We Like it Free: Legal Info on the Web


by Katie Tribe

Increasingly, Canadian legal information is made freely accessible online. Unless historical research is needed, it is rare to have to consult paper materials for legislation; it is now updated online very quickly after the law has changed, whereas it may take weeks for print materials to reflect the changes. While paid databases still offer valuable features, such as automatic citing references and links to secondary sources, notable cases of interest are also regularly made available via a number of government and not-for-profit sites, and come directly from the court where they were heard. Arguably, and of course depending on the particular skills of the researcher, certain types of primary legal information are now more reliable and authoritative when found online than when they are in print.

Perhaps the best and most well-known example of this is CanLII, the website run by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, which compiles Canadian legislation and case law and makes it searchable and downloadable via a user-friendly database. CanLII is a wonderful resource, as it allows researchers to enter search terms in the same way they might when using other popular search engines. It also has some very impressive features, especially when considering that it is a free resource. It recently added a “Reflex Record,” feature, which allows researchers to view related decisions and legislation and cases cited, and also adds subject headings, or keywords, below each case in its search results.

While CanLII is wonderful at organizing and helping researchers find Canadian legislation, it’s not the only option out there. Researchers and legal professionals can also often go directly to the source. The Supreme Court of Canada, Federal Court of Canada, Ontario Court of Appeal, Tax Court of Canada, and nearly all Ontario Administrative Tribunals make their recent decisions, if not all decisions, available for free online. The federal and provincial governments also make all legislation, including bills and regulations, freely available online, and their databases aren’t too bad, either. The CCLA Library maintains a list of Legal Links to government and not-for-profit sites that are useful for general legal research. We encourage you to have a look, check back often, and email us if you have any suggestions for new sites that may be useful to the legal community.

On that note, you’ll notice via the front page of the CCLA Website that we are currently looking for official CCLA Website Contributors for the Practice Portal areas of our site. The Practice Portal areas of the site are where we post articles, resources, forms, and website links that are relevant to specific practice areas, for example Family Law or Criminal Law. We’d really appreciate any and all content submissions, and no suggestion is too large or small; it may be a simple link, form, or resource suggestion, or a comprehensive opinion piece, article, or case summary – we’d love to see it either way. Help us to increase the amount of Canadian legal info available for free on the web by submitting some content. Send us a quick email to info@ccla-abcc.ca and we’ll be in touch! For more details, check out the recent call for submissions on the CCLA Website.

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