Speaking of access to legal data, France benefits from a public service envied by its European neighbors: legifrance.fr. This website provides free access to all laws and regulations which were published in ‘Journal officiel’ and are still in force since … 1539! This formidable database has become a real gold mine of open data since five datasets were added in 2015 under open data license on the site data.gouv.fr.

Datasets are the following:
• JORF: laws, ordinances, decrees and other administrative acts published in the Official Journal since 1999
• CONSTIT: all decisions of the Constitutional Council
• CNIL: all deliberations of the CNIL
• Associations: declarations of creation, modification or dissolution of associations governed by the 1901 Act, trade union associations and of corporate foundations
• Filing annual accounts of associations

“This data source that economists would call ‘non-rival’- as it is inexhaustible and usable
by all – is thus having the key characteristic of big data: of being reusable, even for
commercial purposes.” says Grégory Labrousse.

In an article for Lexisnexis.fr in 2013, Laure Marino, a professor at the University of Strasbourg and at CEIPI, cited three possible uses of big data in the practice of law:
– using data mining methods to study legal texts: which words are used and how often?
– applying predictive analysis models to calculate the total number of appeals made over a given territory or time, i.e. applying digital technologies for research work.
– applying data visualization tools (infographics, maps, images, etc) to present data in form of images and hence, to make it easier to understand and use.

A Slow Revolution

However, these new methods of data usage will still be held back in the area of judicial decisions. According to Articles 20 and 21 of the ‘loi Lemaire’, the judgments of the courts – civil as administrative – are intended to be ‘made available to the public free of charge’ in open data.

“This provision is very much awaited by lawyers and data scientists but it is not yet close to being effective”. Publishing this kind of data online requires prior analysis of the risk of re-identification to the involved persons, the objective being to prevent an individual quoted in a case from having his name published online. Two decrees in the Conseil d’Etat are expected to specify the modalities of this analysis.

The Ministry of Justice is responsible for putting in practice the principles of automated online posting of judicial decisions and for the modernization of all judicial information systems from appellate courts to judgments of civil courts (Cour de Cassation) and Court of Appeal.

The Directorate of Legal and Administrative Information (DILA) has been entrusted with the heavy burden of anonymizing judgments. The primary body dealing with this is the Court of Cassation, which has declared itself to be in a position to internalize this process in 2017.

At the end of 2016, a decree was drafted with the aim of clarifying the scope of legal open data. The schedule for its implementation will be specified in subsequent orders. The Chancellery has already shared an opining on the deadlines by referring to it as a ‘progressive and ongoing’ implementation. This would be worth watching…

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