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Legal Informatics – An Arab Perspective
United Nations House, Beirut, 12-14 December 2005‎

‎1. Background‎

Legal informatics is an evolving field that has its origin in the old interdisciplinary science of ‎‎“Jurimetrics.” In essence, Jurimetrics was meant to deal with the application of computer science to ‎the law, and, hence, was limited to considering the interaction of new technologies and the law from a ‎technical perspective only. As such, the domain of legal informatics comprised three fundamental ‎areas, namely: data storage and retrieval, behavioral analysis, and the use of symbolic logic, and ‎accordingly, the following three branches [Lucchi]: ‎

  • ‎Management legal informatics, comprising software tools for managing legal and ‎administrative procedures, computer use in the legal profession, automation of judicial ‎procedures, and drafting of legislations.‎

  • Document legal informatics, dealing with information retrieval and legal document ‎databases. This includes the design and development of technologies for text search, ‎classification, summarization, information extraction, and legal thesauri.‎

  • Decision legal informatics, focusing on the construction and utilization of legal expert ‎systems, decision-making tools, and intelligent agents for legal advising.‎

Legal informatics is now emerging as a discipline that is concerned with the social and economic ‎implications of informatics use, as much as with the technical aspects of applying technology in the ‎legal domain. In widest sense, scope of legal informatics may also be construed to encompass other ‎issues with info-legal aspects, including peace and security, international law, e-commerce, ‎democracy, and human rights. Cyberlaw, as the law concerned with cybercrimes within computer ‎mediated communication networks, is a closely related, albeit distinct, discipline.‎

The transformation of legal informatics is due to the evolution of civil society towards the information ‎society. The information society represents a modern phenomenon characterized with a globalization ‎movement that transcends towns, states, and countries. The evolution is based on the fusion of new ‎business paradigms, policy rules, and information and communication technologies [ICTs], and is ‎having the effect of transforming our social systems from ones bound up in hierarchically arranged, ‎relatively homogeneous, densely knit, bounded groups to social networks. This has brought bussing ‎technological advances for legal informatics applications together with new legal challenges. The ‎challenges stem from the social changes due to the unprecedented scope, anonymity, and ‎reproducibility associated with computer networks that make up the physical infrastructure underlying ‎the information society, as well as the need to adopt to the various arrangements that implement the ‎resulting changes in societal context. These arrangements are not necessarily stationary, static, or ‎even mutually exclusive. Individuals, and hence, the law, have always adapted to existing social ‎arrangements; in the future, social arrangements, and, hence, the law, may have to become accustomed ‎to individuals, a dictum of the networked individual order. Legal informatics can serve to empower ‎the civil society not only by providing the means and ways to make information and knowledge ‎widely available, but also by allowing for accurate measurement of the impact of improved access and ‎dissemination of legal information and application of cyberlaws on the society.‎

‎2. Issues‎

The lack of a functional legal infrastructure is a major hurdle in the development of the information ‎society in Western Asia and the Arab region. Such an infrastructure is an essential component of the ‎trust infrastructure that embodies all of the societal constraints, in the form of social, political, and ‎moral values that must be asserted for the elements of the society that are part of the virtual society. ‎On the one hand, the lack of a functional legal infrastructure is manifested in diminishing public ‎awareness and undue restriction of access. On the other hand, access, privacy, and accountability ‎issues are scarcely, if at all, considered in national reports and legislations in the region. This double ‎jeopardy is an indication of the nature of difficulties facing the legislative mechanisms employed ‎rather than a measure of the level of interest in such issues.‎

Access to legal information is a key phase of the cycle of awareness. It is not only a public right but is ‎also a common denominator of the elements critical to the establishment of a viable system of rule of ‎law; viz.: rules assessment, good governance, and development and planning. Deficiency of needed ‎information and the inability to render available information into applicable knowledge are hindering ‎elements in decision making quality. To be legally competent, efficiently active, and appropriately ‎empowered, citizens must have access to the legal information that make them aware that their ‎problems have a legal aspect, enlighten them as to the possible legal solutions to their problems, help ‎them to act to obtain a legal solution, and guide them towards available resources to obtain a legal ‎solution.‎

