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World Digital Libraries: An International Journal (WDL)
Vol.8(2)  December 2015
Print ISSN : 0974-567X
Online ISSN : 0975-7597

Development of Online Legal Information System for Indian Environment: A Survey of Librarians’ Perspective

Raj Kumar Bhardwaj: Librarian, St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi, Delhi-110 007, (E): raajchd@gmail.com

M Madhusudhan: Associate Professor, Department of Library & Information Science University of Delhi, Delhi-110 007, (E): madhumargam@gmail.com

DOI: 10.18329/09757597/2015/8202


The judicial system of India is large and complex in size. The amount of legal information is growing at enormous pace, and legal professionals no longer commit such large amount of knowledge to memory. It is cumbersome for the users to locate the valuable legal information related to respective problem. Therefore, a study was conducted to know the librarians’ perspective to develop a model Online Legal Information System (OLIS) to suit the Indian environment.  Findings of the study reveal that access instruction on the online resources are not clear, and there is lack of expertise in using legal databases. Majority of respondents suggested that the following resources and features should be incorporated in the proposed OLIS: Parliament debates, equivalent citation table, commentaries, search through appellant/respondent, Boolean search operators, printing and e-mail facility, help services through e-mail/discussion forum, citation search facility, search results filter, online account service, export of bibliographical record, save/export of retrieved results, save their searches, subject-wise clustering, Web 2.0 tools, online training, link to useful websites in the field of law, and help services. A number of suggestions put forward by the respondents are also recorded and incorporated in different features of the OLIS.

1. Introduction

The organization of legal information resources has acquired importance for the legal community and the masses. The major requirement of a legal researcher is to identify the primary law because it has to be the mandatory authority. However, the researcher cannot initiate research with primary sources and needs a guide to find the law (Tucker and Lampson 2011; Bhardwaj 2012). Besides this, the amount of legal information is growing at enormous pace, and legal professionals no longer commit such large amount of knowledge to memory. Law has to deal with a variety of problems, therefore, the researcher and advocate have to be trained to meet the challenges in the context of globalization. It is cumbersome for the users to locate the valuable legal information related to respective problem. Moreover, electronic tracking of cases can be useful for easy search and retrieval, grouping of cases, information processing and judicial record processing. An  information system is required  to track the cases till the final disposal. The system will also be useful in delivery of justice to citizens of India (Kalam 2012). The study is significant in semantic web environment where information has evolved after several re-looks in the field. It is vital to identify the major obstacles being faced by lawyers, law students, and research scholars in obtaining legal information. The present study explores the legal information resources and proposes a model for legal information system in Indian context so that legal fraternity and the common man can benefit from access to the legal information.

2. Review of Related Literature

Legal information management has been an area of concern for legal experts, information technology specialists, and information professionals. In order to understand developments in the field, it is essential to look into the progress in allied fields. There are many articles existing on the subject, few important studies related to online legal information resources and systems from India and abroad have been reviewed. Poydras (2013) stated that, “New professionals in the field of law must have legal research skills”.  Makri, Blandford, and Cox (2008) elaborate the behaviour of both academic and practicing lawyers for information required in their work. Academic lawyers often face difficulties in finding the information from digital law libraries. The major reason was incomplete and incorrect knowledge of the information sources and digital libraries. Academic lawyers frequently use electronic resources in their routine research work. Moreover, lawyers (academic and practicing) are highly dependent on commercial legal information databases, such as LexisNexis or Westlaw. In a similar study, the same authors (Makri, Blandford, and Cox 2006) tried to understand how students sought legal information from digital law libraries.  The study revealed that law students encountered many hindrances in finding information using digital law libraries but still preferred legal information databases. Mart (2013) found that in the legal information retrieval system, computer algorithms have surpassed human curated findings. Nevertheless, human curated findings are still in existence. The researcher studied head-note of human created key number systems in Westlaw and the head-note classification in Lexis’s database generated with computer algorithm, to know how these two systems dealt with comparable case head-note. It was found that the system supplied better results where more human intervention was present.

