Canadian Legal Research Blog
In an article published in the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Press has reported that a recent budget cut in the federal Justice Department represents about 20 per cent of research spending, and means the loss of eight experienced legal researchers.
The article is based on the contents of an internal report prepared for deputy minister William Pentney, which The Canadian Press obtained under the Access to Information Act.
The result is a diminished research capacity, which now must be better controlled from the top to ensure it supports the government policies, says the report.
“The review confirmed that there have been examples of work that was not aligned with government or departmental priorities,” says the October 2013 document ….
A spokeswoman for the department who was contacted by The Canadian Press for comment acknowledged that there is a “continued refinement of (research) work plans to focus on government and ministerial priorities”, but stated that departmental researchers will be free to reach any conclusions.
The Canadian Press article also states that:
The department has also reduced its subscriptions to print publications and legal databases, including QuickLaw, for savings of about $1.6 million a year starting April this year.
There are a couple of interesting tidbits regarding legal information issues in the 2013 Annual Report of the British Columbia Court of Appeal.
The Court’s Library Committee reports that in light of increasing costs the Judges’ Library has either cancelled subscriptions outright, or reduced the number of subscriptions, for 36 looseleaf publications.
The Report sets out the Court’s practice with respect to neutral citations and publication of judgments, as follows:
All reserve judgments are given a neutral citation and are posted on the Court’s website. All oral judgments of a division are transcribed, given a neutral citation, and posted on the website. Oral chambers judgments are transcribed and placed in the Court file. All oral judgments can be found in Court Services Online (CSO) attached as a document to the Court of Appeal file. Oral chambers judgments are available to counsel or parties upon request, but are not given a neutral citation or posted on the website unless they are considered to be of precedential value.
The Queen’s Printer of British Columbia has announced that, in order to increase access to legislative material, the content currently accessible by subscription on QP LegalEze will be made available on the free BC Laws website.
On April 2nd the following content will become available on BC Laws:
- current and historical Orders-in-Council
- Tables of Legislative Change
- Point in Time tables
The announcement states that:
The new BC Laws will provide upgraded features such as search capability, and the ability to create apps that can pull legislative data directly from BC Laws website.
There is additional content on QP LegalEze that will gradually be transitioned over to BC Laws, such as the Gazette Parts I and II. Once the transition is complete, QP LegalEze will be discontinued.
This is great news for anyone wanting to research British Columbia legislation. In particular, the removal in the 1996 revision of legislative history information from the legislation itself – into tables available only by subscription or through libraries – has resulted in many lawyers and students not taking the extra step to consult those tables. This information is necessary for any kind of historical legislative research, and for finding judicial consideration of earlier versions of the legislation. Starting on April 2nd, it will be freely available on BC Laws.
Congratulations to the provincial Government and the Queen’s Printer for taking this significant step in recognition of the importance of open government.
Now for some other items on my wish-list for BC legislation:
- access to a full version of the larger statutes, rather than access only in parts
- official version status for legislation on BC Laws.
In an additional email sent March 26, 2014 to subscribers, QP LegalEze Customer Service communicated that:
QP LegalEze will remain operational until all content from QP LegalEze is transitioned to the new and improved BC Laws.
The email states that content will be transitioned over the next several months, and that it will be duplicated on both sites during the transition period. Enhanced search functionality will be available on BC Laws starting April 2. Once all content has been moved to BC Laws, users of QP LegalEze will be notified of the specific date on which QP LegalEze will cease operating.
Over the next several months the WestlawNext Canada (WLNC) platform will be rolled out to existing subscribers, and made available to new subscribers. Law students on academic accounts will not have access until September 2014, but faculty will have access before then. This is the first of several posts that will explore selected features of WLNC.
Plain language and Boolean searching
The “plain language” search engine is the default search method in WLNC, when using the main search box at the top of the page. However, it is easy to run a Boolean search in that box if you prefer.
