Looking for Bailii Streisand

Updated 3 (august 2015): Bailii did an audit
Updated 2: Followup blogpost
Updated: Bailli have responded in the comments

The origin of the Streisand Effect. Copyright (C) 2002 Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal Records Project, www.californiacoastline.org.When UK courts pass judgement, many of the higher courts send a copy of their written judgement to a service called Bailii (@bailii) as soon as they are published, to go on the web.

Unless the cases get deleted.

I’m sure there is a justifiable reason for case “Birmingham City Council v LB [2014] EWHC 981 (Fam) (21 March 2013)” to have disappeared from their archive. But how many others do? How widespread is that problem? Was the takedown requested by the court, or was it one of the parties without any form of judicial oversight?

We don’t know, because Bailii take cases down silently, without notification, and since they put many blocks on access, there is no other way for you to find out what is being deleted from judicial memory. And that sounds like something the Streisand Effect can do something about, since Bailii probably wont change their practices.

BailiiStreisand sets out to simply show which cases have disappeared.

Bailii’s rules prevent us from serving a copy of the judgement, and there may be a very good reason why a particular family court judgement shouldn’t be on the internet, but we can say what was missing, and allow others to do the research, as Bailii will not.

It’s a completely free, non-commercial service (follow us on twitter), and the UK has some new text-mining exemptions which allow non-commercial research projects on corpuses of text, such as publicly funded legal judgements.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Hopefully, Bailii will improve; but in the interim you can ask them on twitter why they silently delete things.


Update: paragraph 8/9 of this case confirms that it is not necessarily a Judge led process. So who decides when bailii cases come down, and where is the transparency? I appreciate that Bailii do not have the resources to make decisions, but if they have the resources to manually take a case down, they can make a log of that decision in a public register. Fixing Bailii will not happen in a single step.

Apr 2014
POSTED IN Uncategorized

3 Responses to : Looking for Bailii Streisand

  1. Anon says:

    I see that Bailii also uses a robots.txt file (http://www.bailii.org/robots.txt) to prevent search engines from indexing or caching site contents.

    So, effectively, people are only going to be able to access the text of court decisions if they know to look on Bailii – they will not show up on search engine results. So even though Mr Justice Holman has issued a public judgement in the Haringey v Musa case, you have to know where to look in order to find it. Not particularly public, and since most people Google for information, an opportunity to present informed impartial information to the public at large is lost.

    However, the robots.txt file also prevents caching, which prevents deleted cases from being accessed on search engine caches, which may be good.

    I guess that ultimately it’s an issue of the courts doing the right thing and being seen to do the right thing – at first sight it does seem that if a decision is removed from Bailii then it should only be done by order of the court, in which case surely the order to remove the decision could be made public.

  2. Joe Ury says:

    Several points if I may:

    BAILII is a small charity and we do our best to provide the public with access to all judgments which can be published.

    Our funding is chiefly via donations made by various organizations and individuals.

    We have a small staff – only two of us do the daily job of collecting, converting and publishing materials on BAILII.

    Some of your readers may not realize that prior to BAILII there was no online free access to most primary legal resources. Providing the public with such access is a concept to which BAILII is completely committed.

    Even the least amount of proper journalistic practise, either by reading information available on our website or through an email to our feedback facility, would have put forward our side of the situation regarding questions such as the frequency and number of judgments that have been withdrawn from the BAILII website (seldom and very few by the way).

    I hope some of your readers will ignore the air of intrigue and wrong-doing that some often wish to create and realize our valid concern for the harm that may result due to the publishing of a judgment which should not have been published for various legitimate reasons or which carries inaccuracies or names of individuals which should not have been publicly named.

    I note that the twitter: @BailiiStreisand recently published a list of tax judgments that have ‘disappeared silently’ from BAILII – a simple search for any of the judgments in the list would have located them in the database where they should have been published in the first place rather than where they we mistakenly placed.

    In short – come on, give us a break!

    Joe Ury
    BAILII Executive Director

  3. A Layman says:

    BAILII has become an excellent resource. Useful, especially for part-time academics, who prefer to avoid expenditure. Of course, legal information should be free otherwise, how can the principle Ignorantia juris non excusat be justified? Thank you, Joe and your colleague.
    Whether some cases should be lost or confined to a privileged few when the original judgment was not in camera is another matter.
    Not finding a necessary judgment can be most frustrating, but presumably, not everything can be spotted.

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