Amato, Canonico, Mazzeo, and Picariello (2011) studied the “semi-automatic extraction of information from legal documents”. The study found that a statistical–lexical method was useful for speedy retrieval of relevant results. Chou and Hsing (2010) scrutinized the “advancement of a legal document classification, clustering, and search methodology based on neural network technology”. In this study, top-n keywords were chosen with highest frequency as input of back- propagation network, and self-organizing map (SOM) method for clustering of judgements. It was found that the method used was to classify and cluster with high accuracy, and help to find the relevant judgements. Another study by Saravanan, Ravindran, and Raman (2009) found that  automatic search algorithms played a vital role in retrieval of legal documents in the electronic format. The keywords retrieval performed inefficiently during literal term matching because of synonyms and ambiguity of words. In the study, researchers proposed the ontological framework for user’s query for retrieval of judgements. Zhu (2011) in a thesis submitted to the University of Wisconsin, Madison conducted a “seminal study on LexisNexis” and found that legal information was entirely different from other types of resources. This research work advocated that primary legal information should be available freely to all.  Supplement to the above study, Fersini, Messina, Archetti, and Cislaghi (2013) observed that advanced applications of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), such as semantics and machine learning techniques in the courtroom are quickly converting paper judicial files into an integrated multimedia folder, where documents, audio recordings, and video recordings can be accessed through Internet.

3. Objectives and Scope of the Study

The objectives of the study are as follows:

  • To know the library and information services being provided by law libraries

  • To identify the different legal information resources subscribed and developed in-house by the study libraries

  • To know the legal information requirements of legal community in India from the perspective of librarians

  • To find out different problems being faced by the librarians while accessing/providing the existing  online legal information resources to its users

  • To know the legal information requirements and different features in the proposed model Online Legal Information System (OLIS) as suggested by the librarians.

 The scope of the study restricted to nine institutions located in Delhi and working librarians, viz.,: (i) Supreme Court Judges Library, New Delhi; (ii) Judges Library of High Court of Delhi, Delhi; (iii) Central Library of Indian Law Institute,  New Delhi; (iv) Parliament Library, New Delhi;  (v) Faculty of Law Library, University of Delhi, Delhi; (vi) Zakir Husain Library, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi; (vii) Justice T P S Chawla Library, National Law University, New Delhi; (viii) Library of GGS Indraprastha University, New Delhi; and (ix) Central Library, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.

4. Methodology

In order to design the proposed model OLIS, it is necessary to gain a detailed understanding of how legal community uses the existing systems, and their legal information needs, which are part of their everyday legal work. A survey was conducted using structured questionnaire circulated among the nine librarians as mentioned in the scope of the study. The structured questionnaires were distributed in September 2014 and completed by the end of that month. All the nine filled-in questionnaires were personally collected by the investigator, eliciting a response rate of 100 per cent. The final phase of the study is to design a model OLIS with the help of latest content management system and web technology tools, such as: (i) PHP programming, (ii) Dreamweaver, (iii) Photoshop, (iv) Ajax, (v) MySQL, and (vi) Java script.

5. Results

All the nine questionnaires received from the respondents in response to 26 questions were analysed in the form of tables and figures using simple statistical techniques. The questionnaire validity was confirmed using the statistical package for the social sciences (SPSS) version 16. The system analysis and design (SAD) method was followed to develop an open access online legal information system (OLIS) with the help of findings of the need assessment survey.

  5.1 Legal information resources and services

In this section of the questionnaire, the researchers identified the total number of databases being subscribed by the library including bibliographic and full-text, and whether the library has developed any in-house database to cater to the needs of users. In addition, what kind of library services were being rendered by the libraries to the library community including print and online was also identified.

  5.2 Legal information databases being subscribed

A question was asked regarding the databases being subscribed by the libraries. It was found that majority of libraries subscribed the Online Supreme Court Cases (SCC), Manupatra, Westlaw India, and LexisNexis India. However, the Judges Library of Supreme Court possesses the maximum nine commercial legal databases, followed by the Indian Law Institute Library and T P S Chawla Library of National Law University, New Delhi with eight databases.  The Faculty of Law Library of University of Delhi, the Parliament Library, and the Jawaharlal Nehru University Central Library possess the five databases, respectively. University Information Resource Centre of GGS Indraprastha University, New Delhi has four databases while Jamia Millia Islamia Library has access to only two databases, i.e., SCC online and Manupatra.

