Montreal Association of Law Libraries (MALL): Position Paper on Access and Dissemination of Quebec Legal Information

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Montreal Association of Law Libraries (MALL): Position Paper on Access and Dissemination of Quebec Legal Information

Montreal Association of Law Libraries (MALL):
Position Paper on Access and Dissemination of Quebec Legal Information

     MONTREAL, 10 January 1997. - On 15 November 1996, the Montreal
Association of Law Libraries (MALL) submitted to the Minister of Justice, the Hon. Paul
Bégin, a brief responding to the concerns of the legal community regarding problems
associated with the dissemination of Quebec legal information. The Association is of the
view that the Quebec government must act rapidly in order to improve access to its legal
documentation both by the legal community and by those subject to the law.

     The Minister will shortly be presenting in the National Assembly of Quebec a bill
aiming to expand the mandate of the Société québécoise d'information juridique
(SOQUIJ), a Crown corporation under the aegis of the Minister of Justice.

     This bill follows the report of the Committee on SOQUIJ, entrusted by the
Minister of Justice with the task of reviewing the role of SOQUIJ. The Committee's final
report, made public in March 1996, includes several recommendations aimed at
increasing centralization of the processing of legal information in Quebec, as well as
enhancing its commercialization.

     For its part, the Barreau du Québec also submitted a brief to the Minister of
Justice, in January 1996, recommending that he take a broader approach by reviewing in
depth the entire process of dissemination of legal information produced by his Ministry,
rather than simply limiting the review to a re-evaluation of SOQUIJ's mission.

     MALL's brief goes even further, proposing that it is the responsibility of the
Executive Council to adopt a global policy on legal information which will allow Quebec
citizens easy and rapid access to the diverse sources of government information. Besides
the sources of case law and legislation, there are a variety of services within the
government producing "legal" information, which do not fall under the jurisdiction of the
Minister of Justice.

          You will find attached a copy of the Association's brief, which was drafted
by Judith Bird, Ronald Charest, Rachel Didier and Stephen Park. For further
information, please contact MALL President, Stephen Park, at (514) 398-4715, ext 5745,


Quebec Legal Information: Access and Dissemination

Brief presented to the Minister of Justice of Quebec in response to the report
- SOQUIJ: mission, orientations et choix pour l'avenir -

     The Montreal Association of Law Libraries (MALL) is a professional association
which exists formally since 1987. The majority of its members are legal information
specialists working in a law firm or similar environment, where they provide
informational support for the practice of law.

     By means of the present submission, we request you, with your colleagues in the
Executive Council, to develop a provincial policy of production and dissemination of
legal information which will allow the general population of Quebec to have rapid and
reliable access to the various legal information sources existing within the Quebec

Legal Information and the State

Legal Information

We define legal information as all information having a normative character, emanating
from all powers and branches of government: legislative (laws), executive (decrees),
judicial (case law) and quasi-judicial (decisions of administrative tribunals),
administrative (agreements and directives), as well as regulatory bodies (decisions and
orders) and government registers (of land, of companies and of personal rights).

Generally, the government authority which generates this information in the form of raw
data provides a certain minimal classification framework, for purposes of retrieval.
Given the diversity and lack of uniformity among these various legal sources, however, it
is still not possible for a jurist in 1996 to consult the Quebec legal corpus in its entirety,
even in the most comprehensive of libraries.

The State as both Producer and Disseminator

The State which, as noted above, is characterized by a multitude of services producing
legal information, sees itself also as disseminator of that information.

For more than twenty years, Quebec has been increasing its efforts to regulate the
production of legal documentation. The mandate to disseminate case law has been
entrusted to SOQUIJ, while Les Publications du Québec has distributed normative and
administrative texts emanating from the government.

In the more recent climate of budgetary deficits, these organizations are now required to
be self-financing, a goal they have achieved very well, but not without danger. For
obvious commercial reasons, they have both decided to diversify their product line, with
the result that we are now faced with duplication between the two.

The most glaring example is the publication of the laws and regulations of Quebec. Les
Publications du Québec sells them by the piece in printed version and, electronically, via
the Internet, while SOQUIJ offers these very same normative texts on both CD-ROM and
as part of their online database service. To add to the confusion, each of these versions
generally has a different currency date.

     The report - SOQUIJ: mission, orientations et choix pour l'avenir - defines the
commercialization of products and services (legal documentation) as the major element
of financing of SOQUIJ. In principle, MALL is in favour of the recommendation of this
report that responsibility for government legal publishing be centralized in the hands of a
single organization, but cannot agree with this tendency of attempting to extract a profit,
at all costs, from legal information. Such an objective would encourage the sale of legal
"best-sellers", while dissemination of other legal information to limited sectors of society
would be neglected as non-profitable.

     Following analysis of the above-mentioned report, we submit the following
recommendations with the aim of clarifying the issues when the time comes to take a
decision on the future of SOQUIJ.

Recommendation 1: Standardization of Computer Systems

     The government must bear in mind that it has an obligation to facilitate access to
and dissemination of legal information to the general public. It is our view that, in order
to meet this obligation, the government must require all its services producing legal
information to place in a common site, at the disposal of the public, all raw data,
organized according to a minimal classification framework.

     The action plan must favour dissemination via a single gateway, accessible by
means of an information highway such as the Internet, and must also provide for a system
of archiving historical information. The current situation must be rectified: proliferation
of databases operating on incompatible platforms, with a variety of non-user-friendly
search engines, and too many disparate user interfaces.

Recommendation 2: Quality Control

     At a reasonable cost, legal information produced by the government and its
services must be disseminated electronically to all those subject to the law, in the form of
raw but organized data.

     The legal community has the right to expect the State to exercise rigour in the
collection, entry, processing and dissemination of legal information, having recourse to
qualified personnel, ensuring strict quality control and providing excellent client service.

     Currently, the updating of legal texts on paper is subject to significant delays. We
believe that it is now possible to provide virtually daily updating of all legal information
produced by the government. For concrete evidence of this, one has only to consider the
Journal des débats of the National Assembly.

     As a means of accelerating the dissemination of legal information and controlling
its quality, it would be reasonable to accord SOQUIJ the mandate of developing standards
for the entry and validation of information, as well as the coding of raw data using a
recognized standard such as SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), and
ensuring that these standards are adhered to by the various services producing legal
information within the Quebec government.

Recommendation 3: Value-added Products

     The private sector must have the same access as any other member of the public
to raw data, in order that the legal publishers may develop and distribute value-added
products, such as annotated legislation, case law commentaries, specialized, topical
collections, etc.

     The private sector, by managing legal information like a natural resource, will
reap benefits from it, thereby contributing to the health of the Quebec economy.
Productivity growth and competitiveness of private enterprise must remain a permanent
objective of the State.

     We see no objection to SOQUIJ also offering value-added products, providing
this is done on a level playing field, without benefitting from any government privilege,
as is currently the case.

Recommendation 4: Admissibility by the Courts

     All official documents emanating from the government in electronic form must
have the same official value as their equivalent on paper. Economic considerations will
make it impossible to maintain two parallel versions, print and electronic, in either private
or public document collections.

Recommendation 5: Crown Copyright

     Legal information must form part of the public domain in the sense of the
Copyright Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-42. Under no circumstance can the State require
written permission or royalties for the reproduction of an official document.

November 1996


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