The Ministry of Justice has incurred the wrath of a charity behind a substantial database of case law accessed by solicitors free of charge, it emerged today.

BAILII has a contract with the Ministry of Justice to provide free access to case law to the public.

Today it tweeted a letter that the ministry sent to someone in France this month who asked to reuse some of the judgments published on BAILII's website under the Open Government Licence.

The ministry said: 'The judgments are provided by the judiciary to BAILII (assisted by staff who work at the Royal Courts of Justice). However, the MoJ is considered as the information provider of these Crown copyright publications. The MoJ agrees that these judgments can be reused under the terms and conditions of the Open Government Licence.

'Once the judgments have been sent to BAILII by the various teams at the RCJ, the BAILII website becomes the source of these judgments. The judgments have been put on BAILII so that they can easily be downloaded. Please go ahead and download the judgments you require from there.'

However, BAILII tweeted a statement from retired High Court judge Sir Ross Cranston, who is chair of BAILII Trustees. 

Mr Justice Cranston

Sir Ross Cranston

Sir Ross said: 'We have seen the letter from the MoJ. Written without consulting us and in ignorance of our status. No one can download judgments from our website without our permission.'

BAILII confirmed to the Gazette that the ministry did not consult BAILII about the contents of the letter, did not copy the letter to BAILII and did not make its contents known to the organisation. 'We are in correspondence with the MoJ and seeking a meeting,' a spokesperson said.

The ministry has been approached for a comment.

BAILII stands for the British and Irish Legal Information Institute. In 2017, BAILII had over 63 million page views and uploaded 40,000 cases. Its users range from law students to professors, from law centres to government departments, from litigants in person to senior judges.

Writing for the Gazette in May, Guy Beringer, a trustee of BAILII, said the service costs around £170,000 a year to run. It has a contract with the Ministry of Justice to provide free access to case law to the public in return for £50,000 pa but this contract is terminable at short notice. The remainder of its funding is through charitable donations from law firms, chambers, law societies and associations, the Inns of Court and individuals.