  5.3 Development of in-house databases

The researcher found that seven libraries out of the nine targeted institutions’ libraries have not developed any in-house legal information databases. However, two libraries, i.e., the Supreme Court Judges Library and Parliament library developed the in-house databases. The Supreme Court Judges Library has done remarkable job by developing 10 in-house databases. These databases are — SUPLIS, SUPLIB, Legislation, Database Catalogue, Database of Reportable Judgements since 2011, Database of Law Commission Report, Database of Committee/Commission Reports, Database of Select Joint Committee Report, Databases of reference published in the Supreme Court Reports, and Database of Newspapers Articles. The Parliament Library has developed the questions and debates database, bills database, and papers laid database.

  5.4 Rendering the library services

A question was asked from the respondents to mention the different types of library services being provided to users in the respective libraries. It was found that out of the nine study libraries, seven libraries, viz., Supreme Court Judges Library, Parliament Library, Jawaharlal Nehru University Library, High Court of Delhi, Law Faculty Library of University of Delhi, Indian Law Institute Library, and Library of National Law University have been providing major library services, viz., literature search, bibliographic compilation, newspaper clippings, current awareness service, case law retrieval, information retrieval through internet, reference service, document delivery service, internet search, etc. GGS Indraprastha University Library has been rendering all the services listed above except the news clippings. However, the Jamia Millia Islamia Library has been rendering the literature search, news clippings, information retrieval through internet, reference service, and internet search to users.

  5.5 Problems faced by librarians in providing services

The Supreme Court Judges Library has cited that accuracy, timeliness is the major hindrance being faced by the library in providing online library resources and services. Besides this, no database is up-to-date. The Faculty of Law Library of University of Delhi has cited lack of training using the e-resources, no printing facility for students and lack of infrastructure as the major obstacles being faced in delivery of online library resources and services. The other study libraries have also cited that lack of federated search engines to retrieve the legal contents in single shot is also a major problem being faced.

  5.6 Requirements for OLIS

Respondents were asked regarding their requirements in proposed OLIS. Several questions were asked and presented in the following sections so that proposed model OLIS can assist the legal community in India efficiently and effectively.

  5.7 Types of legal resources

A question was asked from the respondents to propose the different types of legal information resources to be incorporated in the proposed OLIS and responses are depicted in Figure 1.  It can be concluded from the statistics presented in Figure 1 that the significant legal materials that should be included in the proposed OLIS, the majority of respondents (100 per cent) showed preference for case laws, acts, ordinance and parliamentary debates, followed by amendments, notifications, speeches by eminent personalities in the field of law, and research articles in the field of law with 88.9 per cent each. A considerable number of respondents (77.8 per cent) recorded their choice for legal news, videos and circulars, followed by commentaries with 66.7 per cent. Book reviews (55.6 per cent) are the least preferred by the respondents to incorporate in the proposed OLIS.

  5.8 Types of case laws

Case laws consist of judgements given by higher (appellate) courts in interpreting the statutes (or the provisions of the Constitution) applicable in cases brought before them. Therefore, the case laws are vital sources in decision making of any dispute. A question was asked in the questionnaire that what kind of case laws should be incorporated in the proposed OLIS. Figure 2 shows that 100 per cent of respondents advocated including the Supreme Court and High Court Case Laws. However, 77.8 per cent of respondents emphasized to include full bench cases, constitutional bench, and High Court or Supreme Court bench with the Chief Justice in distinct cluster. It may be concluded from data analysis presented in Figure 2 that librarians’ desired to incorporate case law in proposed OLIS in distinct clusters of Supreme Court case, High Court cases, Constitutional bench cases, Full bench cases and High Court cases pronounced by Chief Justice court.

