Report on the Open Law – Africa 2018 Workshop, Johannesburg

The 2018 Open Law workshop was held at the Crowne Plaza – The Rosebank, Johannesburg from 21 to 23 February 2018.  This report was prepared by Mariya Badeva-Bright, AfricanLII Programme Director 


The purpose of the three-day Open Law Africa 2018 workshop was to gather experts and participants from East, West and Southern Africa, and the United Kingdom, to discuss policy, strategy and operational issues relating to free access to law, and particularly – building, maintaining and publishing authoritative digital collections of legislation. The workshop also set out to discuss specific use cases for legal information dissemination in Africa in support of important rule of law issues, such as criminal justice on a national level, and adherence to regional and continental law. 

The workshop was attended by 21 experts from the United Kingdom, South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.  The institutions represented were:

  1. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
  2. The United Kingdom National Archives
  3. Kenya Law 
  4. Uganda Legal Information Institute (Uganda Judiciary)
  5. Tanzania Legal Information Institute (Tanzania Judiciary)
  6. Zimbabwe Legal Information Institute 
  7. South African Legal Information Institute (University of Cape Town)
  8. OpenUP
  9. African Legal Information Institute
  10. Centre for Human Rights (University of Pretoria)
  11. Swazi Legal Information Institute (Swazi Judiciary)
  12. Swaziland Ministry of Justice
  13. Nigeria Legal Information Institute (LEDAP)
  14. Sierra Leone Legal Information Institute 
  15. LegalB
  16. SpotOn Compliance

Two invitations were declined due to conflicting work schedule – the experts from Ghana and Zambia were unable to attend. However, in a departure from the original application, AfricanLII sponsored the attendance of an expert from the African Court on Human and Peoples’ rights, and two representatives of the private sector, dealing with legislation compliance.  The latter three experts represented views and contributed to the discussion in significant ways, as detailed below. 


During the first day of the workshop the participants discussed value-adds for case law on  national and regional collections. The presenters included Mariya Badeva-Bright of the African Legal Information Institute and Ms. Njeri Githanga of Kenya Law. 

Discussion on strategies for implementation of value-additions for LIIs: Strategic session for African LIIs∫

Legal Information Institutes in Africa have operated website providing basic access to caselaw and legislation. Users have consistently been demanding broader and more in-depth collections, coupled with value-adds such as indices, summaries, consolidations and annotations. 

AfricanLII briefed the workshop participants on the various initiatives being considered and implemented on a community level in the past year, including:

  1. Upgraded LII-in-a-Box software to support editorial additions such as case summaries, flynotes, alternate citations, references to other caselaw and legislation
  2. Regional and national caselaw indices, as implemented already in Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe
  3. Gazettes databases
  4. Legal commentary
  5. Legislation consolidation – Indigo

It was suggested that automation can assist with the implementation of some of these activities. However, the main impediment to the development of the collections was identified to be the cumbersome digitization work, which consumes most of the LIIs resources.  Converting scanned images of documents to text format is a painstaking and time-consuming process. 

The expert group confirmed that the practice of sending scanned documents to the LIIs is widespread, but inconsistently applied even on a national level, in the region. The reasons for this identified were: 

  1. The need to maintain authenticity – a scanned signed document is authentic
  2. The prevailing perception is that scanned documents are tamper-proof

The experts agreed that there are better methods of ensuring authenticity, authoritativeness and security of the documents.  The African Court expert shared the plans of the Court to introduce electronic signatures. Others suggested in the mean time to request Word copies of judgments for internal workflow purposes, while maintaining public copies of scanned documents for publication purposes. 

The African Court expert suggested that LIIs should also consider language issues and developing their interfaces to accommodate official languages. 

Another major area highlighted was the growing concern over private information in published judgments. Judgments are replete with personal information ranging from biodata, to medical, social and other, sometimes adverse, information. It is difficult to redact information in scanned documents, in addition to having to maintain authenticity of the judgment as it was handed down.  

The Uganda expert related concerns of Ugandan judges about the wide availability of the image of their signature via the Internet. This had necessitated conversion of all judgments prior to posting on ULII. 

