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Circulation and Convergence of International Juridical Norms: WorldLII’s International Courts and Tribunals Project

Thursday 4 November 2004, by Andrew Mowbray, Graham Greenleaf, Philip Chung

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Mr. Philip Chung and Mr. Andrew Mowbray, AUSTLII, Australia

In recent decades there has been a proliferation of
international Courts and Tribunals, and divergences in the international law applied by different Courts. This brings with it problems of efficient location of all international decisions on a legal issue.

This paper introduces the work of free access, non-profit Legal
Information Institutes (LIIs) across the world in publishing the decisions of global and regional Courts and Tribunals (including those from Europe, South and North America and Africa). The World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII) provides a unique central search facility for these decisions of almost all significant international Courts and Tribunals, now amounting to many thousands of decisions.

Their location on various LIIs demonstrates the effectiveness of the alternately decentralised and centralised nature of the free access to law movement.

6th Conference on Computerisation of Law via the Internet
Paris, 3-5 November, 2004

WorldLII’s International Courts & Tribunals Project -
Responding to the fragmentation of international law

Graham Greenleaf, Professor of Law, University of New South Wales
Philip Chung, Lecturer in Law, University of Technology, Sydney
Andrew Mowbray, Professor of Law, University of Technology, Sydney
Co-Directors, AustLII & WorldLII [1]
Responding to the fragmentation of international law
Legal information institutes (LIIs)
The scope of the ICT Project
Current contents - over 20,000 decisions
PCIJ decisions - images and text
Future inclusions
Cooperation between LIIs - A decentralised Project
Completion, maintenance and sustainability
Searching the Project’s databases
Searching the whole of the Project’s databases
Restricting searches to only some Project databases
Extending searches over other databases and resources
Repeating searches over all WorldLII databases
Repeating searches over WorldLII websearch
Repeating searches over law on Google
The Catalog/Websearch pages for international decisions
An invitation to international Courts and Tribunals

Responding to the fragmentation of international law

For over half a century, international law arising from the decisions of international Courts and Tribunals was relatively easy to find in the sense that it arose from a only small number of permanent Courts and Tribunals: the Permanent Court of Arbitration (1899), the Central American Court of Justice (1908), and of greatest importance the Permanent Court of International Justice (1919) and its successor the International Court of Justice (1945). Finding the decisions of the numeroPrior us ad hoc tribunals created to resolve disputes between States was no doubt always difficult.
Since World War II there has been a proliferation of permanent international Courts and Tribunals , initially in the form of regional Courts (particularly in Europe and Latin America), then human rights tribunals (including those part of the UN), and special tribunals for international trade (both regional and global in the form of the WTO bodies). More recently, international criminal courts both permanent and of limited duration [2], have swelled the number of sources of international law.
There are now somewhere in excess of thirty significant ongoing sources of international case-law that those concerned with international law may need to consider, plus the decisions of those tribunals (such as the PCIJ and the WWII war crimes tribunals) no longer extant. In some cases, the substance of the same disputes is being litigated before different international bodies, with the possibility of inconsistent outcomes. The whole process has been referred to [3] as the ‘Balkanisation ‘ [4] of international law , but in this paper we will simply refer to it as ‘fragmentation’.
Today’s international Courts and Tribunal s have responded well to the opportunity for greater transparency provided by the Internet, in the sense that almost all of them they provide their decisions in some form via the Internet [5]. As summarised in the Table appended to this paper, these decisions are most commonly provided in HTML format, but a quarter provide decisions only in Word or PDF format, with few internal navigation aids such as hyperlinks. In about a third of the Courts and Tribunals the decisions are not searchable from the Court’s own site (because they do not have a search engine). The decisions of a third of them are also not searchable via search engines such as Google (perhaps because they are dynamically generated from databases or for other technical reasons), and for some others only some decisions are searchable. Even where they are searchable via Google, it is not practically possible to limit a search to (say) twenty Court sites - extraneous material cannot be filtered out. It is therefore fair to conclude that the decisions of international Courts and Tribunals have remained fragmented, despite the Internet’s search capacities, and despite the serious but uncoordinated efforts of the individual Courts and Tribunals,.
What can be done about this? This paper is an introduction to the involvement of the free access, non-profit Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) across the world in publishing and making more accessible the decisions of global and regional Courts and Tribunals.
The International Courts and Tribunals Project is one answer , at a technical level, to this process of fragmentation: if the sources of international law are now scattered, they should at least be able to found conveniently from one central search location, presented in a uniform manner, and searchable in as many configurations as users require. The World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII) provides for the first time such a central search facility for the decisions of international Courts and Tribunals. The decisions are located principally in databases on WorldLII, but some are also located on databases on various other LIIs where this is appropriate because of region or language, It is a collaborative decentralised project of the LIIs.
After a year of development , the Project provides search and browse facilities over 20,000 final decisions in full text, from twenty such Courts and Tribunals. In most cases the decisions go back to the start of the Court or Tribunal. Databases and decisions continue to be added, and the collection kept up-to-date. Interlocutory or interim decisions and procedural matters are generally not included, only the final decision(s) in each matter.
WorldLII also provides an extensive Catalog /Websearch of Court and Tribunal websites from around the world, providing convenient browsing access and some search facilities over extensive information going beyond the final decisions of the Courts and Tribunals, and to the work of commentators on the Courts and Tribunals. Taken together, these facilities make up WorldLII’s International Courts and Tribunals Project.
Legal information institutes (LIIs)

