Is the right of access to case law a fundamental right?
The right of access to justice is a fundamental right. It entails, inter alia, the access to independent and impartial courts, timely adjudication, and legal aid for those in need. Well functioning and effective judiciary is a cornerstone of every democratic society because it is indispensible for the enforcement of the rule of law. Another, equally important, aspect of the right of access to justice is the right of access to the law (legal information), although it is only rarely explicitly mentioned in the human rights treaties and charters. Public access to legislative texts is instrumental to ensure governmental transparency. But access to legislation is only one aspect of the right of access to legal information. Another one, often unmentioned, is the right of access to case law. It goes without saying that public access to judicial decisions is as important to individuals as is the public access to legislation and this not only in common law systems.
The dynamics of the right of access to public information and transparency has been fundamentally changed in the Internet era. Internet is the most accessible medium of conveying and receiving information.
Access to case law is even more important in the European Union because of the complexity of its judicial system. It is not only the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the Court of First Instance (CFI) but all national courts that are part of the EU’s judicial system. In fact, given the limited access to the ECJ and CFI for individuals, national courts are in most cases the only option for enforcing your European rights.
Access to foreign legislation within the EU is limited and difficult, although tackled by consumer centers and European Commission's programs. Comprehensive tools enabling access to foreign case law are rare. It is not surprising given the financial and human resources necessary to carry out a project of this kind.
European case law of national courts
CaseLawPedia is a project whose aim is to provide access to European case law of national courts. It will try to overcome the limitations of financial and human resources necessary to create any kind of central database of case law of national courts in the EU by using wiki and drawing on legal expertise of private individuals.
Who should use this database?
Access to case law is crucial not only in the common EU market, for those who want to enforce their European rights, but really anywhere. Often overlooked in the discussions on access to justice and better public awareness of European rights access to case law is key for effective enforcement of rights.
The focus of this database is the European case law of national courts, e.g. cases in which national court apply or interpret European law (or national law which implements European law), or cases which implement preliminary rulings by ECJ. It is meant for practising lawyers, researchers, law students, in fact anyone with interest in law. It is designed as collaborative, open content database where users are at the same time contributors.
CaseLawPedia should help European citizens to find out the content of their European rights, i.e. as defined by courts. It should help them to enforce those rights in another European state or at home. In the latter case the CaseLawPedia can help to find examples of how certain provisions of European law have been defined by national courts in other Member States. The court in one Member State will not necessarily follow the interpretation established in another one but it can be an argument in court proceedings. At the same time it would be interesting to see how national courts refer to judgments of their counterparts in other European countries.