  5.9 Equivalent citations

Equivalent citation could be handy to retrieve the case law from law report by the users. Therefore, the respondents were asked whether to incorporate such facility or not. Total 88.9 per cent respondents revealed that equivalent citations of law report ought to be included in proposed OLIS. Further, respondents were asked to name law reports for equivalent citations, Figure 3 reveals that the majority of respondents preferred Supreme Court cases and All India Reporter with 88.9 per cent each; followed by Supreme Court Report with 77.8 per cent, followed by Judgment Today (66.7 per cent). The least preferred equivalent citation was Scale (55.6 per cent). The important features of equivalent citation table of Supreme Court Cases including Supreme Court Cases and All India Reporters are included in the proposed OLIS.

  5.10 Commentaries and browsing parameters

Commentaries are useful source of information to find the appropriate case law pertaining to a dispute. Hence, the respondents were asked whether to include this source of legal information in the proposed OLIS or not. The majority of the respondents (88.9 per cent) revealed that commentaries are useful source of information and, therefore, these must be included. In addition, the respondents were asked to suggest the descriptors to search commentaries. The choice of the respondents were recorded and presented in Figure 4.  It is apparent from Figure 4 that case law index is the most sought parameter to browse the commentaries (88.9 per cent), followed by subject index (77.8 per cent), and content page (55.6 per cent).

  5.11 Search type and parameter(s) preference

The respondents were asked questions related to search type and parameters to include in the proposed OLIS. It was found that 77.8 per cent respondents favoured to include basic search while 100 per cent advocated incorporating the advance search in the proposed OLIS. The respondents were also asked to reveal the search parameters in the proposed OLIS. It was found that 100 per cent opinion of the respondents to include appellant case number, judge name, subject, court wise, and acts/statutes. Besides this, 88.9 per cent of the respondents favoured inclusion of date of judgement and case note in searching parameters. 

In addition, 77.8 per cent of the respondents supported to include date before, date after, and sub-subject and 66.7 per cent stated that bench strength and section search parameter ought to be included in the proposed OLIS. Majority of the respondents (55.6 per cent) stated that synonyms search should also be added in the proposed OLIS. The data has been analysed and presented in Figure 5, it shows that significant search parameters include: appellant/respondent, case no., date of judgement, judge name, subject, case note/head note, court wise, and acts/statutes.

  5.12 Preference of search operator(s)

Basic and advance search types are prominent in searching techniques offered to users in any database. The basic search helps to use any keyword to retrieve the records out of the database, while advance search facilitates the user to retrieve the records using Boolean operators. In view of this, a question with multiple answers was asked regarding search type preferences and parameter(s) users in the proposed OLIS (Figure 6).

Figure 6 shows the preferences of search operators in the proposed OLIS. The respondents in the questionnaire revealed that 100 per cent favoured to include Boolean search operator, followed by proximity operator (66.7 per cent), and concept operator (55.6 per cent). Interestingly, string wildcard operator, range operator, wild cards with 44.5 per cent each, were followed by fuzzy search operator with 33.4 per cent. Same operator, not same operator, query level, and selectable truncation with 22.3 per cent each were advocated to be included in the proposed OLIS.

  5.13 Legislative information search

In order to search the legislative information, the respondents were asked to record their preferences. The responses were analysed and have been presented in Figure 7. As shown in Figure 7, 100 per cent of the respondents advocated incorporating the Act No. and Bill No., followed by parliament debate and amendment under the act with 88.9 per cent each; date of enforcement, subordinate legislation, and Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha with 77.8 per cent each. Besides this, 66.7 per cent respondents also suggested to include date of presidential, citation, and repeal on date in the search descriptors.

  5.14 Preference of help features

Users always need some support to search the information system which is crucial in their legal research. Help features in legal information system can be convenient to browse and identify the relevant contents. Especially for people who never used any information system in legal research, such facility could be wonderful.  In view of the above, a question with seven options was given in the structure questionnaire to know respondents’ preferences and suggest the same in help features to be incorporated in the proposed OLIS. Figure 8 reveals that 77.8 per cent of the respondents stated that they need help services through peer help, discussion forum, and contextual, followed by frequently asked questions (66.7 per cent); online librarian help and email help with 55.6 per cent each. Interestingly, the least preferred help feature was online chat (44.5 per cent).