Examination of these and other issues is a key to creating an enabling environment with a view ‎towards supporting effective public participation in civil and democratic processes.‎

‎3. Objectives‎

The workshop emphasizes the essential role of legal informatics in enhancing access and ‎dissemination of legal information, in particular the information within the possession of governments ‎and necessary for informing the public as to their rights and obligations, or that would assist them in ‎doing so. The objective of the workshop is to create an ICT enabling environment to facilitate the ‎administration of justice and harmonization among different judicial and legislative codes at the ‎national level, as well as at the regional and international levels. A legal informatics-based approach ‎is utilized to interconnect available Arab legal and legislative resources into a virtual common ‎knowledge reservoir that employs a standardized processing methodology of legal language and legal ‎information according to documents structure. The common knowledge reservoir sought would be ‎comprised of:‎

  • ‎Information system for Arabic legal document management and decision making.‎

  • Arabic legal thesaurus to be used not only as a search tool on Arabic legal databases but ‎also as a reference to understand and harmonize legal vocabularies among Arab legal, ‎legislative, research, and professional bodies.‎

  • Legal databases that can facilitate building an Arabic legal ontology.‎

‎4. Outcome‎

The expected outcomes from this workshop are as follows:‎

  • ‎Participants acquire understanding of the role information society applications play with ‎regard to the accessibility of information and accountability;‎

  • Guidelines are established for added-value applications and services in the legal field ‎responding to the common needs of Arab legislative bodies, academic and research ‎institutions, and civil society organizations;‎

  • Arabic legal information processing standards are elaborated to ensure better ‎dissemination of legal information, enhance the possibility of harmonizing Arab ‎legislations, and provide better understanding of the various societies’ particularities and ‎needs.‎

  • A plan for building and deploying a virtual common Arab knowledge reservoir inter-‎connecting available Arab legal and legislative resources is considered. The virtual Arab ‎legal knowledge reservoir sought would be based on legal Arabic thesaurus and ontology ‎essential for research in a legal semantic web.‎

‎5. Organization‎

The workshop is jointly organized by the Lebanese Information Technology Association (LITA), ‎ESCWA, and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Foundation in Lebanon. The workshop will be held ‎at the United Nations House, Beirut, during 12-14 December 2005.‎

‎6. Participants‎

The workshop will be attended by jurists, legal professionals, decision makers, ICT experts, and ‎researchers in the fields of ICT and law from Arab legislative and judicial bodies, regional and ‎international organizations, academic and research institutions, and the private sector. Participants ‎need to register online, using the Web site: http://www.escwa.un.org/wsis/meetings.‎

‎7. Language‎

The working languages of the workshop will be Arabic, English, and French. Simultaneous ‎translation will be provided. ‎

‎8. Additional Information‎

Enquiries and requests for additional information regarding participation and substantive matters ‎should be addressed to:‎

Ms. Mona Al-Achkar Jabbour
Professor of Law and President
Lebanese Information Technology Association (LITA)‎
Beirut, Lebanon
Email: moacja@ul.edu.lb, maj_4_0000@yahoo.fr
Tel: +961-3-253732‎
Fax: + 961-4-911931‎

Mr. Hesham Auda
First Information Technology Officer & Team Leader‎
Information and Communication Technology Division
Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia
PO Box 11-8575, Beirut, Lebanon‎
Email: auda@un.org
Tel: +961-1-978554‎
Fax: +961-1-981510‎

Mr. Samir Farah
Representative in Lebanon ‎
Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES)‎
Beirut, Lebanon
Email: samir.farah@feslb.org
Tel/Fax: +961-1-353698‎

Inquiries regarding logistics, including travel and accommodation, should be directed to:‎

Mr. Aziz Barbar
Vice President
Lebanese Information Technology Association
Beirut, Lebanon
Email: abarbar@aust.edu.lb
Tel: +961-3-296121‎
Fax: + 961-4-911931‎

Ms. Juliana Daher
Research Assistant, ICT Division
Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia
PO Box 11-8575, Beirut, Lebanon‎
Email: daher@un.org
Tel: +961-1-978548‎
Fax: +961-1-981510‎