Open Access to Public Legal Information – Thoughts and Lessons from Kenya”


A Presentation By

Michael M. Murungi



At the

Access to African Supranational and Regional Law

Hosted by the African Legal Information Institute, a project of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre

In partnership with the United Nations Development Programme

5-6 November 2012,

The Crowne Plaza, Rosebank

Johannesburg, South Africa


o   What is the role of government when it comes to infrastructure?

§  An effective transport and communication system is an imperative for human progress, or development (example of Valley Road in Nairobi)

§  The speed and efficiency at which goods and people can move is a defining factor in the growth of an economy

§  The work of government in this regard: urban planning, funding road construction

§  It is an open piece of architecture. You don’t need government permission to use the road. The permission is already given.

§  It is not a road for government vehicles. It is a road for all vehicles – private vehicles as well. In fact you will find more private than government vehicles.

§  It is also an interoperable piece of architecture - vans, tractors, buses, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians. This means that it has been built to a certain standard


§  what has changed about road construction today? (human effort, mechanical engineering technology)

§  What has changed about the cost of publishing today? (human effort, communications technology) – (example of 1906 Kenya Gazette, compared with 2012 Kenya Gazette)


§  What happened when government tried to monopolise the use of the road? Stagnation, limited choice, quality, cannot meet the demand, people don’t move, the economy does not grow

§  What happens when government opens up so that private sector can do a passenger business on it:

·      Explosion of consumer choice

·      New transportation business models emerge

·      People and goods move

·      The economy grows


o   What is the role of government when it comes to public information?

§  Information age. Information and knowledge society/economy.

§  Information is the lifeblood of the new society/economy. The movement of information – ideas – knowledge is as important now as the Movement of people and goods

§  The speed with which people and institutions acquire and apply new knowledge is the new definition the competitive edge

§  The role of government with regard to the movement of information, ideas, knowledge.

·      To provide the conditions in which a knowledge economy will thrive

o   Policies, laws and procedures for access to information (access to information as a constitutional right)

o   Not to strangulate the flow of information or to monopolize the dissemination of information (it is not the work of government to compete with the private sector or CSOs….)

o   To provide easy access to public information

o   Public information of good quality – interoperable

§  In the old order access to government print was the goal

§  Today, it is not enough to just provide public information – the metrics of access now are the

·      Formats

·      Technology platforms on which the info is provided

§  Open, Re-usable, interoperable

§  Access to public information is even a human right in Kenya


§  Kenya has had a very eventful experience in providing access to public legal information.

§  Laws and Law Reports for example

·      1897-1905: Kenya’s first output of law reports  (East African Law Reports)

·      Laws were published by the Crown Press

·      1934 – 1956: Court of Appeal for Eastern Africa Law Reports (EALR)

·      1957 –75: The East Africa Law Reports (cited as E.A.)

·      End of British rule in mid 1960s. Then the rain started beating us

§  1982-1992: Two volumes of what were known as the Kenya Appeal Reports



o   About NCLR

§  In 1995, the National Council for Law Reporting Act was passed About NCLR – NCLR Mandate -

NCLR Free Access message

Kenya Open Data -



o   But Governments can provide both access to basic/raw information and also innovate by providing value-add information products/services?

§  Moving from merely providing access to information

§  Generate and disseminate knowledge


o   Are we constrained by a lack of resources?

§  What was the cost of the technologies for road construction in the 1970s?

§  What was the cost (human effort and monetary expense) of the technologies for publishing the Laws of the colony of Kenya in 1900s compared to today?

§  Strategic decision by NCLR

·      Development partner support towards access to info programmes is more than private company profits from selling public information

·      There is non-financial benefit to providing easy access to information – a legally informed, empowered and participative citizenry


o   Geographical boundaries are disappearing

·      Nations are merging

·      Regional legislative bodies

·      Common markets – free movement of people and information

·      Nations are building regional, transcontinental roads

·      Building roads that shake hands with each other

·      Free movement of information and ideas?

·      What about access to regional law – are we building information architecture that makes it easier for our regional/continental/global citizens to easily access public information

·      East African Legislative Assembly

·      THE END