For the information of those not familiar with them, Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) have developed since 1994 in various countries around the world, as free-access, non-profit, Internet providers of public legal information. They are usually but not invariably University-based.
The following LIIs jointly provide the content of the World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII) <http://www.worldlii.org/> :
• Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) < http://www.austlii.edu.au/ >
• British & Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) < http://www.bailii.org/ >
• Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) < http://www.canlii.org/ >
• Hong Kong Legal Information Institute (HKLII) < http://www.hklii.org/ >
• Pacific Island Legal Information Institute (PacLII) < http://www.paclii.org/ >
• Southern African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII) < http://www.saflii.org/ >
• The Legal Information Institute (Cornell) <http://www.law.cornell.edu/ >
• Droit Francophone <Easy
They have in November 2004 been joined by the New Zealand Legal Information Institute (NZLII) , and JuriBurkina <http://www.juriburkina.org/> .
As an access hub for the other LII’s content, WorldLII at present makes searchable over 440 databases of case law, legislation and secondary materials (law reform reports, law journals etc) from 55 countries. WorldLII also contains its own databases, principally those of the decisions of international Courts and Tribunals described in this paper, but also databases from some countries such as Timor-Leste and Cambodia. AustLII provides the technical operation and coordination of WorldLII. The LIIs have adopted The Declaration on Free Access to Law <http://www.worldlii.org/worldlii/declaration/> as a statement of their objectives and cooperation.
The scope of the ICT Project

Current contents - over 20,000 decisions

To search over the decisions of all international Courts and Tribunals available through WorldLII, a user can go from ‘International Decisions’ on the front page of WorldLII to the ‘International Courts and Tribunals Project’ (ICT Project) page shown below.
As can be seen from the extract shown below, at present the decisions of twenty different International Courts and Tribunals can be searched simultaneously from this page. This is not possible anywhere else on the Internet.

Extract from International Courts & Tribunals Project page on WorldLII
The Project currently includes the 26 databases as listed below , comprising 20 separate Courts and Tribunals (with the three WTO tribunals counted as one), plus two databases of human rights cases from many jurisdictions collected by Interights, and a database of introductions to each Court and Tribunal from PiCT (Project on International Courts and Tribunals).
The coverage dates listed below shows that for most but not all Courts and Tribunals the coverage extends back to the first decisions available. The total number of decisions included as at November 2004 exceeds 20,000. While this averages over 1,000 decisions per Court or Tribunal, in some cases the numbers are very low (eg ITLOS, NAFTA) but in others comprise quite a few thousands (eg ECHR, ECJ, gTLD domain name decisions).