  5.15 Preferred features

In order to make the proposed OLIS more useful, the respondents’ views were taken into consideration. Therefore, respondents’ preferences were sought pertaining to different preferences of features.  Figure 9 reveals that the maximum respondents, i.e., 100 per cent recorded their preferences for search within search results, save the search results, and mail the search results. Besides this, equal citation in law reports, further referred, dissent judgements, and relied upon judgements were suggested by 77.8 per cent respondents. Around 66.7 per cent suggested the save into account and overruled judgements, followed by notes (55.6 per cent).

  5.16 Preference of online account and allied descriptor(s)

Online account in any system helps the users to save the selected contents for future reference. Therefore, a question was asked whether to add this feature in the proposed OLIS or not. It was found after the analysis of the responses that 67 per cent of the respondents favoured to include this and 33 per cent refused to include this in the proposed OLIS (Figure 10).

Further, its descriptors to add in the proposed OLIS was identified and it was found that the respondents favoured to include case no. and date of judgement with 66.7 per cent each, followed by  judge name, subject, appellant/respondents, bench strength, case note, date before, and date after with 55.6 per cent each; 44.4 per cent of respondents favoured sub-subject, ordinance, court wise, and acts/statutes.

  5.17 Save/export of bibliographic records

The opinion of the respondents was sought related to save/export features in the proposed OLIS. The respondents’ responses revealed that 100 per cent respondents favoured to include this facility. Further, the question was elaborated to mention the type of export/save feature (Figure 11). It was found that 77.8 per cent suggested the drive of the personal computer and export of bibliographic record to email  (these are the two most sought features) and followed by bibliographic citation (55.6 per cent).

  5.18 Save the search results

A supplementary question with three choices was asked regarding opinion of the respondents on exports/save features in the proposed OLIS. Figure 12 shows that majority of the respondents preferred to save their searches in alphabetical order and date-ascending order with 77.8 per cent each, followed by date-descending order (66.7 per cent).

  5.19 Clustering of results

In order to refine the results retrieved from database, clustering parameters ought to be included in the proposed OLIS. Such service helps the users to achieve precise results within shortest possible time. In this connection, a question was asked to the respondents whether they would prefer to cluster the search results or not. The majority of the respondents (88.9 per cent) stated that they would prefer to filter the search results. Further, the filtering parameters were also identified and the respondents were asked a supplement question with seven options. Figure 13 shows that maximum respondents preferred to include filter the results by subject (88.9 per cent), followed by date and court-wise (77.8 per cent each); statutes, and tribunals (66.7 per cent each); advocate and judge wise with 55.6 per cent each.

  5.20 Web 2.0 tools

Web 2.0 applications facilitate users to tag, annotate, and discuss the contents available in various formats, such as text, video, audio, pictures, etc. (Macaskill and Owen 2006). In addition, it also empowers legal community to share their doubts and ideas among others through virtual platforms (Farkas 2007). These tools can help to reach those people who do not use open access legal information resources. Therefore, respondents’ view on Web 2.0 tools were measured (Figure 14).  It was found that 89 per cent respondents preferred to incorporate Web 2.0 tools and the remaining 11 per cent out rightly rejected this idea. An open-ended question was put forth to name the two Web 2.0 tools they use and to be incorporated in the proposed OLIS. Total 77.8 per cent of the respondents mentioned Facebook and Twitter. While 22.3 per cent respondents stated that they use LinkedIn and Google +.

  5.21 Online training

Training is very essential to use the system optimally. Therefore, the respondents’ preferences pertaining to mode of online training were recorded. Figure 15 shows that the respondents preferred training through online training, and multimedia programme with 77.8 per cent each, followed by email (55.6 per cent). The least preferred mode of online training is chatting (33.4 per cent).

  5.22 Suggestions

An open-ended question was put to the respondents, to suggest the ways to efficient design of OLIS. Many suggestions were given by the librarians for the proposed OLIS for Indian environment. Figure 16 shows the maximum number of responses in favour of user-friendly system. It is clear from the data analysis that history of case given in the system and clear description of information resources are the next preferred options. Online chat and frequently asked questions (FAQs) are also significant for the proposed OLIS.

