Open Law Africa 2019 – Ghana: Free Access to Law for the Africa We Want

Theme: Free Access to Law for the Africa We Want

When: 11 -12 November 2019

Where: Accra, Ghana

Organizer: AfricanLII and the Indigo Trust, in collaboration with local partner GhaLII

Executive summary

The demand for free legal information in Africa is growing rapidly. So, too, are the opportunities to use modern technology to reach a broader audience, manage and use legal information more efficiently and effectively, and support access to justice innovation. Africa’s Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) – the continent’s web portals for free legal information – need to intensify efforts through deliberate investments to respond to these new needs and opportunities. Broader coverage, richer functionality and preparation of actionable knowledge will service not only the justice sector but, through strategic partnerships, also entrepreneurs and justice innovators, the media, academia and citizens.

The Open Law Ghana 2019 workshop will consider the latest developments in free access to law on the continent, deliberate on existing initiatives, and strategize a way forward for the community and the future of access to law on the continent.  The workshop brings together legal information practitioners, technologists, government, user group representatives and the development community, as key stakeholders that shape the domain. LIIs in Africa and development partners must decide on an implementation strategy for free access to law that nourishes and enables innovation, and ensures the longevity of free access to law on the continent.

Free Access to Law in Africa

Efforts to promote free access to the law of African countries have been on-going for over fifteen years.  These efforts, spearheaded by free access to law portals known as LIIs (an acronym for Legal Information Institute) developed mostly under the AfricanLII umbrella in Africa, have achieved significant, tangible results, documented in two recent studies. The research identified clear, positive impacts resulting from the existence and use of the LIIs, where the LII proved to be a key tool for the development of the justice sector and a useful tool for citizens in developing a more meaningful understanding of the law.

Statistics show that free access legal information websites are growing and being used by over 450,000 unique users each month. Some of these websites, even established ones, grows at a rate of over 100% each year. LIIs have been successful at satisfying a need for access to the law, and as our continent forges ahead in digitalization, more and more of its citizens will find this unhindered access to digital legal information online.  This creates new demands and new opportunities for development of the LIIs.

A Call for a Renewed Agenda

The single most relevant opportunity for LIIs currently is the increased pace of regional and continental integration, and the resulting increased economic, cultural and human capital benefits. For users of LIIs – both lawyers and non-lawyers alike – these changes mean that they increasingly  require a range of new information, presented and contextualized against policy, regulatory and legal developments across the region. LIIs have to be better equipped to respond to this need and provide actionable information and knowledge to citizens and professionals. 

Technology and connectivity are transforming our continent in so many ways. Besides increased audiences of legal information, there are also new opportunities to reduce costs, and increase authenticity and reach of legal texts, while simultaneously increasing understanding of the law. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are now part of the arsenal of LIIs in Africa.  Some are attempting to harness networked contributions and enlist Africa’s youth, with its growing digital competence and connectedness, to digitize the law of the continent. 

New technology also allows us to take our existing collections of caselaw and legislation and put them to new uses.  We see journalists regularly researching caselaw and gazettes in support of the investigative journalism they produce.  Academics are looking at creative ways of mashing up legal data with statistics and data from other domains, to conduct cross-cutting research and identify previously difficult to reveal trends. New technologies, and appropriately structured machine-readable legal data, are essential for these innovative uses of legal information. 

LIIs can no longer be the only actors in the provision of free access to the law. Specialist legal services or knowledge products fall outside of the scope and mandate of the LIIs. As de facto custodians of authoritative legal information, however, LIIs have a duty to support legal service providers, entrepreneurs, innovators and commentators by providing them with standard-compliant and easy access to basic legal information. Opening up the legal information infrastructure is critical for the development of a modern legal and justice services sectors in Africa.

The new agenda for free access to law in Africa must include concrete aspirations, goals and deliverables that support the reality of an Africa that is future-focused, digital, with efficient infrastructure that promotes home-grown talent and innovative services to its citizens. LIIs need to be supported in providing the legal information infrastructure that will not only transform legal and government services, but will also create an ecosystem where other sectors can source legal information to support their own development and innovation. 

Financial Support for Free Access to Law

The most recent study into LIIs in Africa noted that 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.  In many countries, the state has provided some support to these initiatives, in others, academia and the profession have stepped in. Many are operating as going concerns but are never able to reach full potential. Despite strategies to reduce costs and increase efficiency, huge gaps in funding remain, which hampers the vision and future progress of the LIIs.  The LII and the philanthropic communities must establish conversations that will lead to more targeted and efficient funding for the sector in order to realise the opportunities available to support access to justice and the law in Africa. 

The Open Law Africa 2019 workshop – draft agenda

  1. Review the state of free access to law in Africa
  2. Presentation of impact studies
  3. Present and discuss new developments and opportunities with respect to technology
  4. Policy and advocacy opportunities
  5. Funders roundtable (funders-only session moderated by the Indigo Trust)
  6. LIIs in Africa strategy session (LIIs-only session moderated by AfricanLII)
  7. Technology developments and implementation roadmaps for African LIIs 

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