We have been quiet, but busy keeping African legal information ticking and working on a couple of tech projects in the background. Today, we introduce LII-in-a-Box. 

Last year AfricanLII developed a set of functional specifications, essentially, documenting a simple, yet standards-oriented, approach to an online legal publication platform. The twist: we aim to make this platform easily deployable even in more resource-constrained circumstances. The platform is called LII-in-a-Box, but is actually an out of the box solution for free access legal publishing. You can read the full fuctional specification here. An exceprt on the rationale of the project reads as follows:

Information systems designed for the legal information domain have been in existence since the early 1970s. Commercial publishers developed systems for searching within, initially indices of and subsequently full text, case law and legislation. Immediately following the introduction of new technology, researchers found difference in the quality of legal research conducted. An unexpected outcome of the introduction of this technology, was the possibility that opened up for allowing citizens access to the laws that govern them and the acts of the judiciary that applies those laws.

Well-developed computer-based legal information systems have always attracted significant investments in time and money. This was due to the highly specialized nature of the content being processed into those systems and the specialized skills required to develop and maintain them. The development cost has been and continues to be a significant barrier to both government and private projects to make the law available online.

Compounding the problem, most African countries suffer from shortages of IT skills, fast and accessible links to the Internet core, as well as reliable service providers offering advanced hardware for hosting solutions. This state of affairs had contributed to a rather slow adoption of technology for the dissemination of law on the African continent. A cursory look at the landscape of websites carrying legal information (both institutional and independent), confirms the veracity of this argument. However, this situation is changing fast.

The introduction and now widespread use of web content management system using standard, widely available and well-understood technologies have opened up opportunities for developing low-cost but high-impact technology solutions for disseminating and researching the law. AfricanLII has been experimenting, and subsequently operating in a production environment, legal information systems based on the Drupal CMS for the past 5 years. We have built into these websites industry standards for publication and dissemination of legal material, while still in keeping with the local requirements of each jurisdictions.

AfricanLII, through this project, will leverage the availability of resources and its own research and development activities over the past years to produce a  packaged software solution allowing for an easy installation of a localized legal information system . This solution will assist institutions with access to IT resources, who are not necessarily skilled in the specialized field of legal information systems, to deploy and successfully maintain such systems with minimal or no further support from AfricanLII. This will allow free law publishing projects, usually small entrepreneurial bootstrapped startups, to concentrate their initial efforts and resources on delivering much needed sustainable access to the law.

We thank the African Transparency and Technology Initiative, a joint fund of HIVOS and Omidiyar, for the opportunity to develop and deploy this system over the course of the next months.

In the coming month or so, we will be pushing some of the code to the AfricanLII GitHub. Check it out.

We have invited our friends at the "original recipe" LII at Cornell, as well as the wider FALM community to help us with comments. We welcome your feedback too. Drop us a line with your own thoughts on the functional specification via the Contact form of the AfricanLII website.