The internet revolution has urged judiciaries to publish many of their decisions online. Since these documents are most often plain text, lack any structure, standardized metadata, computer readable references or even univocal identification, accessibility of these documents is seriously hampered. In the European context problems are multiplied, while there is a growing legal business need for cross-border search case law search.
Recently several building blocks have been developed to come to the rescue. First we discuss the European Case Law Identifier (ECLI), a meaningful identifier that can be assigned to decisions of all European and national courts. Together with a set of standardized metadata this improves searchability, especially within the ‘ECLI search engine’: a public database developed by the European Commission already containing nearly 5 million judicial decisions.
To broaden and deepen the implementation the EU co-funded project ‘Building on ECLI’ has kicked-off. One of the objectives is to stimulate the creation of linked legal data, i.a. by developing open source software.
The advantages of such software is demonstrated by what already has been developed at the Publications Office of the Netherlands: using dedicated NLP technologies, complicated and often misformatted textual citations of (national or European) court decisions, legislation and Parliamentary documents are transformed into computer readable and standardized links.
Marc van Opijnen (1963, the Netherlands) studied administrative, international and European Law at the University of Groningen.
Fascinated by the opportunities the internet has to offer, he mastered the necessary computer skills and has been working for over 20 years as an intermediary between the law, the administration of justice and IT. He has a special interest in all aspects relating to the on-line accessibility of case law, also the subject of his PhD thesis at the University of Amsterdam (2014).
Currently he is affiliated to the Publications Office of the Netherlands, and actively involved in various national and European projects on improving the access to legal information. He is a long-standing member of the EU Council working party on e-justice/e-law and currently he is project manager of the EU co-funded project ‘Building on the European Case Law Identifier’. He regularly publishes on his fields of interest.