Semantic Web and Law

Semantic Web and Law

Legal Ontologies have been studied in workshops and conferences on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Law, by the AI&LAW community, for years but its results have not generated enough connections with the Semantic Web community.

The legal field, which had early adopters of ontologies and semantic web technology, offers a hugue demand for effective information management; probably one of the sciences fields. There is a real need, for lawyers and other legal professionals, but also for the public at large, for having easy and improving access to relevant legal information (for example e-government). Access to legal information and checking (including proposing improvements and opinions) the regulation help to guarantee a transparent policy making context, promoting the use of rights in democracy and participation of citizens in the decision-making process.

The Semantic Web enables the accessing of Web resources by semantic content rather than
by keywords, involving the automation of service discovery, acquisition, composition
and monitoring. According to Richard Susskind, legal services require to overcome the “lag” between data processing and knowledge processing within the legal transitional field. (1)

Specific nature of legal information

As in the case of the life-sciences domain, the legal field share several aspects and issues which make the field interesting in order to apply Semantic Web principles. Some of the characteristics which are specific for the law practitioners are:

  • the complexity of the legislative work-flow,
  • the peculiarities of users’ information needs in the legal field, and
  • “the notion of information retrieval as document retrieval is not always sufficient in the legal domain. Often a particular question requires some deduction or inference before an appropriate answer can be given. In order words, “question-answering” seems more relevant than “information retrieval” , as regulations may contain many different articles about the same topic and one can only assess whether something is permitted or not by understanding the full documentation. A rather detailed understanding is required, in particular, because regulations generally contain complex structures of exceptions.”(2)

Legal Semantic Web

The legal semantic web should help the integration of different legal services such as contract drafting, accessibility and retrieval on legal documents and other legal web solutions.

Legal semantic web may include the following:

  • Types and Roles of Legal Ontologies in the legal domain
  • Legal information and documentation retrieval and standards
  • Linking legal content to external resources
  • Legal knowledge representation and extraction
  • Semantic Web in online dispute resolution and mediation
  • Semantic sensor networks in lawsuits and crisis mapping
  • Semantic Web techniques and e-discovery in large legal document collections
  • Legal content (and its reuse) and knowledge in the Linked Data
  • Semantic Web and legal reasoning (including automatic reasoning) and query
  • Ontologies in legal argumentation
  • OWL approaches to reasoning and legal knowledge
  • SPARQL queries on large legal datasets
  • e-Government and e-Court and semantic web

Legal Queries and the Semantic Web

“Leveraging the higher degree of organization of legal data and the possibility of drawing inferences from the data, a semantic legal query system should be able to do more than merely retrieve information based on keywords selected by a human agent.”(3)

“With the Semantic Web, if your query specifies a defined entity, the application will know precisely what you are referring to. In principle all instances of that object on the Semantic Web will refer to the same (online) definition, which specifies its properties and its relation to other entities. The second reason for the superiority of semantic applications relates to the openness of Semantic Web standards: the widespread adoption of standards for tagging and organizing legal data will ensure that more structured legal information is available than could possibly be achieved by a single provider of proprietary systems.”(4)

Legal Doctrine

“There is no single, univocal way of identifying legal doctrine at the work level. Constructing such an identifier is complicated by the broad variety of forms in which legal doctrine is organized and published. On the one hand there are one-off publications, like PhD-theses, law review articles, case law annotations and conference papers. In principle, such publications are clearly identifiable.”(5)

“These are continuously updated works on the status, interpretation and implementation of the law, aiming constantly to reflect the actual status of affairs in a specific field of law.”(6)

Semantic Web and Law in Europe

Europe Legal Semantic Iniciatives

The Eurovoc, which has a “more refined data integration functionality requires a more precisely described legal vocabulary, is a multilingual thesaurus, covering the activities of EU. It is now also available in SKOS/RDF-format, which makes it usable in semantic applications. The InterActive Terminology for Europe (IATE). For legal purposes it is of better use than Eurovoc, but is not as ready for the semantic web.”(7)

Other projects include e-Codex (E-justice Communication via Online Data EXchange).

Celex Numbers

“The CELEX-number is derived from other document numbering systems used within the Union, and the use of those other numbering systems is prescribed by the Interinstitutional style guide. it is a sound way for uniquely and persistently identifying EU legal sources: it is compact and meaningful, its syntax is error-proof, language-independent and technology-neutral…The CELEX-number never gained much acceptance among lawyers. Unfortunately, because the other numbering systems have formats that are verbose, error-prone and language-dependent…The CELEX-number is still by far the best identifier for e.g. Commission documents and documents published in Official Journal”(8)

The European Legislation Identifier (ELI)

Note: read more information about the European Legislation Identifier here.

