CEO's Perspective

Why CanLII matters

Timothy E. McGeeTimothy E. McGee

Access to information about the law is a cornerstone of civil society. For most of the last century, access to legal information meant visiting a law library, whether public or private. By the end of the 1990s, an increasing volume of legislation and a significant number of court decisions had become freely available via the Internet. However, navigating among the different websites and portals was haphazard at best, and for-profit providers were increasingly acquiring the rights to distribute such information.

In February 2000, the Federation of Law Societies’ National Technology Committee proposed creating a virtual library of Canadian law. Based on a model successfully implemented in other common law jurisdictions, an initial website demonstrated the advantages of publishing legal information in an integrated manner. In 2001, the Federation created the Canadian Legal Information Institute, a not-for-profit organization to manage this website and ensure that it would become a reliable resource.

Today, CanLII has become a significant source for primary material — both legislative and judicial — for the legal profession. Later in this edition of the Benchers’ Bulletin, Catherine Best writes about a recent CanLII survey and how CanLII can assist you with your legal research.

But CanLII is more than just a resource for lawyers. A recent focus group session found that members of the public looking for legal assistance frequently turn to the Internet to find information about their particular legal problems. CanLII provides a simple and efficient means for everyone to gain access to case law and legislation.

CanLII’s provision of free access to a wide variety of legal resources also serves to counteract the increasing commercialization of legal information. Over the last decade, the cost to law libraries of acquiring legal information, both print and electronic, has climbed significantly. This trend is not expected to change in the future. By making many legal resources freely and easily available over the Internet, CanLII provides some balance to the cost of access through for-profit providers.

For the significant number of you already using CanLII, the benefits are already known. For those of you who haven’t yet made use of CanLII, I would encourage you to visit their website and discover for yourself why CanLII matters.