southern African Institute for Policy and Research Link

Masson, M., & Tahir, O. (2016). The Legal Information Needs of Civil Society in Zambia. J. Open Access L., 4, 1.

Mitee, L. E., (2017a) Towards enhanced public access to legal information: a proposal for official networked one-stop legal information websites, European Journal of Law and Technology, Vol 8, No 3, 2017.

Mitee, L. E. (2017b). The Right of Public Access to Legal Information: A Proposal for its Universal Recognition as a Human Right. German Law Journal, 18(6), 1429–1496.

Vallbé, J. J., & Casellas, N. (2014). What's the Cost of e-Access to Legal Information? A composite indicator. In Doing Business: Past, Present, and Future of Business Regulation: McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University: February 20-21, 2014 World Bank Group.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Mariya Badeva-Bright of AfricanLII, Daniel Bwambale of ULII and Eric Apeadu of GHALII for their support and facilitation of interviews for this report.

The authors would also like to thank individuals of the following organisations for generously giving their time and expertise to assist in understanding the issues discussed in this report:

  • University of Ghana Law Faculty Library
  • Ghana Parliament Library
  • University of Ghana Law Faculty
  • University of Ghana Digitisation Department
  • Ghana School of Law Library
  • Ghana School of Law
  • University of Ghana School of Nursing and Midwifery Library
  • OSAD Legal Services
  • BDK Attorneys
  • High Court of South Africa
  • Grayston Chambers
  • Johannesburg Bar Library
  • One Group
  • Wits School of Law
  • Jhb Society of Advocates (Jhb Bar)
  • Duma Nokwe Group of Advocates
  • Johannesburg Bar
  • Institute for Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa, University of Cape Town
  • Blacksash
  • University of Cape Town Law Clinic
  • Ministry for Justice and Constitutional Development, South Africa
  • Women's Legal Centre
  • Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC)
  • The Judiciary, Uganda
  • Law Development Centre
  • KTA Advocates
  • Agaba, Bulungu, Namusiitwa & Co. Advocates
  • Uganda Law Society
  • Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET)
  • Judicial Training Institute (JTI)
  • Arcadia Advocates
  • MRK Advocates

Related Research

Footnotes

1: Mitee, L. E., (2017a) Towards enhanced public access to legal information: a proposal for official networked one-stop legal information websites, European Journal of Law and Technology, Vol 8, No 3, 2017.

2: Mitee, L. E. (2017b). The Right of Public Access to Legal Information: A Proposal for its Universal Recognition as a Human Right. German Law Journal, 18(6), 1429–1496.

3: Bangani, S. (2018) Open access to legal resources in South Africa: the benefits and challenges. Library Philosophy and Practice. (e-journal). 1892.

4: Greenleaf, G., Vivekanandan, V. C., Chung, P., Singh, R., & Mowbray, A. (2011). Challenges for free access to law in a multi-jurisdictional developing country: building the Legal Information Institute of India. SCRIPTed, 8, 292.

5: Masson, M., & Tahir, O. (2016). The Legal Information Needs of Civil Society in Zambia. J. Open Access L., 4, 1.

6: Mitee, L. E., (2017a) Towards enhanced public access to legal information: a proposal for official networked one-stop legal information websites, European Journal of Law and Technology, Vol 8, No 3, 2017.

7: Mitee, L. E. (2017b). The Right of Public Access to Legal Information: A Proposal for its Universal Recognition as a Human Right. German Law Journal, 18(6), 1429–1496.

8: Vallbé, J. J., & Casellas, N. (2014). What's the Cost of e-Access to Legal Information? A composite indicator. In Doing Business: Past, Present, and Future of Business Regulation: McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University: February 20-21, 2014 World Bank Group.

9: Mitee, L. E. (2017b). The Right of Public Access to Legal Information: A Proposal for its Universal Recognition as a Human Right. German Law Journal, 18(6), 1429–1496.

10: Mitee, L. E., (2017a) Towards enhanced public access to legal information: a proposal for official networked one-stop legal information websites, European Journal of Law and Technology, Vol 8, No 3, 2017.

11: Greenleaf, G., Vivekanandan, V. C., Chung, P., Singh, R., & Mowbray, A. (2011). Challenges for free access to law in a multi-jurisdictional developing country: building the Legal Information Institute of India. SCRIPTed, 8, 292.

12: Masson, M., & Tahir, O. (2016). The Legal Information Needs of Civil Society in Zambia. J. Open Access L., 4, 1.

13: Mitee, L. E. (2017b). The Right of Public Access to Legal Information: A Proposal for its Universal Recognition as a Human Right. German Law Journal, 18(6), 1429–1496.

14: Masson, M., & Tahir, O. (2016). The Legal Information Needs of Civil Society in Zambia. J. Open Access L., 4, 1.

15: Bangani, S. (2018) Open access to legal resources in South Africa: the benefits and challenges. Library Philosophy and Practice. (e-journal). 1892.

16: Bruce, T. (2015) Statement for the Side Event Providing Access to Legal Information to Accelerate Sustainable Development, New York, 24 June 2015.

17: Bruce, T. (2015) Statement for the Side Event Providing Access to Legal Information to Accelerate Sustainable Development, New York, 24 June 2015.

18: Greenleaf, G., Vivekanandan, V. C., Chung, P., Singh, R., & Mowbray, A. (2011). Challenges for free access to law in a multi-jurisdictional developing country: building the Legal Information Institute of India. SCRIPTed, 8, 292.

19: Greenleaf, G., Vivekanandan, V. C., Chung, P., Singh, R., & Mowbray, A. (2011). Challenges for free access to law in a multi-jurisdictional developing country: building the Legal Information Institute of India. SCRIPTed, 8, 292.

20: Masson, M., & Tahir, O. (2016). The Legal Information Needs of Civil Society in Zambia. J. Open Access L., 4, 1.

21: Fombad, C. M. (2014). Africanisation of legal education programmes: The need for comparative African legal studies. Journal of Asian and African Studies, 49(4), 383-398.

22: Hinfelaar, M, Kapijimpanga (2017) P, Ethnographic Research on the Impact of Legal Information

23: Greenleaf, G., Vivekanandan, V. C., Chung, P., Singh, R., & Mowbray, A. (2011). Challenges for free access to law in a multi-jurisdictional developing country: building the Legal Information Institute of India. SCRIPTed, 8, 292.

24: As respondents could submit multiple sectors, professions and employment statuses, these are counted fractionally (eg someone who is in both the private and education sectors contributes 0.5 to each).