On May 28, 2013, a public Web site was officially launched that provides access to legal opinions of Australian attorneys general from 1901 to 1945 . Cheryl Brickell, a Society of Knowledge Base Publisher member, and her staff played a key role in planning and implementing the site.
I’m always interested in projects in which knowledge managers play a proactive role in planning, funding, and developing new resources. See below for Cheryl’s account of how the project was launched and implemented.
Related article from Montague Institute Review: Australian librarian creates award-winning knowledge tools
In 2008, key staff from the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) and the Attorney-Generals Department (AGD) met to discuss how to extend public access to some of the more significant Australian legal opinions written between 1923 and 1945.
Already two volumes of legal opinions, written between 1901 and 1922, had been published in the 1980s. The lawyers who attended this 2008 meeting thought that the cultural, political and economic significance of selected opinions written after 1922 and just after the Second World War would be highly valued by researchers all over the world. However, the lawyers didn’t realise it would take another five years to realize their vision.
At the time of the 2008 meeting it was suggested by librarians at AGS that serious consideration should be given to developing a public internet site for these selected opinions and to include short but interesting biographies of the authors, using a contemporary interface underpinned by a strong search engine. Like most librarians worldwide, their primary interest was to maximize access and minimize costs. Like the lawyers, it would take five years for their vision of a virtual repository to be realized.
There was no special funding allocated to this project, so most of the selection, editing, formatting and testing was done by AGD and AGS staff. AGS librarians successfully sought capital funding from the National Archives of Australia (NAA) and commissioned external consultants to develop the internet site. With the collaboration of staff at the NAA they also acquired funding to digitize 20 volumes of historical legal opinions held in the NAA , most of which were barely legible. Much of the project work was conducted after hours by dedicated lawyers and support staff across both institutions, writing biographies, editing copy, formatting work and rechecking work. The work was tiresome, relentless, huge in scope and demanded outstanding exactitude and scholarship.
Finally on Tuesday 28 May 2013, with a huge sigh from all those involved, the Attorney-General the Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP launched the third volume of Opinions of Attorneys-General of the Commonwealth of Australia with opinions of Solicitors-General and the Attorney-General’s Department. It tells the national story in the period 1923–45 from a unique perspective. The legal advice published in this volume grapples with the significant challenges to the welfare of Australia’s people during this time, including the Great Depression and the Second World War.
At the same ceremony, the public internet site was also launched. The site covers selected legal opinions written between Federation (1901) and 1945 and includes the first two volumes of selected opinions which, until now, had only been available to the public in hard copy. The site can be viewed by visiting www.legalopinions.ags.gov.au/
AGS librarians are currently arranging to have this site available on the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) and the National Library of Australia’a Trove site. Both these sites are heavily used by researchers all over the world. Trove is an online search engine developed by the National Library of Australia. It covers content from the National Library of Australia, the State and Territory libraries, including Libraries ACT, and over 1,000 other libraries around Australia. AustLII provides free access to over 500 databases of Australian and New Zealand legal information. The site can be viewed by visiting: http://www.austlii.edu.au/
This project is testimony to genuine collaborative work underpinned by goodwill and a common vision, forged by enlightened individuals to extend significant historical works to everyone – whatever the cost.
 AGS is now the principal body providing legal advice and services to the Commonwealth government.