Friday, 8 August 2014

European Case Law Identifier (ECLI)

The European e-Justice Portal  sets out details of a newly-devised method of citation which I suspect will become important in the future. It explains how it works, in the process exposing the imperialism which lies at the heart, it seems, of everything the European Union does - this is not a European case law identifier, nor is the e-Justice Portal a European thing: Europe is a continent, and the legal entity with which we are concerned here is the European Union. I remain surprised that Mr Putin has not taken violent exception to these frequent attempts to apostrophise his country. (The Swiss, Norwegians and others might be expected to take less violent exception.) More to the point: lawyers work all the time with words, and giving them precise meanings (and using those precise meanings correctly) is key to our work. How on earth can we tolerate this sloppy usage of a geographical term to identify a smaller political unit? Yet every time a lawyer refers to the European Court of Justice they commit this cardinal sin.

Anyway, back to the citation system. Here's what it says:

ECLI is a uniform identifier that has the same recognizable format
for all Member States and EU courts. It is composed of five, mandatory,
  • ‘ECLI’: to identify the identifier as being a European Case Law Identifier;
  • the country code;
  • the code of the court that rendered the judgment;
  • the year the judgment was rendered;
  • an ordinal number, up to 25 alphanumeric characters, in a format that
    is decided upon by each Member State. Dots are allowed, but not other
    punctuation marks.
The elements are separated by a colon. 
It gives a non-existent example of an ECLI. More useful would be to give a real one. How about ECLI:UK:SC:2013:18. Case number 18 of 2013 in the court formerly known as the House of Lords, or SCOTUK as we might call it, taking a leaf out of the American book (and perhaps demonstrating suitable contempt for New Labour's wanton destruction of tradition - but I digress). That would be Meltwater. I note that BAILII does not seem to have adopted the 'European' approach yet.

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