Govt should take responsibility for access to judges decisions

Imagine if New Zealanders had to pay to access legislation? That is how it is with case law now. The government should commit to making all case law publicly available for free.

  • Currently, there is no coordinated system for enabling the public to access decisions by judges.
  • Judges decisions (or case law) are one of the two key sources of law in New Zealand.
  • In many cases, it's not possible to understand what the law is or what you're required to do without looking at case law.
  • Equally, the main way judges are accountable to the public is by their obligation to give written reasons for their decisions. Judges are not elected and it is important that their reasoning in decisions is scrutinised so that it can be scrutinised for whether it is keeping pace with social changes and expectations.
  • Currently, the government effectively delegates publication of case law to private legal publishers.
  • These legal publishers have been linked to questionable data practices overseas.
  • In New Zealand, people cannot get access to all the case law required to understand the law without paying a private company for an expensive subscription.
  • Instead, the government should adopt a program of work that makes case law "digital first". This will enable all judicial decisions to be published and redacted using automated tools.
  • This will require coordination between Justice, Courts, the Judiciary and others, but it's essential.
  • The accessibility of case law should be considered equally if not more important than access to secondary legislation, which was a previous action by the OGP.

Why the contribution is important

  • Currently, the situation is like if New Zealanders had to pay to access legislation dot govt dot nz, which would never be acceptable
  • The accountability of judges is achieved through requiring them to give reasons for their decisions. The public has to be able to examine these reasons.
  • Adopting this as a goal of the open govt partnership would serve as an important means of sending a message to other branches of government that this issue is important.
  • NZLII is not funded adequately. It is effectively 1 person using systems that piggy-back of systems in Australia developed to meet Australian needs - for example, their software doesn't accomodate macrons on Maori words. The government would not delegate publication of legislation to an underfunded charitable organisation: it should not do the same with case law.
  • Opening access to case law may decrease the cost of legal services.
  • Opening access to case law may enable the creation of innovative digital tools and services that treat case law as a source of data.
  • Taking control of the system for publishing judgments will ensure that the publication of judgments serves the interests of justice, the administration of justice, and meets the needs of the New Zealand legal system.
  • Judgments are a very important source of understanding what is going on in our Courts and how people are being treated in the justice system.

by tombarraclough on April 16, 2021 at 10:56AM

Current Rating

Average rating: 5.0
Based on: 3 votes


  • Posted by KayJones July 24, 2021 at 23:20

    Relevant case law is an important part of being able to use the justice system for fair outcomes. Creating an artificial financial barrier undermines access to justice.
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