Monday, August 29, 2005

Situational Tags

I was going to post only once a day, but I'm afraid I had an idea. Sorry about that. It likely won't happen again.

I'm putting together a bunch of digital documents, a dossier, if you like, on the Charkaoui case. (Charkaoui is one of five people, all citzens of Arab countries, who have been held in Canada under a Security Certificate without charge [see the CBC "backgrounder"] The Supreme Court of Canada recently agreed to hear his appeal as to whether the issuance of the Certificate against him meets the requirements of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.) I thought that it might be of interest to some lawyers and students, and so I plan to put it in a resources section of Slaw, and to encourage others on Slaw to compile similar packages of documents in areas that interest them. I got the inspiration, in part, from my friend and fellow Slawyer, Louise Tsang, who's a reference librarian at the Georgetown University Law Library, and who assembled a wonderful guide to the U.S. Supreme Court nomination process.

This means I have to assemble all of the many court judgments and as many of the filed documents as are available to me, along with the relevant legislation, academic articles and precedents here and elsewhere. I'll likely order them by date and by issue, perhaps cross referencing according to various criteria -- I haven't got that far yet. But this is typical lawyer work, building and maintaining an intelligible file.

It occurs to me that the pattern for my dossier and that for almost any dossier on a complex case would be pretty much alike. Wouldn't it be interesting if each piece of relevant material (in digital format at least) were tagged with metadata that allowed it to find its "proper" place in a case file schema? LegalXML1 or the like could do the job. After all, law is very much a system in which each event occurs at a "level" and each level knows its place. It wouldn't be too much to ask/require those generating documents to meta-tag them routinely. (It might even be possible to reverse engineer current data, so to speak, to come up with useful "situtational" or "relational" tags.)

All one would have to do then is search for data by the case name and run it through a parser of some sort to structure the bits into a recognizable pattern. There could be competing patterns, of course. There's no good reason to restrict organization to one particular format. It'd certainly make my work easier.

1. A small irony here: on looking up the OASIS site that deals with LegalXML I see that the current headline is: "OASIS Members to Create Framework for Global Sharing of Criminal and Terrorist Evidence / XML Specification Will Deliver Reliable Authentication and Auditing to Safeguard Privacy and Increase Effectiveness of Lawful Intercepts"

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