There is an increasing number of sites on the web providing primary and secondary legal information. These sites emanate from government departments, community organisations, companies, educational institutions, and individuals. Users of sites will have varying levels of knowledge of the law. It is essential that legal web sites be of high quality.
The purpose of these Best practice guidelines for legal web sites is to promote the development of quality legal sites and to provide guidance to legal web site developers. They may also be used as a tool to evaluate existing legal web sites. Each guideline contains a recommendation, reasons for the recommendation, and examples.
These Best practice guidelines were developed by the the Legal Information Standards Council (LISC), which is no longer operational. LISC was a coalition of government, non-profit and commercial publishers and users of online information.
It is important to ensure your site is accessible and usable. The Accessibility and Usability Checklist provides guidance to web site developers on how to ensure their site is able to be found and used by a wide range of users.
Comments or inquiries should be sent to:
Given that anyone may publish on the web, statements of authorship help users to make judgements about the authority of the legal information and advice they encounter within a site.
Authority can be implied when the information comes from a recognised organisation, such as a government department or community legal centre. When the information comes from an individual or less well known organisation, stating the credentials of contributing authors will assist users in judging authority. This can be achieved simply by including qualifications or position held with an author's name.
Sometimes search engines take users directly to pages within a site. Providing authorship details on every page ensures users can ascertain the organisation or person responsible for the information.
Immigration Advice and Rights Centre
Level 4, 414 Elizabeth St
Surry Hills NSW 2010, Australia
Advice Line: 61 2 9281 8355
Admin Line: +61 2 9281 1609
Fax: +61 2 9281 1638
Registered Migration Agent No. 80632
It is essential that legal information is accurate. Non legally trained users of a site have no way of knowing whether the information is accurate.
Users should be able to check whether the information on a site is up-to-date and likely to reflect current law. Therefore, providing an indication of the currency of the information is essential for a quality legal site.
Many members of the general public are unaware of the concept of jurisdiction and do not realise that the law can differ from State to State. When legal information is sought via a search engine there is no guarantee that it will lead a user to material relevant to that person's geographic situation. Some sites give either no, or at best obscure, jurisdiction details resulting in users being misinformed.
The web is limited in its ability to convey the complexities and variations in how the law may be interpreted. A quality legal site makes this limitation clear, usually via a disclaimer that emphasises the need for those facing legal problems to speak with a lawyer. A disclaimer can also encompass the question of jurisdiction mentioned in Guideline 4.
Links that have been assessed for their relevance increase the likelihood of people finding the information they are looking for. The addition of annotations to these links assists users to judge whether the link may be relevant for their needs.
As well as reading explanatory material, many people want to find legislation and case law relevant to their problem. This may not be easy for members of the general public to locate. For example, a person wanting to read the law relating to divorce would need to know to search on 'Family Law Act', not 'divorce'. The addition of hypertext links will give the public an easy way to locate actual law on databases like AustLII and SCALEplus. It may not always be appropriate to make such links. The decision would need to be made based on the intended audience for the site.
Using recognised standards for citations promotes accuracy and allows for the creation of automatic links. View citation guidelines.
The nature of legal problems means that information alone is often not sufficient. Providing referral information directs people to sources of advice relevant to the area of law they are investigating. It also emphasises that the web itself is not a one-stop-shop for information, and that it has limitations when legal advice is required.
Using unacknowledged content from other sources may breach copyright. It also makes it difficult for users to assess the content based on authorship.
With a framed link, the external site to which the link has been created, is viewed in a frame within the original site. The URL of the external site does not appear in the location box. Framing outside sites in this way can cause users to assume that the information within the frame belongs to the original site. This implies ownership of the information and may have copyright implications. It also makes it difficult for users to make decisions about the authorship of the information.
Legal web sites need to be accessible if they are to be of benefit to all potential users. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) requires that access to information be provided without unreasonable barriers that exclude or disadvantage people with a disability.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) http://www.hreoc.gov.au has produced Advisory Notes on accessibility of web pages.
The W3C Web Content Accessibility guidelines <http://www.w3.org/TR/1999/WAI-WEBCONTENT-19990505/> provide assistance for ensuring that web pages are accessible.