Thursday, February 14, 2008

A short history of legal informatics

In reviewing the Parliament Working Paper No. 2 (by Global Centre for ICT), which is an excellent paper in itself, I came across a good and short history of legal informatics- the use of ICT to process and support legal information and activities. I am reproducing and adapting this part of the paper here:

Legal informatics is the discipline which deals with the use of ICT to process legal information and support legal activities, namely, the creation, the cognition and the application of the law. As automatic processing of information has been expanding from mathematics calculations to data management, office automation, telecommunications and the global knowledge infrastructure, the domain of legal informatics has been consequently expanding.
Historical evolution:
  • The first realization of legislative informatics goes back to the 1960’s when the first databases of legal documents were started. 
  • The 1970’s saw the growth of informatics within the public administration, where large databases where constructed with various administrative data (e.g. population data, fiscal data,etc.)
  • The 1980’s were the time of the personal computer, which enabled the decentralized use of information technology by individual users. This was the era of office automation, when computers entered most legal and administrative offices (both in the public and the private domain), accompanied by suites of user-friendly applications (though the use of information technologies was generally limited to mundane applications limited to a single user, like text processing, archiving data, using databases).

  • The 1990’s were characterized by the creation of computerized information systems for supporting the activities of many legal organizations, which lead to the integration of the so far separate applications. At this time, in general, automation within legal organizations (parliaments, judiciaries, public administrations) started being conceived as an integrated enterprise. The introduction of ICT within legal bodies ceased to consists in the mere provision of new tools (leaving the existing procedures unchanged); it has become the occasion for reengineering processes according to the potentialities of ICT-based information systems, for rationalizing workflows of enhancing the capabilities of the concerned organization. At the same time legal informatics has started to adopt (and to contribute to) advanced techniques for managing legal information. Analyses of legal reasoning and knowledge developed within legal informatics have proved very useful for legal theory in areas such as legal reasoning and the modeling of norms and normative concepts. On the other hand models developed within legal informatics have been used within computing and in particular within artificial intelligence, in areas such as belief revision or defensible reasoning (Prakken and Sartor 1997).
  • Between the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s legal informatics has increased its impact on management and integration of processes concerning production and application of law. Profiting from the opportunities of the Internet, it has expanded its scope to the communications between legal organizations and their public, namely citizens, economic units, and their consultants (lawyers, accountants, etc.). In this way, it has become a significant aspect and an important resource of e-government, which in general terms may be viewed as the public sector’s use of ICT with the aim of improving information and service delivery, encouraging participation and making government more accountable, transparent and effective. 
  • Now: As the law is at the core of governance, legal informatics is, therefore, now at the core of egovernance. Its applications span from the legislative domain to the judiciary, to administration, to legal professionals. In all of these areas the use of ICT can contribute to the efficiency of legal processes and to their rationalization, as well as to the realization of legal values such as transparency and controllability (by providing information about legal processes), reasoned deliberation (enhancing the possibility of engaging in informed and reasoned debate), democracy (providing all citizens with information about social problems and their legislative and legal treatment, and new way to discuss such problems and to interact with representative bodies and with their members).

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