It is now more than 800 years since the Magna Carta of 1215, soon after which English law started to document its history. In some ex-colonies of the British Empire, the common law has been part of their legal history for over 200 years. This presentation sets out the background to the Foundations of the Common Law Library (1215-1914), and the launch of a free access Prototype of the Library.
This project is based on collaboration between thirteen free access Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) from across the common law world. Their pre-1915 content is now searchable from one location on the Commonwealth Legal Information Institute (CommonLII). As of 3 October 2018, the Prototype Library includes 100 databases containing over 500,000 searchable items, from 1220-1914. There are 179,000 cases; 24,000 legislation items; 300,000 gazettes; and 3,000 other items, primarily legal scholarship but also some treaties. There is substantial content from 32 pre-1915 jurisdictions.
The paper includes examples of searches of the Library and different ways by which search results can be displayed. In particular, the interconnections between cases over time, and across geographical boundaries is illustrated.
The necessary conditions for development from a Prototype to the fully developed Library are discussed. The role of the common law as part of the intangible cultural heritage of mankind is considered.
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