LII strategy session; Discussion on development of the African LII umbrella

Following an extensive discussion, the experts agreed on the following:

  1. LIIs need to build comprehensive collections of judgments. 
  2. LIIs must ensure judgments processed have been proofread, corrected and authorized to be published online
  3. LIIs should engage with the Chief Justice or JPs of the courts for formal directives outlining obligations for judges to send judgments directly to the LIIs. This is currently successfully done in Tanzania and Kenya
  4. LIIs should conduct bi-annual content audits against rolls and with judicial officers to ascertain that all content was received
  5. Regarding privacy, LIIs should engage the Chief Justice on a national level, using an influential judge to approach with the topic.  
  6. LIIs should study the legal position with respect to privacy in each country and develop a uniform guidance and sample policies with which to engage the Chief justice, the Southern African Chief Justices Forum and possibly the Judicial Dialogue comprising Chief Justices of 55 countries in Africa. 
  7. AfricanLII should investigate various options to implement authenticity features in LII-in-a-Box, including watermarks, electronic signatures and provide flexible options to each LII to implement as the context differs across the community

Law Reporting Practices: Interactive session

Njeri Githanga presenting at the Open Law Africa workshop in Johannesburg

Njeri Githanga, a Senior Law Reporter at Kenya Law, presented on the law reporting practices and processes at Kenya Law.  She shared detailed information on the internal workflows, selection procedures and rules, as well as the Law Reporters’ Manual. Njeri lead a practical session in which experts participated in the summarization of two cases, and identification of issues and application of classification for several other. 

Some of the questions raised were – who selects the cases for the weekly digest, who reads the judgments, how can the team speed-read judgments to ascertain relevance, how do we ensure judgments summarized are new? 

In the ensuing discussion, experts lamented the lack of resources to implement a full law reporting system.  The group considered several options to mitigate this, including the use of law students, judicial officers, crowdsourcing summaries and even automated summarization software to produce summaries of important judgments. The consensus was that such aides should be managed by well-trained senior LII staff, who would be responsible for law reporting. 

The group agreed that it might be possible to produce mini-summaries and 3-level classification indices with some support from AfricanLII and Kenya Law. 

Kenya Law confirmed their availability to assist other LIIs in carrying out summarization and indexing of caselaw. 

Presentation and session material attached.


Stock-taking and discussion on trends and challenges; Strategy for the next 10 years; 

Booklet summarizing the user studies

Launch of User Study of LIIs in South Africa and Zimbabwe

The morning began with a presentation and launch of the Legal Information Institutes user study – an ethnographic research in legal information use in South Africa and Zimbabwe. The research was conducted by the Southern African Institute for Policy and Research over a period of two months in 2017.  The study – booklet and full report – are available for download here: 

The methodology and execution of the study were presented, followed by the major findings, as follows: 

  1. Users demanded comprehensiveness and currency of legal information on the LIIs
  2. There is a need for access to consolidated and subsidiary legislation, international treaties and information on their domestic application
  3. There is an urgent need for the addition of Magistrates Courts judgments on the LIIs
  4. Summaries and classifications of important judgments will help citizens understand important law
  5. Off-line solutions are important for distribution in rural areas
  6. Live-streaming and audio could bring the court proceedings to a larger audience
  7. The LIIs should use social media to communicate with its users, linking to relevant information on the LII website or news articles. It can also be used as an advocacy tool with which to engage users and provide a platform on which to participate in public debates.

The experts proceeded to discuss the results of the study.  All of the recommendations were accepted, albeit with some caveats, particularly around the publication of Magistrates Courts judgments and judgments from the specialized courts. The experts saw potential for difficulty there due to the sheer size of the collection of such judgments. It was recommended to follow the Tanzania example, where 0.2% of Magistrates’ courts judgments will be made available.  It was also recommended that LIIs consider carefully the placement of such judgments on the websites, as they could confuse and mislead the public with respect to their precedential value. 

It was generally accepted that labour courts, labour arbitration bodies, specialist magistrates courts, etc. should be included in the databases.  However, none of the LIIs would be in a position to select and summarize important judgments from the lower court collections. 