The list of available databases from the ICT Project, showing check-boxes
PCIJ decisions - images and text

Decisions of the Permanent Court of International Justice (1922-1946) have recently been published on the Internet by the International Court of Justice [6]. These decisions are only provided as PDF images by the ICJ. We have included the PDF images in the ICT Project, so at this stage these decisions are only searchable by the name of the case or WorldLII citation (eg ‘Lotus’ or [1927] PCIJ 3). We are now capturing the text of the decisions by OCR so that the full text can be searched as part of the ICT Project, but the PDF decisions will still be presented in search results. Decisions can be displayed by year or by a full list of titles from ‘Recent Decisions’ [7] on the database home page.
Future inclusions

Requests have not yet been made to include the decisions of some Courts and Tribunals such as the EFTA Court and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Dili special Court in Timor-Leste has agreed to the inclusion of its decisions, We intend to request the Tribunals in Sierre Leone, Cambodia and Iraq, and the International Criminal Court, for permission to republish their decisions once decisions are available. As resources permit, an attempt may be makde to include decisions of other past tribunals (like the PCIJ) such as the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals. The only Court or Tribunal which has as yet refused to have its decisions included in the Project is the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
No doubt there are other extant and defunct international Courts and Tribunals whose judgments should be included in the Project. Suggestions are welcome.
Cooperation between LIIs - A decentralised Project

The databases in the Project are located on WorldLII, BAILII and Droit Francophone, illustrating how WorldLII is able to integrate the contents of its collaborating LIIs to create new resources not otherwise available. Other LIIs may be involved in future.
The approach we are taking to Projects such as this one is that the preferable home for any database is the LII with which it has the greatest jurisdictional affinity (as is the case with some regional Courts and Tribunals) or alternatively a linguistic affinity where a LII with an appropriate linguistic basis exists. Where there is no appropriate ‘local’ or language-specific LII, or where the otherwise appropriate LII would prefer not to host the database at present due to reasons of resources or priorities, then the database will be hosted on WorldLII. WorldLII is thus the logical host for databases of global scope (at least those in English), and the default host for any other databases required for the Project in the absence of another appropriate LII host.
For example, the decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Communities are located on BAILII, a European LII, and other European databases such as the ECHR may also be located there in due course once resource and technical issues are resolved. African databases, such as the UEMOA Court of Justice and the CEMAC Decisions are located on Droit Francophone because of their common basis in the French language. There is nothing fixed about this approach to cooperation, and it will no doubt vary with time and circumstances.
Where the complete decisions of a Court or Tribunals are available in multiple languages, the English language database will be located on WorldLII (or an appropriate regional LII), and the French language database located on Droit Francophone, with hypertext links between the different versions of the same decision. For the time being, the Spanish language versions will be located on WorldLII, as will versions in other languages. At this point only the English versions of multi-language databases are included, but broadening the linguistic base is the next stage of the ICT project.
Completion, maintenance and sustainability

Completion of the retrospective coverage of the database, including the multi-language versions of decisions, will take the WorldLII team at least until the end of 2004. We will then require the equivalent of one full-time staff member at WorldLII to maintain all databases in the Project and add new databases. If databases are located increasingly on LIIs other than WorldLII, as discussed above, then the maintenance burden at the WorldLII end will be reduced somewhat and shared more between all LIIs.
The historical coverage of any database in the ICT Project is readily apparent from its home page, and the extent to which it is up-to-date can be checked by comparing what is available under the ‘Most Recent Document’ button with which it available on the Court’s own web site (from the link to that site located on the home page). All of these aspects are illustrated in the screen below).

Extract from the home page of the ECHR database on WorldLII
Searching the Project’s databases

There are three types of searches possible over the Project’s databases:
• The default search is to search all databases (just type in search terms on the ICT Project page and press ‘Search’);
• A selection can be made from a number of pre-defined database groupings: (eg ‘All human rights courts and tribunals databases’ or ‘All European Courts and Tribunals databases’). ; or
• Combinations of individual databases can be selected by checking the boxes next to the name of each database.

