In December 2020 BAILII, the British and Irish Legal Information Institute celebrated its 20th anniversary. We are looking forward to continuing and enhancing our services. The announcements by the Ministry of Justice and The National Archives in June this year about a planned new service for ‘important’ judgments and ‘cases of legal significance’ from England and Wales have caused some confusion about BAILII’s ongoing role. This article outlines BAILII’s historic contribution to facilitating access to justice and our future plans.

Access to justice

BAILII has long played a key role in the international movement calling for free access to law as means to promote the rule of law and access to justice. For many years, we have campaigned for the need to improve access to judgment data and the information flow by which it reaches the public through more comprehensive, speedy and structured judgment data for the benefit of all users. BAILII loads new judgments within hours of receipt. Usage is anonymous, requires no log on or registration, and there are no cookies, trackers or analytics.

We will continue to play our part in ensuring that free legal information services are seen to be appropriately independent. BAILII will remain an independent charity and the largest free internet provider of primary legal materials in the United Kingdom. We take very seriously our role in helping people to understand and use the law. We are determined not only to ensure that public access to case law from jurisdictions throughout the UK and Ireland is maintained, but also to develop our service to help users, and their lawyers and advisers, to interpret content.

Enhancing the service

In addition to continuing to publish all our current range of materials, BAILII has been working on plans to add valuable additional content.

An important development is our evolving initiative to provide access to high-quality fully indexed legal commentary and academic analysis alongside and interlinked with primary materials. We look forward to discussions with blog authors, legal commentators, and academic writers to offer them an additional route to share their insights and reach wider audiences as this project develops.

BAILII is also updating and enhancing its OpenLaw service, liaising with academic specialists, to support legal education. The service identifies and links to judgments of leading cases by topic for law students. These judgments will include nutshell descriptions to assist in understanding at a glance the significance of the cases. An example is the updated list for torts. The project was originally funded by JISC, at the time the Joint Information Systems Committee of the Higher Education Funding Council, and continues with the assistance of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS).

Supporting research

Part of our mandate is a commitment to support research in legal information. We sponsor an annual lecture by leading members of the judiciary and eminent academic lawyers, most recently Professor Richard Susskind. BAILII is also collaborating with an Oxford University research project team investigating the implications of AI for law. We expect that the findings of the research will assist MOJ/HMCTS and BAILII build robust data governance structures and inform future decisions on how data might be shared for AI applications and under what conditions.

Looking to the future

The forthcoming creation of a government archive for data analysis and for future generations is a major step forward for England and Wales. It is one for which BAILII has long advocated and is actively supporting, while maintaining all of our own content and services.

Currently, judgments in England and Wales are distributed directly by judges to interested parties including publishers. The addition of a new publisher of judgments is always welcome but BAILII hopes that this new role for The National Archives will not reduce the range of recipients of this direct distribution, or adversely affect the speed or selection of cases made available for publication. This would compromise both independence and access to the law.

BAILII is grateful to all its stakeholders, including the Bar and the legal community more widely, for their continuing support for our free, easily accessible and independent service – and one we plan to enhance further still. 

Our reach
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BAILII’s services have been available throughout the pandemic with staff working from home. Demand spiked during lockdown – in 2020, page views increased by 3 million to 79 million and downloads increased from 3.7 million to 5.4 million.
BAILII contains 102 databases covering 10 jurisdictions comprising 169+ gigabytes of legal materials and over a million searchable documents. Over 35,000 items are added each year (rather fewer during 2020 as a result of the effects of the pandemic on court hearings). These derive from many sources: actively sought from courts and individual judges, from collaborative digitisation projects such as the case papers of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, donated by or licensed from partners and supporters, in addition to judgments sent directly by judges.
BAILII covers materials from England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and from the Republic of Ireland, one of the few common law jurisdictions within the EU. BAILII’s current scope extends to the decisions of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, to other jurisdictions including Jersey, and we have recently reached agreements to publish the judgments of commercial dispute resolution courts applying English law. Judgments of the Abu Dhabi Global Market courts and the Qatar International Court have been added and other courts are under consideration. BAILII’s international links to partner legal information institutes around the world through membership of the Free Access to Law Movement allow users to extend their search even further (,