With respect to legislation, the UK experts suggested that LIIs must incentivize government departments to maintain their own legislation or assist in this function. LIIs can ask these departments to take responsibility for tracking amendments and notices for their own legislation. 

The experts saw great potential for the Pocket Law stick. It was recommended by both the African Court and Kenyan experts, similarly to developments in Kenya, that further enhancements to software include accessibility improvements. It was recommended that AfricanLII should get in touch with the Cape Society for the blind to discuss accessibility solutions to allow blind users better use of the websites and of Pocket law.  All agreed that PDFs are not conducive to use by people with disabilities and that this should be included in any future motivation for change in the PDF distribution practice. 

ULII Report from Sentencing Guidelines Conference in Kampala, January 2018

The Uganda expert shared recent developments in Uganda around the development of sentencing guidelines for magistrates and judges. The Judiciary, and ULII, are tasked with the review of sentencing legislation and production of a consolidated manual and guidelines.  

The comments and recommendations included:

  1. In the UK, there are a lot of rules in sentencing which confuses judges. Compile all the sentencing legislation into one legislation.  It was recommended that further research and outreach is done with potential partners in the UK.
  2. Comment from Kenya law- In Kenya a sentencing guidelines and criminal bench book are being developed. May be Uganda needs to look at what Kenya are doing. However, it was observed that Uganda has already developed the criminal and civil bench book which has taken care of most of these issues.
  3. The Singapore judiciary has a database on sentences separately. ULII was advised to check out the Singaporean website and see whether they can have a e-sentencing database on the ULII website.
Jane Mugala, ULII Coordinator

It was recommended that further consultations take place among East African participants and AficanLII and consider the creation of an e-sentencing database similar to the one developed in Singapore. 

Presentation attached .

African supranational law, human rights sensitization, and the African LIIs

Mr. Julius Kamya of the African Court presented the work of the court, its impact on regional and national laws as well as the Court’s effort to disseminate and increase awareness of its own jurisprudence.  The presentation is attached to this email. Mr. Kamya touched on the various dissemination strategies, including mailing lists, social media, knowledge networks, and the possible inclusion of the LIIs. It was recommended that we look also for guidance from the European Court on Human Rights and the various tools the court employs to make their jurisprudence more available. 

From a substantive point of view, it was suggested that even where countries are not yet within the jurisdiction of the court (e.g. Zimbabwe), having African Court information available via the LIIs will help NGOs push their countries to participate; it will help with advocacy efforts for Human Rights enforcement. 

The experts discussed the various issues raised and it was agreed that LIIs should support the dissemination of African Court jurisprudence via the websites and encourage other cross-linkages.  That it will be beneficial for African Court judges to also have access to national law, and that AfricanLII should make an effort to sensitize the judges about the research options available via the LII network in Africa. 

Open access to legislative legal information: perspectives from East Africa, Africa, and the world

The legislation session was chaired by Christian Ateka of Kenya Law. All experts at the workshop made presentations on the state of access to legislation in their countries. It was evident that some countries, particularly in East Africa, are making efforts to revise, consolidate and publish online legislation. However, it was clear also that there were common themes of difficulties around: digitization, automation, currency of material, resources, dissemination and cost-recovery. It was a relief to be assured by editors of advanced systems such as the ones in Kenya and the United Kingdom, that even with adequate resources, it is difficult to maintain full, comprehensive collections at any given time. 

Many of the experts reported difficulties in obtaining the source materials in digital forms – many purchased paper copies of the gazettes and scanned. It was also reported that in many countries, copies (even in print) of the Gazette are not always available.  The recommendation was to engage with the printer, as well as other justice stakeholders, to ensure full collections. Any consolidation of legislation requires a full set of underlying material. 

Christian Ateka made a detailed presentation of Kenya Law’s law revision practices.  Christian shared information on the strategic development of their legislation collections and plans to move to more editor and user-friendly platforms.  Presentation attached.  

Greg Kempe made a presentation of the Indigo Legislation tool to quickly and efficiently capture and process legislation in Akoma Ntoso XML format, thus producing machine-readable legislation.  We learned that the UK National Archives are transitioning to this same standard. 

