SALC, through its project the African Legal Information Institute (AfricanLII), and in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), hosted a conference on “Access to African Supranational and Regional Law” in Johannesburg on 5 and 6 November 2012. The conference was attended by delegates from African treaty bodies and African regional organisations, and was designed as a workshop to discuss strategies for regional cooperation in delivering access to African regional law.
Participants included speakers and delegates from the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), the East African Court of Justice (EACJ), the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), the Tribunal of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Secretariat of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), as well as the Judiciary of the Seychelles, SADC Parliamentary Forum, the Africa i-Parliaments Action Plan (UNDESA), the National Council for Law Reporting (Kenya), and the Southern African Legal Information institute. The Oliver Schreiner School of Law, University of the Witwatersrand and the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria were also represented.
Nicole Fritz, SALC’s Executive Director, and Ms. Evelyn Edroma, Policy Advisor on access to justice and human rights at the UNDP regional service centre in Johannesburg, formally welcomed all the participants and officially opened the workshop. The UNDP confirmed its support for a programme that would see information and communication technologies (ICTs) being used to deliver broad, timely and free access to African regional law and policy, similarly to the change brought about by free and open access publishers of the law in many African countries.
The programme focused on four main themes and there were sessions dedicated to each of these themes:
1. Access to Information and Access to Legal Information
A number of legal instruments on a regional level in Africa mandate access to the law, however access in theory does not always equate to access in practice. The Honourable Chief Justice of the Seychelles Mr. Egonda-Ntende had highlighted in his keynote speech the difficulties citizens, lawyers and judges face in accessing African law, and the profound changes brought about by the Seychelles Legal Information Institute in this regard. Emi MacLean of the OSJI then provided an overview of the key principles and the African regional and national legal frameworks with respect to access to information and access to legal information. Tererai Mafukidze, a founding member of the AfricanLII, linked the legal aspects with practical considerations such as cost of access and effectiveness of rights.
2. Challenges and Opportunities for Access to Supranational and Regional Law from Africa
A panel chaired by SALC’s experts, Regional Advocacy project lawyer Lloyd Kuveya and LGBTI project lawyer Anneke Meerkotter, , related some of the frustrations of practicing lawyers in accessing African regional law and policy information. Meerkotter said that this affected the ability of civil society organisations to contribute meaningfully to issues of importance to regional integration in Africa. Initiatives at the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) presented their projects, their sizable impacts, and the continued challenges they faced in obtaining and publishing comprehensive resources of African regional law. Sunkarie Ballah-Conteh of the (ICTR) spoke about the policy and practical implementations of access to the Tribunal’s jurisprudence. She invited participants to contact the ICTR to discuss best practices.
3. The Possibilities and Real Impacts
In this session, Roger Gachago of SAFLII, Michael Murungi of Kenya Law Reports, Tom Bruce of the LII at Cornel Law School and Mariya Badeva-Bright of AfricanLII spoke about the models that national LIIs in Africa provide in terms of dealing with the challenges of disseminating legal information in the African context. Roger Cachago spoke extensively about the impact SAFLII has had on the public’s access to South African national law and the increased engagement that this has brought about. Michael Murungi offered the proposition that the next step is to move from dissemination of documents to building information architectures that make it easier for our regional, continental, or global citizens to access public information from Africa. Tom Bruce discussed the principles of open access, re-publication and open standards that underpin the idea of international cooperation and spoke about their practical implementations.
4. ICTs for Access to the Law
Daniel D'Esposito of HURIDOCS, Flavio Zeni of the i-Parliaments Action Plan and Kerry Anderson of AfricanLII presented open source technologies and standards that allowed for user-friendly and multi-channel and innovative services enabling participatory access to legal and policy information. ICTs can facilitate both greater and better access to regional bodies’ legal and policy information.
The meeting concluded with the adoption of an outcome statement, where participants resolved to encourage free dissemination of legal information that makes local, regional and international usage possible; and to develop capacities of continental and regional institutions and organs to harness, document and produce legal information using new information technologies. It was also agreed to widely circulate the results of the workshop. The delegations recommended that African regional organizations and African regional treaty bodies should endorse and implement universal, free, open, timely and full access for the public to their legal and policy information produced and that such access should increasingly be implemented using information and common interoperability standards. It was also recommended that regular meetings on expert level in Africa be organized in cooperation with, among others, free and open access legal publishers such as AfricanLII.
The full text of the Outcome Statement is available on the AfricanLII website here: http://bit.ly/PZ5qK1
Presentations and speeches made at the workshop are available at the following URL: http://bit.ly/VUKtMW
Includes writing by Gugu Vilakati and Nduduzo Khumalo, and editing by Melody Kozah.