Friday, 22 June 2007

Access to legal information

Peace Gardens, Sheffield

The journal Legal Information Management (7 (2) Summer 2007) has published an article wot I wrote about public access to legal information. In this I return yet again to my theme that the rise of digital information has restricted access to scholarly information for many people.

In my article I mention a warning that Dr John Jarvis of publishers John Wiley gave to a House of Commons Select Committee that giving the public access to medical literature would lead to "people who may have illnesses reading this information, marching into surgeries and asking things". The same applies to legal information. A little learning is a very dangerous thing when it comes to the law. There are probably enough litigious people around without encouraging them! If people come to the library with a legal problem the last thing most of them need is access to shelves full of law reports and legislation. They need to be directed to consumer guides to the law and directories of legal advisory services. However it is a basic tenet of a democratic society that everyone should have access to all forms of legal information if they need it.

I point out that public libraries can not afford to provide access to specialist resources and databases while academic libraries do not have an obligation to meet the information needs of society as a whole. Local co-operative schemes such as SINTO can help to improve things but as long as this country fails to adopt a national information policy there is always the danger that some people will be denied access to the information they need.

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