The EU Council working party on e-law developed the European Legislation Identifier (ELI), adopted by the Council of Ministers on 24 September 2012. It was launched in 2006.”It offers a basic tool for accessing foreign legislative databases. Also, EUR-Lex in ‘sector 7′ now gives access to national implementation measures. These initiatives though reveal the problem of all Member States having differences in document structures, metadata and identification systems.

ELI is an identification system for different ontological levels. It identifies the work, and (optionally) a temporal or linguistic expression. Also, it can make a distinction between original act and consolidated version, and it can identify a full law, or just a (very) specific part of it. Finally, it’s important to notice that ELIs are based on “‘http URIs’ to specifically identify all online legal information officially published across Europe” . Put simply, ELI is a framework which allows for formatting national legislation in a univocal European format. Because it also contains a scheme for the most essential metadata, it allows for a substantial improvement of cross-border access and reuse of legislative data. Although ELI is a single European framework, it allows for national specificities. Therefore every Member State participating in ELI (on a voluntary basis) has to appoint a ‘national ELI-coordinator’, responsible for establishing the specific URI- and metadata schemes. For the EU the Publication Office is responsible for the implementation of ELI in EUR-Lex. The Publications Office will also maintain the register of the Member States’ implementation schemes.”(9)

The ELI can have up to fifteen (or more) constituting elements.

It shoul be mentioned (see next section) than the European Legislation Identifier refers to an official publication in all cases, because there is only an official reference, which is not the case in the identification of court decisions.

The European Case Law Identifer (ECLI)

Note: read more about the European Case Law Identifier here.

“Although in many countries private legal publishers had their share in the publication of legislation, they have been true monopolists in the publication of case law. Specific periodicals published selections of interesting cases, which were all identified by a publication number. In our ontological classification these are ‘expression identifiers’; one decision could easily have ten different expression identifiers, without revealing that they actually related to the same work. The only work identifier was the combination of court name, case number and decision date (hereafter referred to as ‘triple’). In some Member States specific judgment identifiers were developed for cases published on governmental or judicial websites,but they are not always linked to commercial expression identifiers and are not used very often by lawyers for citation purposes. Judges in their decisions, and academics in their scholarly writings keep using triples and expression identifiers to cite jurisprudence. As a result, hyperlinks cannot be constructed, citation indexes cannot be built automatically, case law cannot be found, legal knowledge on e.g. questions of European law is not shared in a way that suits the requirements of the CoJ EU and other European Institutions…These differences between the nature of legislation and case law, are reflected in the differences between ELI and the ECLI, the European Case Law Identifer.”(10)

ECLI always has five constituting elements separated by a colon.

“ECLI might seem a long identifier, but since it contains all relevant information one doesn’t have to add dates, name of court or expression identifiers.The last point is crucial and needs some explanation. While ELI refers to one web address, leading to the legislative text itself, an ECLI in itself doesn’t give any clue on where to actually find the text of the judgment. This function will be implemented by the ECLI-search interface, also decided upon in the Council Conclusions. This ECLI search interface will be part of the European e-Justice Portal…The European Commission is responsible for the implementation of the ECLI search interface. The implementation of ECLI on the national level though is a national responsibility. A national ECLI-coordinator is responsible for assigning court codes and documenting the way the fifth part is constructed. and will enable both public and commercial case law databases to register any expression of a judgment having an ECLI. Via this search interface the end-user can have an immediate (hyperlinked) overview of all locations where a judgment is published. And since the Council Conclusions also prescribe a set of (optionally quite comprehensive) metadata, judgments will also be searchable by summaries, translations, keywords a.s.o. The ECLI search interface will also offer the opportunity the search the documents themselves (if available).

For best performance, ECLI should be implemented at all courts in all Member States, for all judgments (not only those published), both historic and future.(11)


Notes and References

    1. Susskind, R.: Transforming the Law. Essays on Technology, Justice and the Legal Marketplace. Oxford, Oxford University Press (2000)
    2. Law and the Semantic Web, LNCS 3369, pp. 1-17, 2005. Law and the Semantic Web, an Introduction. V. Richard Benjamins, Pompeu Casanovas, Joost Breuker and and Aldo Gangemi. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2005
    3. Semantic Lawyering: How the Semantic Web Will Transform the Practice of Law, Brian Harley, The Columbia Science and Technology Law Review
    4. Idem
    5. The European Legal Semantic Web:Completed Building Blocks and Future Work, Marc van Opijnen
    6. Idem
    7. Idem
    8. Idem
    9. Idem
    10. Idem
    11. Idem

