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NZLII provides free access to legal information

One legal database lawyers should bookmark in their browsers is NZLII.

It is free and can, therefore, help to reduce commercial costs. And it is rapidly becoming the one-stop shop for accessing primary law.

Pronounced “en zed lee”, the letters stand for New Zealand Legal Information Institute, and it is part of the international Legal Information Institute family.

From case law to legislation, from law journals to law reform, a wealth of information is on the site, www.nzlii.org.

A user can search for a legal idea across all those sources in one operation ‒ because they have all been loaded in one site. There is no need to go to a series of different publicly available websites to search for this primary and secondary material; and, in some cases, there is no website collection even to search.

In fact, when it comes to cases, almost the full range of New Zealand decisions is available. Only the District Court and Family Court decisions are needed to complete the case law coverage.

From the Supreme Court through to the Coroner’s Court, to tribunals, authorities and government agency decisions, the range is available on the “NZ Case Law” page of the website.

Three other pages provide access to New Zealand legislation, law journals and other materials.

The legislation page allows access to acts, regulations, including repealed regulations, and bills from 1998. As well as the acts themselves, there is access to repealed acts, acts as enacted from 1841 to 2007 and the 1908 consolidation of New Zealand historical acts.

The law journals page provides access to six journals: Auckland University Law Review, Canterbury Law Review, New Zealand Yearbook of International Law, Otago Law Review, Victoria University of Wellington Law Review and Waikato Law Review.

The other NZ materials page provides access to Law Commission reports and papers, the New Zealand Treaty Series from 1944 and New Zealand treaties in force.

Launched as a test site in mid-2004, the resource has grown over the intervening six-plus years.

And much of that growth has been thanks to NZLII’s principal sponsor, the New Zealand Law Foundation, says NZLII Director Donna Buckingham, an Associate Professor at the Otago University’s Law Faculty.

“We are very grateful to the Law Foundation,” she says. “We would never have got as far as we have without them.”

Another big contributor has been volunteer labour. Many hundreds of hours of unpaid work has helped make the site what it is today.

NZLII owes its existence to a panel discussion at the 2003 Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) Conference. The panel discussed New Zealand’s progress towards free access to law.

“Problem case of the Pacific: New Zealand” was the title of the session.

Associate Professor Buckingham reported on the accessibility to New Zealand case law, and promoted the advent of an NZLII.

Her suggestion was taken up in the discussion that followed, which followed the line that an NZLII would provide a “solution” to the perception that New Zealand lagged behind in providing free access to legal material.

A group of five agreed to assess the viability of such a body, and NZLII emerged, with its website going live in 2004.

NZLII’s patron is Sir Kenneth Keith.

One of the reasons Sir Kenneth was approached to become patron, Associate Professor Buckingham says, is that he was an initial member of the Law Commission and an early Commission president.

One of the Commission’s statutory briefs was to consider the understandability of and access to the law.

NZLII is a joint project of Otago University’s Law Faculty, Canterbury University and AustLII with the assistance of Victoria University’s Law School. It is managed as a joint operation between Associate Professor Buckingham and AustLII’s Co-Directors Andrew Mowbray, Graham Greenleaf and Philip Chung.

This article was published in LawTalk 782, 7 October 2011, page 15.

Last updated on the 11th May 2012