Four projects to find ways of extracting knowledge from more than 150 years of legal case reports have got under way in the latest initiative to open up justice with technology. The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (ICLR) for England and Wales, the not-for-profit body set up in 1865 to publish authorised reports of judgments, this week opened a research initiative to find new ways of tapping an 'ocean of insight' in the corpus of law reports. 

The ICLR lab will open up case law data in a 'safe space' to collaborative projects, Daniel Hoadley, the ICLR's head of research said. The aim is 'to provide a focal point for advanced development that stands to benefit ordinary people wherever they seek legal advice'.

Hoadley said 'law tech' innovation in the UK had fallen behind that in the US, Canada and Australia because data is locked up in historic case reports only understandable by experts. 'Legal innovation in the UK is in a weird place,' he said. 'On the one hand, the big firms are furiously investing in technology to gain an edge over their competitors. On the other hand, the basic components of a modern legal system that works for all, such as comprehensive open access to case law, are conspicuous by their absence.'

The four initial projects set up by the ICLR lab are:

  • Blackstone, which will apply artificial intelligence techniques to enriching unstructured legal text;
  • Friction, which aims to promote open access to case law by analysing and mapping the 'judgment supply chain';
  • Endless Blue, a 'conceptual project focused on modelling the connections between the various sources of English law'; and
  • Raconteur, which will investigate ways of making case reports understandable to litigants in person. 

Potential partners in the initiative will include the courts, universities, barristers, law firms, third-sector organisations, technology companies and start-ups, Hoadley said.