6. Proposed Online Legal Information System

Based on the librarians’ suggestions/recommendations, a model OLIS has been developed and hosted on the URL (http://www.olisindia.in).  It has the following features that suit the information needs of legal community.

  6.1 Coverage

Case law of the Supreme Court, acts (State and Central), rules, parliamentary bills, notifications, circulars, parliamentary debates (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha), commentaries, speeches by eminent personalities in the field of law, video/audio contents, research articles, legal news and trade notices, press release, evidences, legal forms, treaties, notifications, etc. Citation search is also developed to retrieve the contents based on equal citations in other law reports.

  6.2 Searching features

The OLIS has three types of search options, i.e.,: (i) OLIS search; (ii) judicial search; and (iii) legislative search. OLIS search is categorized into three types: (a) basic search, (b) advance search, and (c) additional search.  The following 19 search parameters are also provided in OLIS: (i) Case Law Search, (ii) Citation Search, (iii) Evidence Information Search, (iv) Legal Article Search, (v) Legal Forms Search, (vi) Speech Database Search, (vii) Audio-Video Search, (viii) Commentaries Search, (ix) Acts (Central & State) Search, (x) Parliamentary Bills Search, (xi) Lok Sabha Debates Search, (xii) Rajya Sabha Debates Search, (xiii) Circulars Search, (xiv) Treaties Search, (xv) Trade Notice Search, (xvi) Press Release Search, (xvii) Notification Search, (xviii) Rules and Regulations Search, and (xix) Websites Search.

  6.3 Other features

Search operators, Auxiliary features, Bibliographic details and sorting of results,  Labels, Text display, Session filters, Online help (online video tutorials, FAQs, online chat, query submission, and e-mail help, etc.),  Discussion forums, Integration of social networking tools, General features, Contribution by users, Hyperlinks within record, and Useful websites.  

The snapshot of Homepage of OLIS is presented in Figure 17.

7. Conclusion

The findings of the study show that only two libraries, i.e., the Supreme Court Judges Library and Parliament Library developed the in-house databases. Accuracy, timeliness, lack of infrastructure, and unavailability of federated search services are the major hindrance being faced by the legal libraries in providing online library resources and services. It was found that 100 per cent of the respondents advocated including Supreme Court and High Court Case Law. However, 77.8 per cent of the respondents emphasized on the inclusion of full bench cases, constitutional bench and high court and supreme bench with chief justice in distinct cluster. It was also found that significant legal materials, such as case law, acts, ordinance, amendments, rules/regulations, notifications, parliamentary debates, commentaries, speeches, research articles, and legal news should be included in the proposed OLIS. Overall, 88.9 per cent respondents revealed that equivalent citations of law report ought to be included. On the other hand, 77.8 per cent respondents advocated including discussion forum and contextual help. In addition, 66.7 per cent respondents preferred FAQs for online help. All these features, which are strongly suggested by the respondents, were incorporated in OLIS so that the best services can be provided to the Indian legal fraternity.

OLIS will be useful for law students, research scholars, teachers, lawyers, judges, legislators, civil servants, government officials, library professionals, and general public. Some of the benefits of OLIS are as follows:  (i) OLIS will certainly benefit instructors who are teaching law in law schools in India; (ii) OLIS provides case laws of the Supreme Court of India, High Courts, District Courts and Tribunals. In addition, acts (State and Central), ordinances, rules, bills, notifications, circulars, Parliamentary debates (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha), commentaries, speeches, video/audio contents, research articles, legal news, trade notices, press releases, evidences, citation search, legal forms, etc., are made available to students, lawyers, judges and research scholars. OLIS contents will help tremendously in their study, research, and practice; (iii) Legal fraternity would be able to contribute their research papers, speech, legal form and audio/video contents. This will help and foster interdisciplinary research and learning; and (iv) OLIS can be used as a tool for learning the basic concepts as well as to deliberate on the emerging areas in the field of law.


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