See Also

Further Reading

  • Law and the Semantic Web. Legal Ontologies, Methodologies, Legal Information Retrieval, and Applications. V. Richard Benjamins, Pompeu Casanovas, Joost Breuker and Aldo Gangemi
  • Law, Ontologies and the Semantic Web. Channelling the Legal Information Flood. Breuker, J., Casanovas, P., Klein, M.C.A. and Francesconi, E.
  • Gray, P. N.: Artificial Legal Intelligence. Aldershot, Dartmouth (1997)
  • Kowalski, R., Sergot, M.J.: The use of logical models in legal problem solving, Ratio Juris, Vol. 2 n. 3, (1990) 201 218
  • Alchourrón, C, Martino, A.: A Sketch of Logic without Truth. In: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on AI and Law (ICAIL-89), ACM, New York
  • Sergot, A., Jones, M.: Deontic Logic in the Representation of Law: Towards a Methodology. Artificial Intelligence and Law Vol. 1 n.1 (1992)
  • Valente, A.: Legal Knowledge Engineering: A Modelling Approach. IOS Press, Amsterdam
  • Rodrigo, L., Blázquez, M., Casanovas, P. Poblet, M.: D10.1.1. Before Analysis. Case Study-Intelligent integrated support for legal professionals. State of the Art. SEKT: Semantically Enabled Knowledge Technologies
  • Fabri, M.; Contini, F. (eds.): .Justice and Technology in Europe : How ICT is changing the Judicial Business. The Hague, Kluwer Int. Law (2001)
  • Hokkanen, J., Lauritsen, M.: Knowledge tools for legal knowledge tool makers. Artificial Intelligence and Law Vol. 10 (2002) 295-302
  • Davies, J.; Fensel, D.; van Harmelen, F. (eds). Towards the Semantic Web. Ontology-Driven knowledge Management. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2003)
  • Cerf, V.G.: Internet and the Justice System. 79 Washington Law Review 25 (2004)
  • Endeshaw, A.: Web Services and the Law: A Scketch of the Potential Issues. 11 International Journal of Law and Information Technology 251 (2003)
  • Caral, J.M.E.A: Lessons from ICANN: Is Self-Regulation of the Internet Fundamentally Flawed? 12 International Journal of Law and Information Technology (2004)
  • Sylverman, G.M.: Rise of the Machines: Justice Information Systems and the Question of Public Access to Court Records Over the Internet. 79 Washington Law Review (2004)
  • Biegel, S.: Beyond our control? Confronting the limits of our legal system in the age of cyberspace. MASS., The MIT Press (2002)
  • Winkels, R., Boer, A., Hoekstra, R.: CLIME: Lessons Learned in Legal Information Serving. In: van Harmelen, F. (ed.): Proceedings of ECAI-2002. IOS Press: Amsterdam (2002)
  • Hohfeld, W.N. (1919). Fundamental Legal Conceptions as Applied in Judicial Reasoning. Cooke, W.W (ed.) New Haven,Yale University Press (1919)
  • Visser , R.S.P. , Bench-Capon, T.J.M.: Ontologies in the Design of Legal Knowledge Systems. Towards a Library of Legal Domain Ontologies. First International Workshop on Legal Ontologies, Melbourne Law School, Victoria (1997)
  • Visser, R.S. P., Bench-Capon , T.J.M.: A Comparison of Four Ontologies for the Design of Legal Knowledge Systems. Artificial Intelligence and Law 6 (1998) 27-57
  • Gangemi, A., Breuker J.: Section 5. Harmonizing Legal Ontologies. In: Deliverable 3.4. Harmonisation perspectives of some promising content standards. Ontoweb SIG on Content Standards Legal Ontologies Working Group, Project IST-2000-29243 (2002)
  • Breuker, J., Gangemi, A., Tiscornia, D., Winkels, R. (eds.): ICAIL03 Wks on Legal Ontologies, Edinburgh, (2003)
  • Jarrar, M., Salaun, A. (eds.): First Workshop on Regulatory Ontologies, OTM Workshops, Springer (2003)
  • Jarrar, M., Gangemi, A. (eds.): Second Workshop on Regulatory Ontologies, OTM Workshops, Springer (2004)
  • Winkels, R., Boer, A., Hoekstra, R.: METAlex: An XML Standard for Legal Documents.In: Proceedings of the XML Europe Conference, London (UK) (2003)
  • Gangemi, A., Pisanelli D.M.; Steve, G. A.: Formal Ontology Framework to Represent Norm Dynamics. In: Second International Workshop on Legal Ontologies, University of Amsterdam (2001)
  • Boer, A., Engers T. van, Winkels. R.: Using Ontologies for Comparing and Harmonizing Legislation. In: Proceedings of ICAIL 2003, ACM Press, New York (2003)
  • Annual Conference in Legal Knowledge and Information Systems. JURIX 2004. T.F. Gordon (Ed.)
  • Amselek, P., MacCormick N.: Controversies about Law’s Ontology. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press (1989)
  • Paliwala, A.: An Intellectual Celebration: A Review of the Jurix Legal Knowledge Based Systems Scholarship. Artificial Intelligence and Law 8 (2001) 317-335
  • Boer, A.; Hoekstra, R. and Winkels R. (eds.) Legal Knowledge and Information Systems. Proceedings of JURIX 2002, 1-10, Amsterdam, IOS Press (2002)



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