- If you type a query containing a proximity connector or a truncation command the program assumes you want a Boolean search and runs that type of search instead.
- If your query doesn’t contain those items, but contains commands such as AND, OR or quotation marks, then you are asked if you want to run a Boolean search.
- You can also change your preferences so that a query containing any of those commands will automatically be run as a Boolean search.
The Boolean commands have not changed from the old Westlaw Canada platform. You can tell whether your search is being processed as plain language or Boolean, because Boolean searches will have adv: inserted in front of the query.
The plain language search engine looks for the best match for your search terms, using frequency and proximity algorithms. It automatically looks for variant word-forms of the terms in your query. It also uses phrase recognition, and searches equivalencies for commonly used acronyms.
The plain language search engine works well, but it will work even better if the following adjustments are made to your query.
First, although phrase recognition is incorporated, you can force phrases to be recognized by putting terms in quotation marks.
Second, the plain language search engine may retrieve documents that do not contain all of your search terms, because it looks for the best match.
- To force a term to be included put + immediately before the term. To force a term to be excluded put – immediately before the term.
Third, the plain language search engine does not incorporate concept-based searching, in which synonyms are automatically searched. To capture synonyms use the following method, which also works in the Natural Language search on the old platform.
- Put synonyms in parentheses immediately after the search term, and separate the synonyms by commas. For example, to find synonyms for timber, your query might contain timber (lumber, wood, log)
A search from the main search box runs a federated search through all WLNC content except for the finding tools (eg., Abridgment Digests, Words and Phrases, ICLL). Alternatively, you can search particular content, including one of the finding tools, by clicking on that content link.
Search results for federated searches initially appear in an Overview format, showing the top documents in each content type. The results for each content type can be expanded from a menu on the left.
A drawback of the federated search is that your search results will contain documents that are outside of subscription. They will be marked as outside subscription in your search results.
- One way to avoid seeing these documents in your results is to restrict your search to a particular product or content type that you subscribe to, such as LawSource.
- If your search is restricted in this way, the search box will show that restriction.
Find by citation or name
Citations are searched on WLNC by typing them into the federated search box. If the citation is valid, all is good. You will easily retrieve the document without the search being assigned any “suggested charge-back” value. However, if the citation is invalid then a federated search will automatically be run.
- To avoid this, you can insert fi: or find: before the citation.
- Multiple documents can be retrieved by separating the citations with a semi-colon.
- If a KeyCite result is desired for a citation, then type kc: before the citation(s).
To find or note-up a document by name, it is necessary to use a separate tab, labelled “Find and KeyCite by Name”.
- Unlike CanLII, the federated search doesn’t seem to rank first those documents that contain the search terms in the name. Also, using the federated search will result in the search being assigned a “suggested charge-back” value.
- It is therefore better to use this separate tab to find or KeyCite documents by name. This method searches only in the name field.
- Unlike Quicklaw, there is no look-up list generated to help the user get to the correct document.
The Quicklaw interface is superior for finding by name and by citation, because of the look-up lists that are generated as soon as information is typed into the Find a Document box on the Start Page. CanLII does not include look-up lists for finding by name or citation. However, it does use this feature for its Noteup search box. Also, CanLII’s federated search engine is more effective at searching by name, because it puts those documents whose name contains the search terms at the top of the result list.
WLNC does generate look-up lists below the federated search box for some items:
- the name of a jurisdiction, such as British Columbia
- the name of a publication, such as a law journal
- the name of a database or topical collection
- the name of a statute (not all statutes are included in the look-up lists).
The subtle ADVANCED link to the right of the search box is the entry point to search templates for Boolean searches.
The Advanced Search option is best used for a content category, and provides a template designed for searching that particular content. Select a category from the Home Page, such as Cases and Decisions, and then click on ADVANCED.
- You will see a template similar to the current search templates in Westlaw Canada. ADVANCED queries are based on Boolean searching. Results will be relevancy ranked.
