ContentJust Search pageLJF site navigationLeft navigation links
LJF Logo
Publications sectionJustice Awards sectionResearch sectionGrants sectionPlain language law sectionNetworks section
Just Search
 
Research Report: Best practice guidelines for Australian legal websites

Best practice guidelines for Australian legal websites


  1. The person(s) or organisation(s) responsible for the information on a site is clearly indicated on all pages of the site. Full contact details are provided including address, phone, fax and email
  2. Legal content is checked by a lawyer with expertise in the area
  3. The currency of the information is clear
  4. The jurisdiction to which any information relates is clear
  5. The content is written and presented in a way that makes a clear distinction between legal information and legal advice
  6. Where appropriate, users are directed to other quality sites and sources that contain related information. An annotation that briefly indicates the authorship, content or relevance of these sites enhances the usefulness of these links
  7. Consider providing links to relevant legislation and case law
  8. For sites where links to primary legislation and case law are considered useful, use the correct form of citation
  9. Where appropriate, users are provided with information on how and where to obtain legal advice or further information. Referral information includes name, address, telephone and fax numbers, e-mail and web address where available
  10. Permission is obtained to use content sourced from other providers. The source of the content is acknowledged on the site
  11. Links are not made to other sites by framing them within the original site, unless permission has been obtained
  12. The site meets recognised usability and accessibility guidelines
Introduction

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:


    Sue Scott
    Law & Justice Foundation of NSW
    GPO Box 4264
    Sydney NSW 2001
    Ph: (02) 9299 5621

Guideline 1: The person or organisation responsible for the information on a site is clearly indicated on all pages of the site. Full contact details are provided including address, phone, fax and email.

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.

Examples:

    "Frequently asked questions about divorce".
    This material was prepared by James Blogg (Solicitor, Bloggs Law Firm)
    15 Bear St, Collingwood NSW, Australia
    Ph: +61 3 9488 3636
    Email:< jblogg@xx.com.au>

    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
    Email:< jennifer_burn@fcl.fl.asn.au>
    Registered Migration Agent No. 80632


Guideline 2: Legal content is checked by a lawyer with expertise in the area.

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.

Guideline 3: The currency of the information is clear.

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.

Examples:

    The law as at 4 July 1998
    Consolidated as at 19 June 1999

Guideline 4: The jurisdiction to which any information relates is clear.

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.

Example:

    "This guide is for people who want to find out about the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. The information applies to people who live in, or are affected by, the State laws of New South Wales, Australia."

Guideline 5: The content is written and presented in a way that makes a clear distinction between legal information and legal advice.

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.

Example:

    "The information contained on this page is not legal advice. If you do have a legal problem you should talk to a lawyer before making a decision about what to do. The information on this page is written for people resident in, or affected by, the laws of New South Wales, Australia only." (From http://www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au)

Guideline 6: Where appropriate, users are directed to other quality sites and sources that contain related information. An annotation that briefly indicates the authorship, content or relevance of these sites enhances the usefulness of the links.

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.

Example:


Guideline 7: Consider providing links to relevant legislation and case law.

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.

Example:

    Marital status
    Under the Federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), it is against the law to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their marital status. During 1997, there was a significant decision at the Federal level regarding access to fertility services by unmarried women in Victoria.
    MW, DD, TA & AB v Royal Women's Hospital & Ors (1997) EOC 92-886
    (From Hot Topics: Discrimination)

Guideline 8: For sites where links to primary legislation and case law are considered useful, use the correct form of citation.

Using recognised standards for citations promotes accuracy and allows for the creation of automatic links. View citation guidelines.

Examples:

    Legislation
    Commonwealth Banks Restructuring Act 1990 (Cth)
    Transfer of Land Act 1958 (Vic), s.81
    (Name of Act) (Year passed) (Jurisdiction) (Section if applicable).
    Cases
    Commonwealth Bank of Australia v Franks [1999] NSWSC 401
    (the parties) [the year of the decision] (the Court abbreviation) (the sequential number of the judgment)

Guideline 9: Where appropriate, users are provided with information on how and where to obtain legal advice or further information. Referral information will include name, address, telephone and fax numbers, e-mail and web address where available.

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.

Example:

    Who else can help:
    Community Legal Centres (CLCs) & Other Community Groups
    Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) / Refugee Services
    Translating & Interpreting Services
    Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA)
    Professional Organisations

Guideline 10: Permission is obtained to use content sourced from other providers. The source of the content is acknowledged on the site.

Using unacknowledged content from other sources may breach copyright. It also makes it difficult for users to assess the content based on authorship.

Guideline 11: Links are not made to other sites by framing them within the original site, unless permission has been obtained.

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.

Guideline 12: The site addresses usability and accessibility guidelines.

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.



CLOSE
Legal Information Standards Council, Best practice guidelines for Australian legal web sites, Law Foundation of New South Wales, Sydney, 2000