The search engine used by the Project (and by all databases on WorldLII or accessible via WorldLII) is AustLII’s SINO search engine. The various search operators that can be used, are explained in the Quick Guide to WorldLII .
Searching the whole of the Project’s databases

Example 1 - Rape in genocide
The search below for cases concerning the relationship between rape and genocide shows the diversity of sources of international criminal law, with the first eight results including decisions from the Rwanda Tribunal, the Yugoslav Tribunal, the International Court of Justice, Interrights, and the PiCT database. This is a typical result from a search over the whole Project, in the sense that decisions from numerous Courts and Tribunals are usually found. This search would be much more time-consuming to carry out in any other way. A further advantage is that the search results are ranked in order of likely relevance, by the relevance ranking algorithm used by SINO.

Extract from search results for ‘genocide near rape’
Example 2 - Sovereign immunity
The Project screen below shows a search for ‘sovereign immunity or state immunity’ over all of the databases in the Project. This is the default search option (ie if you change nothing). The first five of 42 search results below show cases from the European Court of Human Rights (2), Privy Council, International Court of Justice and Interights.

Extract from search results for ‘sovereign immunity or state immunity’
A uniform method of citing international decisions
All decisions in the ICT Project have been given citations according to a uniform method. These are parallel citations to the official method of citation used by the Court or Tribunal, and can be thought of as ‘WorldLII citations’. The method used is the year of publication in square brackets, followed by the abbreviation for the Court or Tribunal, followed by the number indicating order of publication within that year. As does any other publisher, WorldLII needs a means of citation to enable its users to locate judgments it publishes.
Here are some examples from the screens above, and others:
McELHINNEY v. IRELAND (31253/96) [2001] ECHR 754 - The 754th decision of the European Court of Human Rights in 2001
• Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium) - Judgment - [2002] ICJ 1 - The 1st decision of the International Court of Justice in 2004
• BOVINE CARCASSES FROM THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (Dumping) - NAFTA Chapter 19 (MEX-USA-00-1904-02) [2004] NAFTA 2 - The 2nd NAFTA decision in 2004
• The "Lotus" case [1927] PCIJ 3 - The 3rd case of the Permanent Court of International Justice available from 1927
This approach is based on the ‘Court designated’ method of citation adopted officially by the Courts of Australia and the United Kingdom, and also used on LIIs such as PacLII. Many Courts now use this LII method of citation when citing cases, at least until they are reported in some series of official reports. It will be interesting to see if this also starts to happen in relation to decisions reported in the ICT Project.
Example 3 - Going directly to a case
Searching WorldLII by use of a WorldLII citation (discussed above) will take you directly to the case concerned - if you happen to know the citation.
It is also very easy to go directl y to a case if the names of the parties are known (even if only approximately). It is only necessary to search for one or two significant words in the name of each party separated by ‘v’. For example, the search ‘Belgium v Congo’ produces the following result allowing a choice between the two decisions involving these states as parties:

Search results for ‘Belgium v Congo’
Restricting searches to only some Project databases

It is sometimes desirable to search the decisions of only some international Courts and Tribunals, particularly where a general search will produce too may irrelevant search results because of the use of a term in a different context. The Project page provides a small number of the most popular limited search combinations:
All African Courts and Tribunals
All European Courts and Tribunals
All Human Rights Courts and Tribunals
All Trade Related Courts and Tribunals
More can be added if desirable (for example, ‘All South American Courts & Tribunals’ is being added).

Extract from Project page - limited search selection ‘All European Courts & Tribunals’
Check boxes are also given next to each Court or Tribunal so that they may be individually added to any selection of databases. As shown in the next screen, the choice of ‘All European Courts & Tribunals’ causes the check-boxes for eachof European databases to be marked. If it was considered desirable to add the International Court of Justice to the list of databases to be searched, it would only be necessary to check the box next to the Court, and (in effect) the search ‘European Courts + ICJ’ would be carried out.
Extending searches over other databases and resources

Repeating searches over all WorldLII databases

Having completed a search over the Project’s databases of international decisions, you may wish to see what results the same search would give if carried out over all of the databases on WorldLII (ie national Courts, legislation, and secondary materials such as law journals). This may be done by simply selecting the ‘Repeat search over ...WorldLII’ option from the top of your page of search results from the Project databases.

