We believe strongly that everyone should have access to legal resources in their country. If people have access to legal resources like legislation and case law, they will be empowered to engage with the things that really affect them: the law, government decision-making and the democratic process. Jeremy Bentham got it right when he said “publicity is the soul of justice”.
Legal resources that are freely available support the rule of law and the foundational principle of democracy – the right to make an informed decision. Democracy works better when citizens can access legal resources, know what the law is and engage with the law making process. We add value to legal resources (or legal information) by providing legal advise and practical legal guidance. We also practice access to information law.
How can you access legal resources?
In many jurisdictions, ignorance of the law is no defence. Obviously, this means that people must have the ability to access the law so that they know how what they can and cannot do. Ideally, the access to the law should be entirely state funded. In many countries, however, this is not always possible and institutions that make legal resources available are separate from government departments. Many of these organisations are privately funded, and provide free access to a lot of the case law in their countries. This includes the South African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII) and the British and Irish Legal Institute (BAILII). We donate to SAFLII because we believe that the law should be accessible. We encourage other organisations to donate and support SAFLII too.
Why is this important?
It is essential that these services are free and easy to access. Making legislation and case law available on the internet makes it possible to reach large segments of the population.
Legal resources that are free and accessible enable people to become informed. This gives ordinary people the empowered ability to question the actions of the State and defend themselves against the State.
If everyone has the ability to access the law, gain knowledge of the law through those resources, then this contributes significantly towards achieving equality before the law. This can ultimately lead to legal systems becoming more fair. In jurisdictions where it is difficult to access the law, discrepancies in power relations between parties become exacerbated. If the law is available and accessible, then this goes some way to bringing the parties onto a more equal footing in legal disputes.
Access to the law can also stimulate economic development in developing countries. Companies that want to invest in developing countries can view inaccessibility of legal resources as an indication of legal insecurity. Therefore, in order to promote foreign investment governments should invest in organisations that promote free access to legal resources for citizens [link to our support for SAFLII]
Why do we care?
We are passionate about maintaining rule of law and using the law to help people with their legal problems. To do this, we believe that access to legal resources is an essential element of democracy, equality before the law and in the economic development of countries.