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Digitizing the World's Laws
Claire M. Germain
Cornell Law School, email@example.com
Germain, Claire M., "Digitizing the World's Laws" (2010). Cornell Law Faculty Working Papers. Paper 72. http://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/clsops_papers/72
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Digitizing the World’s Laws
International Legal Information Management Handbook (Ashgate, 2010)
Claire M. Germain
Edward Cornell Law Librarian & Professor of Law
Cornell Law School
Where does one find the foreign investment laws of Botswana? What about the copyright law of the Netherlands, the corporation laws of Japan, or the English translation of the Egyptian Civil Code? Already back in 1991, just before the internet, Wallace Baker remarked that “foreign law has become the daily bread of lawyers everywhere who formally had totally domestic practices.” (Germain 1991, xii) 1 Since then, the need to access the content of foreign law has increased exponentially. The importance of global access to foreign laws on the internet and how to improve it was recently highlighted at an international Meeting of Experts on Global Co-operation on the Provision of Online Legal Information on National Laws organized by the Hague Conference on Private International Law in October 2008. 2 This chapter purports to evaluate the current state of progress in online access to the content of foreign law, provide a world snapshot, and discuss such digital law issues as authentication and preservation for long term access. I.
The Need for Access
Access to legal information is needed in the domestic context for citizens to know what the law is that applies to them, and what their rights are, for the conduct of business, for the rule of law, and for life in society in general. Lawyers, judges, notaries, and other legal professionals also need to access the law. The principle “no one is deemed to be ignorant of the law » goes back to the old Latin adage, nemo legem ignorare censetur, 3 known in common law countries as « ignorance of law is no excuse », ignorantia legis non excusat, both expressions traced back to Roman times, with similar meaning. 4 In civil law countries, where the legal system is primarily based on written law, the need to publicize new laws has an old origin (Cartier 2008, 57; Saint-Prix 1809; Gaudemet 1993; Laferrière, 1949). New laws can only become effective if they are published and made known to citizens. Before the internet, typically the law entered into force a number of days after its publication in the country’s official gazette, so that there would be enough time to send it to various places. In France, it was one full day after publication in the French Journal officiel. (Szladits 1985). In Brazil, it was forty-five days after official publication in Diaro oficial da uniao. (Passos, 2008). This changed with computerization, which provided both savings (no more paper and mailing costs) and the practicality of immediate notification via the internet. In France, 1
Wallace Baker founded Baker & McKenzie in Paris.
I was invited to this meeting as an academic expert on foreign law (19-21 October 2008) by his Secretary General, Mr. Hans van Loon. http://www.hcch.net/ (Visited March 8, 2010). 3
The Roman Digest devoted the entire Title 6 of Book 22, distinguishing «...