Extract from search over all WorldLII databases for ‘sovereign immunity or state immunity’
The first seven results shown give cases from the Supreme Court of New South Wales, High Court of Ireland, High Court of Australia, and UK Court of Appeal, plus a treaty and an Irish law reform report.
Two further searches may also be carried out to extend your search results outside the Project database: a WorldLII Websearch; and a Law on Google search. These are discussed in the next part of this paper, but will be illustrated here to show the results from repeating the search ‘sovereign immunity or state immunity’.
Repeating searches over WorldLII websearch

If the ‘Repeat search over: ... WorldLII Websearch’ option is chosen, the following search results are provided. The relevant pages of the WorldLI Catalog are listed first, and then the full text pages on sites in the Catalog which have been indexed by WorldLII’s web spider are listed.

Extract from WorldLII Catalog and Websearch for ‘sovereign immunity or state immunity’
Repeating searches over law on Google

Extract from ‘Law on Google’ search for ‘sovereign immunity or state immunity’
If the ‘Repeat search over ... Google’ option is chosen, the following search results are provided. The SINO search ‘ ‘sovereign immunity or state immunity’ is first translated automatically into its equivalent in Google’s syntax "sovereign immunity" OR "state immunity", and then a list of terms, ‘(law OR legal OR legislation OR regulation OR judgment OR treaty)’ is automatically appended to the search to limit the results to legally-related materials.
The Catalog/Websearch pages for international decisions

The Project also includes two catalogs of links to web pages concerning international Courts and Tribunals, accessible from the bottom of the Project page. These are located on WorldLII (in English) and on Droit Francophone (in French). Only the former is described here.

The WorldLII Catalog >> International Courts & Tribunals pages is an extensive catalog (or index) of websites from around the world providing links to websites concerning each international Court and Tribunal, both from the Court or Tribunal and from websites about it (such as PiCT’s website, or other locations of the Court or Tribunal’s decisions). The first page of this part of the Catalog is shown below.

Front page of WorldLII >>Courts & Case Law>>International Courts & Tribunals
The WorldLII Catalog also contains an extensive set of pages concerning all aspects of international law, of which the International Courts & Tribunal pages are a part. The opening screen below illustrates the diversity of information available.

The International page in the Catalog - www.worldlii.org/catalog/2500.htm
WorldLII’s Catalog is aalso used to send a web spider to each web site so that we can make searchable the ful text of each page of the website that the spider is capable of indexing. As shown in the example above, the search can then be limited merely to the ‘International Courts & Tribunals’ part of all the websites in the Catalog by selection of the option ‘Only WorldLII Catalog>>International Courts & Tribunals’.
The option ‘Repeat search over ... Google’ will translate the search into Google’s search syntax (but not for truncation), and limit it to law-related content on Google (but not necessarily to international decisions). This has been illustrated above in relation to the search ‘sovereign immunity or state immunity’.
An invitation to international Courts and Tribunals

We would like to conclude by encouraging any other international Courts and Tribunals whose decisions are not yet published or republished on a Legal Information Institute to discuss [8] such inclusion with the LII most appropriate to their jurisdiction, or with WorldLII if no other appropriate LII yet exists. Such publication will make these decisions far more widely accessible to both national and international audiences: as part of the general searches of the host LII; as part of WorldLII’s International Courts and Tribunals Project, with other international decisions from around the world; and ; as part of the over 440 databases searched with a full search of WorldLII.