- If you type a query that contains search commands into the template, that will override the default connector in the template. The actual query that will be run appears in the search box at the top of the page, as you type into the template.
I have long held the view that researchers who have not learned Boolean search syntax will achieve better results on Westlaw using plain language searching.
- The main advantage to the templates is if you want to use fields to narrow your search, such as specifying a particular judge or counsel. However, many of the fields in the templates are not necessary for narrowing your search in WLNC, because you are able to filter your search results by the same parameters.
- WLNC does allow use of multiple search boxes from the template to create a query, which provides more flexibility than the old platform. In addition, you can boost words in your query by requiring them to appear at least a certain number of times in retrieved documents. However, there are no proximity options built into the template.
- You can overcome this by adding proximity commands to the query you type into the template. Pay attention to how the query appears at the top of the screen, to ensure that the actual query is what you intended.
All results in WLNC are initially ranked by relevance. This is a major improvement over the default ranking method in the old platform.
The relevancy ranking takes several factors into consideration, including citation relationship data. Some of the factors that influence ranking in the US product, such as digest classifications and user print/downloads, are not employed in WLNC.
Results for case law can be re-sorted by date, citation frequency, and court level. This type of functionality has been available for some time on Quicklaw and CanLII.
Results can also be filtered in many ways, depending on the content type.
Initial impressions of searching on WLNC
WLNC puts a “Google-like” search experience at the front and centre, but ensures that Boolean searches can be easily run. I think this is the right choice for a product designed for lawyers. However, the search engine must be very good for experienced legal researchers to rely on behind-the-scenes algorithms rather than crafting Boolean queries. My experience so far with the WLNC plain language search engine is that it works very well.
I suggest that users try both Boolean and plain language searches and compare the results. I would be interested to hear your views. One drawback to plain language searching as presented in WLNC is that there is no obvious way to search synonyms. However, this can be resolved using the method described above. It would be helpful if WLNC referred to this method in its Search Tips page.
The ability in WLNC to re-sort search results, and the easy access to filtering options, greatly improve on the old platform.
The tools for finding by name and citation in WLNC do not live up to the rest of the product. This basic function needs some attention.
Future posts will explore other features in WLNC, such as viewing and working with search results, using folders, and the new “suggested charge-back” structure.
It is time to submit nominations for the 2013 Clawbies – the Canadian Law Blog Awards. There are so many great blogs that it is hard to choose. Here are my selections – 2 Canadian and 1 American.
- Appellate Blogs – The Canadian Appeals Monitor, from McCarthy Tétrault LLP, is a great way to follow recent appellate decisions. It primarily covers Canadian appellate decisions, but also incorporates important cases from the UK Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court. This Week at the SCC, which is published on the blog, provides concise summaries of selected SCC decisions and leave rulings of interest to Canadian business and professions. The Canadian Appeals Monitor also publishes the The Second Opinion, which contains more detailed commentary from the Opinions Group of the firm.
- Legal Research and Law Libraries – The Stream is published by Courthouse Libraries BC. Legal research posts by library staff primarily cover legislative research and using free research tools. The posts are clearly written, with lots of visuals. Guest bloggers from the BC bar also contribute posts, on law and practice topics that relate to the practice portals on the Courthouse Libraries site.
- Legal Technology – VOXPOPULII is published by the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School. The posts cover a wide range of current topics in the field of legal information, and are usually presented in language that non-techies can grasp. It provides an interesting window into what might be coming next in the field of online legal research.
Quicklaw has announced two enhancements to its QuickCITE citators: the ability to conduct searches within statute citator results, and the addition of treatment signals to case law search results.
Searching within citator results
After obtaining QuickCITE results for judicial consideration of legislation, a researcher can now search within those results for phrases or keywords. This is done using a new search box called “Search within Citing Cases”.
This functionality was already available on Quicklaw for cases judicially considered, and is now available for legislation judicially considered. It is particularly useful if there is a large number of citing results, and allows the researcher to narrow the list to cases dealing with a particular legal issue or fact pattern.