The gathering further heard  – Mr. Cullinan, a South African attorney and owner of a regulatory consultancy; and Adv. Felgate – a South African advocate running a legislation service, offered practitioners’ views.  Mr. Cullinan stressed the importance of the LIIs producing legislation in standard digital formats as this would assist lawyers like him to offer advanced advisory services. The value and benefit for small practices and technology start-ups is immense. Mr. Cullinan even suggested that there might be interest for people like him to support the development of legislative collections in proper formats.  Adv. Felgate stressed the importance of putting correct legislation out for public consumption, as an imperative for the rule of law. She has developed a rule of law standard for legislation. Oftentimes, she says, the publishers are left to work with incorrectly gazetted legal texts. There is a responsibility to flag and try and resolve directly such errors, rather than publishers to “read meaning and intent” into provisions.  

The UK experts drew the workshop’s attention to the Law Society of England’s Economic value of legal services report 2016 ( to highlight the importance of the availability of standards-based digitial legal (legislative) information.  There are real, tangible benefits for the development of the legal sector, which should convince governments in Africa (government printers and attorney generals) to make access to Gazettes and legislation freely and openly available. 

The workshop resolved to continue to engage on a local level with the relevant structures to get legislation out. It would be prudent to focus energy on thematic collections (e.g. most used laws – Grey Book) and collections of most impact in a jurisdiction.  Funds for consolidations, however, remain critically low. However, in countries such as Tanzania and Kenya, where the state has stepped up and regularly funds public service legislation – we must consider engaging productively with the relevant institutions to make these collections widely available.  Kenya has done well in this regard.


Introduction to UK National Archive Legislation consolidation practices

The final day of the workshop was dedicated to understanding the UK National Archives’ business, project management and content consolidation practices.  The topics covered included: 

  1. Discussion of the differences between a private legal publisher versus the authenticating publisher
  2. Separation of the official legislation versus the revised versions – in terms of presentation of the content and appropriate information notices
  3. What to do when size of the team and funding are constrained
  4. How to build a LII’s legislation database with the user in mind
  5. How to build a system that reflects the nature of legislation and the behaviour of the user
  6. What is Agile development and how can it help us develop our collections 
  7. It is imperative to have a system to track the development of legislation in terms of developments
  8. How do we get, source, document and process those legislation amendments
  9. How do we handle competition with commercial publishers
  10. How do we (and users) reconcile versions of legislation coming out of the different publishers
  11. Discussed point in time based legislation 
  12. Develop internal workflow standards, e.g. rules on how to comment, annotate and deal with errors etc
  13. Use of consultants, cloud technologies and other supporting matters
  14. Open data = open standards = more efficient justice sector

Some of the takeaways included: 

  1. Use cloud computing – it is light, adaptable and affordable
  2. Consider data protection and archiving and security standards in cloud computing
  3. Digital legislation allows for more flexible formatting than print
  4. In the UK there is no split between the official publishers and the national archives, and this has allowed for growth
  5. The National Archives have no official obligation (unlike Kenya Law) to revise legislation but they would like to obtain that mandate 
  6. Great content teams are made of editorial rather than legal skills – most of all we need attention to detail. Good backgrounds are journalism, English, History, etc. Legal systems and legislation can be taught
  7. Be creative in building capacity – use government departments and regulators to contribute to the collections.  The UK National archives has trained a couple of government departments to update the legislation in their domains. They only provide final editorial oversight.  
  8. Amendments are not implemented until they are in force
  9. User-oriented design is very important: test often, and keep on doing it once the site is up and live
  10. Survey to test assumptions for users; survey regularly to understand who your users are and use partners to amplify the reach of your surveys
  11. Consider, adapt and adopt standards such as the UKs Digital Service Standard (
  12.  The UK National Archives’ legislation service has compiled its own Handbook of best practice on providing public legislation service which they will share for us to read and adapt

We also held an interactive session, where we did actual amendments on the UK National Archives system, that were eventually committed to 

Meeting the uk team was fantastic. Their workflow approach has given us a number of ideas for how we can tweak our own systems and workflows (such as the Indigo Legislation Platform) to make it easier for non-experts to be trained to provide input which can then go through a review process.