Table - Features of International Court s and Tribunals own web sites

Int’l Court or Tribunal File Types Own Search Engine? Searchable by Google?
Central African Monetary and Economic Community (CEMAC) Site is down ?
Central American Court of Justice HTML only No Yes
Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Court of Justice PDF only No No
Court of Justice of the Andean Community HTML only Yes Yes
Court of Justice of the European Communities (including the Court of First Instance) HTML only Yes Yes (not fully indexed)
Commission of the European Communities PDF only Yes (See Note 1) Yes (not fully indexed)
European Court of Human Rights HTML, Word Yes No
Generic Top Level Domain Name (gTLD)
gTLD - WIPO HTML, Word Yes Yes
gTLD - Asian Name Dispute Resolution Center HTML No No
gTLD - National Arbitration Forum HTML Yes Yes
gTLD - CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution HTML but some in PDF only Yes (HTML only) Yes
Inter-American Court of Human Rights Word, PDF ?? (it does not work) Yes
Interights Commonwealth Human Rights Law HTML only Yes No
Interights International Human Rights Law HTML only Yes No
International Court of Justice HTML, PDF Yes Yes
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda HTML only No Yes
International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia HTML, PDF Partial (See Note 2) Yes
International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea Word, PDF Yes Yes
North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) PDF only Yes (See Note 3) No
Privy Council RTF (and PDF - see Note 3) See Note 4 Yes
West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) Court of Justice No No No
World Trade Organization* HTMLpreview and Word (full Doc) Partial - for HTML Preview Yes
United Nations Committee against Torture HTML Yes Yes
United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination HTML Yes Yes
United Nations Human Rights Committee HTML Yes Yes

* Includes WTO Appellate Body, WTO Arbitrators and WTO Panel.
Note 1. Search engine includes an option for a PDF search of decisions
Note 2. Search is only by case name or number - does not search full text of the decisions
Note 3. Search engine includes an option for a PDF search of decisions
Note 4. Judgments appear to be only listed in RTF but the search option includes PDF format and when searched, results appear from PDF versions of the RTF judgments

[1Contact or or
This paper, and the Project it describes, has been made possible by the work of the staff of AustLII/WorldLII and in particular Dijana Popin, Harry Mak, Ziming Ye, Stephen Fung, Madeleine Davis, and Takao Hasuike. It has been assisted by a research infrastructure grant from the Australian Research Council. The Project has depended upon the cooperation of all of the international Courts and Tribunals whose decisions it incorporates and we thank the Registrars and other officials of those Courts and Tribunals. Thanks are due to the Project for International Courts and Tribunals (PiCt) and UNITAR for providing a valuable opportunity to demonstrate the Project and thus a deadline to which we could all work, at the Seminar on International Courts and Tribunals for Practitioners from South-East Asia and the South Pacific Regions
Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand, 28 June - 2 July 2004, where the prototype of the Project was first demonstrated.

[2There will in due course be separate tribunals arising from the conflicts in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Timor-Leste, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Iraq.

[3The expression was used by speakers at the abovementioned Seminar on International Courts and Tribunals for Practitioners from South-East Asia and the South Pacific Regions, to whom the authors (who do not have expertise in international law) are indebted for information informing the overview in the preceding paragraphs.

[4“To divide (an area) into small antagonistic States” (Concise Oxford Dictionary, 6th Ed 1976); “To divide (a region or territory) into small, often hostile units.” (Dictionary.com); “The term generally describes the process of geopolitical fragmentation, and is used to depict any kind of political dissolution across the world. The term has also expanded to connote a varied tableau of scenarios involving disintegration, such as “the balkanization of the Internet. Taking its name from the divisive and conflict-ridden Balkan region of Europe, balkanization has come to refer to any region in the world faced with internal turmoil and schisms.” <http://www.countrywatch.com/>

[5This can be checked in the WorldLII Catalog at <http://www.worldlii.org/catalog/256...>

[8The following may be contacted concerning the inclusion of decisions of international Courts and Tribunals on a Legal Information Institute:
• BAILII - Europe - Mr Joe Ury, Co-Director <Joe.Ury@sas.ac.uk>
• CanLII - North America - Professor Daniel Poulin, Director, LexUM / CanLII <daniel.poulin@umontreal.ca>
• Droit Francophone - decisions in French - Pierre-Paul Lemyre, Director
• PacLII - Pacific Island region - Ms Robynne Blake, Manager
• SAFLII - South Africa - Professor Iain Currie, Director
• WorldLII - global Courts and Tribunals, and where no other LII is appropriate or available - Professor Graham Greenleaf, Co-Director < graham@austlii.edu.au> (or for AustLII - Australasia)

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