Australasia has a rich and complex legal history since the first European settlement, and our knowledge of legal practice and precedent in the colonies of Australasia is still developing. The Australasian Colonial Legal History Library project is an ARC-funded project being carried out by the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) since January 2012 with input from 18 legal historians from Universities across Australia. Cooperation with other parties who have already built invaluable and pioneering online resources for Australasian colonial law is an essential part of the project.Update
AustLII is a free access online service which has operated since 1995 as a joint facility provided by UNSW and UTS Law Faculties , and now provides over 500 databases, with usage of over 700,000 page accesses per day. The Colonial Legal History Library project is therefore being built within a large and mature research infrastructure, and this presents challenges as well as advantages. In particular, many of the AustLII databases cover the whole period from the formation of a colony to the present, so the databases for this Library have to be ‘virtual’ databases extracted from this larger corpus.
The paper explains the construction, content and features of the first version of the Library, which as of July 2012 contains 12 databases including one case law database from each of the seven colonies (including New Zealand), some of which are ‘recovered’ cases from newspaper reports, the complete annual legislation to 1900 from three of the colonies, plus legal scholarship concerning the colonial era. These databases provide over 20,000 documents so far, and the Victorian Government Gazette 1851-1900 another 200,000. The Library also includes the LawCite citator, which allows the subsequent citation history of any colonial case to be tracked, including if cited by courts outside Australasia.
The medium term aim of this part of the ARC project (which extends to 1950 in its full scope) is to include all legislation, reported cases, and cases which can be ‘recovered’, from the inception of each colony to 1900. Scholarship (old and new) and key source materials are also being added, as budgets permit. We hope that the Library will be a leader in the creation of legal history resources from the colonial era.
See also this helpful comment by a law librarian at the University of Otago and this one on comparable Canadian efforts.