This functionality is also available on Westlaw Canada (through Limit KeyCite Results) and on CanLII (by searching within the list of note-up results).
Treatment signals in search results
Quicklaw has added QuickCITE treatment signals to case law search results. This enables a researcher to see the status of any case listed in the search results, and link directly to the QuickCITE record by clicking on the treatment signal.
Treatment signals used in Quicklaw indicate that:
- the case has negative information (red hexagon)
- caution should be used (yellow triangle)
- the case has some positive treatment (green diamond)
- the case has some neutral treatment (purple circle)
- the case has citation information (blue hexagon with C)
This functionality is also available in Westlaw Canada, although the treatment signals are a little different. As with any treatment code, researchers should exercise caution in relying on treatment signals as a basis for deciding whether to review a case.
More information about citators and treatment signals
For more information, see the following pages on this site:
Keep your research current – Case citators
Researching Canadian Federal Statutes – Judicial consideration
Researching British Columbia Statutes – Judicial consideration
Making Good Choices – Statute citators
Making Good Choices – Case citators
The Library of Parliament, in collaboration with Canadiana.org, has published online the Historical Debates of the Parliament of Canada. It is a free searchable database of historical debates of the House of Commons and the Senate.
Coverage goes back to 1867, and ends when the Parliament of Canada site starts its coverage (1994 for the House of Commons, and 1996 for the Senate). For the few years prior to commencement of official reporting, an unofficial version of the debate is included on the Historical Debates site. These reconstituted debates are drawn from newspaper reports of the day.
As with many archival databases, it is challenging to conduct full text searches and to review search results in the Historical Debates online. Search terms can appear anywhere in the volume, because proximity connectors are unavailable and the entire volume is a record. However, if the user starts out with a statute name, and the relevant year or legislative session, the correct volume can be located quickly. Once a volume is selected from the result list, more specific keyword searches can be done within that volume. This two-step method is likely to be the most efficient approach to searching this material.
Other useful online resources for federal legislative research include:
For further information, see Researching Canadian Federal Statutes.
The Suggested Textbooks page in the Best Guide to Canadian Legal Research has been updated. Please let me know if you have recommendations for texts that are not included.
With assistance from the Law Society of Upper Canada and LexisNexis Canada, CanLII has added approximately 15,000 cases from the Ontario Reports to its collection.
The announcement from CanLII notes the following benefits to the profession and the public:
With OR cases dating back to the 1930s complementing the hundreds of new Ontario cases added every month, the collection is improved dramatically in both quantity and quality.
For the public, this addition extends free access to a valuable resource that was previously available almost exclusively through subscription-based or other paid services.
Prior to this development, there were significant gaps in CanLII’s coverage of Ontario case law. The addition of this body of case law will go a long way toward closing those gaps, and increases the reliability of CanLII as a tool for legal research.
Intra Vires is a Canadian citation tool, intended to help law students comply with the citation requirements of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (also known as the McGill Guide). Intra Vires has been developed by a University of Calgary computer science graduate and a University of Toronto student in the JD/MBA program. Intra Vires will not free students from learning citation rules, but it makes compliance easier and takes some out the drudgery out of the process.
What I liked about this tool
There are a lot of things I really liked about this tool:
- The design is clean and attractive, with contextual help in the right margin.
- The URL from CanLII can be pasted in, and Intra Vires will generate a citation based on the McGill Guide rules.
- Punctuation is removed except as required in the McGill Guide, and the style of cause is italicized.
- Up to two citations are drawn from the CanLII document. Those citations are ordered based on the McGill Guide.
- Citations can also be generated manually by entering the style of cause, parallel citations and other required information.
- Complex citations can be generated, including pinpoint references and case history.
- Intra Vires contains look-up tables for the names and accepted abbreviations of case reporters and journals. This is considerably easier than accessing the appendices in the McGill Guide.