Understanding that their system cobbles together a number of different components (Excel spreadsheets, Web app, Desktop app) is heartening and somehow makes our task of getting this all to work for many African countries less daunting.

That they edit XML directly is eye-opening. The UK experts have contacted our legislation expert subsequently asking to know more details of our own systems.  They are solving many of the same problems we are. 

On a technical level, we found that we are confronted by many of the same problems.  Continuing to engage on a technical and content editing level would be beneficial for both the UK and African experts alike.  We could learn more about how to handle the edge cases of capturing and working with poorly drafted laws. Another avenue would be finding novel ways to explore or present legislation once we have the laws in a structured form.

Unanswered questions remain.  For example, what’s it like for their API clients to work with heavily structured documents? What happens when they have to adjust their standards to meet new requirements?  We would love to know how readily the UK National Archives can link with similar systems in the EU, which probably have different standards. Considering African countries are moving towards tighter regional integration, some of that accumulated knowledge will be very useful to us.

Finally, it was very valuable to learn also that there is evidence collected of the benefit and value of machine-readable legislation collections in the public domain. The African community would benefit from further engagement in this vein, one that aims to present evidence to African governments, and generate a real discussion about liberating legal information on the continent. 


All presentations are available via Dropbox here: or on request from AfricanLII


AfricanLII, Kenya Law, UgandaLII and all experts present at the Open Law Africa 2018 workshop would like to thank ROLE UK, UK AID , Matthew Bell and Robert Marks of the UK National Archives for engaging with our African LIIs community and supporting our work.  Through the discussions, strategic decisions and resolutions of this workshop, we are certain we will be more effective in supporting the rule of law in our countries. We look forward to further engagement with the UK National Archives and other UK experts in the rule of law field. 

The final list of resolutions stands as follows: 

  1. Experts agreed that it is imperative for African legal information Institutes to engage with courts, government gazettes and Attorney General’s chambers to receive cases and legislation in electronic format
  2. Authenticity and trustworthiness of the material can be achieved in a number of ways, but it will be useful to follow UK National Archives practice in making processes transparent in order to build trust
  3. Legal information will be redacted in a transparent manner, according to clear rules
  4. The AfricanLII community will engage in 2018 with the Southern African Chief Justices Forum regarding redaction of judgments, and possibly with the Conference of African Chief Justices (all 54 countries) in 2019. The latter engagement could be facilitated by the African Court and AfricanLII must seek the Court’s assistance.
  5. African LIIs will select, categorise and summarise key legal information from the region, so it is more easily accessible and useful to researchers on the continent and overseas.
  6. Free access to African legal information is indispensable for the rule of law on our continent, as is evidenced by the ethnographic study into the use of Legal Information Institutes in South Africa and Zimbabwe.  All recommendations and outcomes of the study are adopted and an implementation strategy will be developed by AfricanLII.
  7. There is an acute need for publication of Magistrates Court judgments.  Even though these are not judgments from courts of record, i.e. not binding legal precedent, they are important to the justice system and rule of law, as they are foundational to every legal system, can be used to measure access to justice, corruption, study and development as well as proper application of sentencing guidelines, etc.
  8. Legal information institutes in Africa should collaborate with supranational bodies, such as the African Court, ECOWAS, EAC, etc. to facilitate wider dissemination of supranational law, and offer clear and transparent research interface into national and regional law.  This should preferably be done initially in at least two official AU languages (English and French)
  9. The African and UK experts will continue to collaborate on the development of technical standards for machine-readable legislation (AkomaNtoso), including sharing of software and code to improve each other’s systems
  10. The African experts recognised the value of UK experience and standards in archiving, editing, cataloguing and making information public. The UK experts will provide African experts, and the wider LII community, with further advice and remote training on application of UK government standards for dissemination of public legal information.
  11. The African experts appreciated the various monitoring, evaluation and project development and management methodologies used by the National archives.  The UK experts will share production guides and other materials with the African LII community.
  12. The African LIIs community recognizes the opportunity to utilize technology and leapfrog into digital solutions to public legal information dissemination.

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