- Intra Vires does a good job of substituting the correct journal abbreviation for the full journal name, and deals well with multiple authors.
- The features in the Book template work well, except that a semi-colon appears instead of a colon between the place of publication and the publisher. I expect this will be corrected in time.
- After the citation has been generated, the user can make further changes to the generated citation before saving it.
- Once the user is happy with the citation, it can be saved to the user’s account and accessed later. However, it cannot be modified further within Intra Vires after it has been saved.
- Intra Vires is not limited to Canadian cases. It can also be used for journals, books and dictionary definitions. Although there are modules for cases from the UK and the US, these are still a work in progress.
The Canadian functions worked well for the most part. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into this product. For example, the pinpoint feature will only show the option to cite to a page number if there is no neutral citation. Regardless of whether the CanLII URL is the static URL for a case, or the long URL that appears when a case is retrieved from a search result list, the program correctly inserts the information for the case. The program usually figures out whether the citation includes a reference to the court or jurisdiction, in order to avoid duplicating that information at the end of the citation.
Some room for improvement
My main complaint is that the program does some odd things in the style of cause or title field. Capitalization problems occurred when acronyms without periods were input. For example, C.L.E. would reappear as Cle. For some reason the word “Law” was also stripped of capitalization when it appeared in titles. Sometimes the space between words was removed.
A smaller complaint regarding Canadian cases is that the court and jurisdiction format is not always completely compliant with the McGill Guide. BC courts are shown as BC CA or BC SC instead of BCCA or BCSC, even if the acronym with no spaces is typed into the Court field. This also occurred for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Jurisdictions where the abbreviation for the court is not a four-letter acronym were shown correctly, such as Ont CA or Alta QB.
Where the jurisdiction is embedded in the reporter name, the jurisdiction was not always removed from the end of the citation. For example, a case shown as reported in the Ontario Reports concluded with (Ont CA), whereas proper citation format would require that the citation conclude with (CA).
The Citing feature, for references in a case to other cases, was inactive when I tested the site. It would be helpful if this template included a pinpoint reference.
I did not try out the US citation features. The UK features are not as trouble-free as the Canadian ones, particularly with regard to parallel citations and pinpoint references. However, the look-up tables are useful. I understand that both the US and UK modules are a work in progress.
The program does not allow a full case citation to include more than 2 parallel citations. On occasion, users may need to include an additional citation, such as where the case has a neutral citation, has been reported, and the version being used was printed from QL or Westlaw Canada. Users may also want to include a citation to a reporter from their own jurisdiction. However, even if an additional citation is typed in on the form, it is removed when Intra Vires generates the final version of the citation. A user can add the additional citation in the Result box that appears after Generate is clicked, or after the user pastes the citation generated by Intra Vires into a document.
Given these issues, users should take a careful look at the citation that is generated by Intra Vires and make any necessary modifications. The second Result box, which appears after Generate is clicked, permits the user to revise the citation before it is saved. After this, further changes can be made when the citation is copied and pasted from the saved list of citations into the user’s document.
Free for how long?
Intra Vires subscriptions state that they are free of charge, but expire on September 1, 2014. The intention appears to be to charge for the service after that, but I understand that no firm decision has been made about whether Intra Vires will continue to be free of charge after that date.
Intra Vires cannot be used at all without obtaining an account. I understand that this is necessary in order to save citations, but people might want to simply try it out without obtaining an account. The amount of information collected to obtain an account seems a little excessive.
Canadian law students have not had access to the types of citation tools available in some other jurisdictions. Intra Vires is a welcome product, even though it cannot check the accuracy of the citation itself, but only the format.
Will students learn legal citation if a tool like this is doing some of it for them? I think they will: the program can be viewed as a learning tool. Eventually, as students see the changes between the citation they input and the citation generated, they will learn the correct format. That assumes, of course, that Intra Vires will be able to correct the few problems there are at present, and keep up with the next set of citation changes that will be introduced in the 8th edition of the McGill Guide.