– Members of the legal community joined Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong tonight in celebrating the 20th anniversary of LawNet, a legal portal provided by the Singapore Academy of Law (“SAL”). LawNet has been and continues to be an indispensable tool for all lawyers.
The idea of having a computer system integrating various legal information and services was first mooted by the Attorney‐General’s Chamber (“AGC”) in 1989, just when the Internet was beginning to take off in Singapore. Books and paper were then the primary mode of keeping track of records in a law office. Lawyers in the smaller firms often did their research in the court libraries as the cost of maintaining a law library was beyond the means of most except for the larger firms.
LawNet was launched in 1990 as simple network linking the database in AGC to the court libraries. The aim then was to grow LawNet into a fully integrated system that will allow lawyers in Singapore to practise law the high‐tech way; where they can file court documents, serve documents on one another and conduct legal research from the convenience of their offices.
The project was headed by Mr Charles Lim and Justice Lee Seiu Kin who were then both State Counsels at AGC. Both of them continue to play an active role in the development of LawNet today through a committee headed by Justice Lee.
A 1988 survey showed that less than 10 per cent of law firms had computerised database access. The usefulness of LawNet boosted the use of IT in the legal sector. Lawyers were quick to embrace this new on‐line system given that legal work involved a high volume of research, information and paperwork.
In 1998, LawNet took online legal research to a new platform to provide a comprehensive database of all primary sources of Singapore law. “By doing this, we levelled the playing field for law firms so that now, the small law firm can compete effectively with large firms in their research of Singapore law,” said Ms Serene Wee, Chief Executive of SAL. “Legal Workbench costs $63 per month for a one‐man law firm in Singapore, for 24x7 access. The single man firm has at his fingertips, instant access to Singapore law, deep‐hyperlinked to English cases and to Malaysian, Indian, Australian and New Zealand cases as well.”
In the last 20 years, the Singapore Academy of Law has worked in partnership with IT vendors and legal institutions in Singapore and overseas to provide a wider repository of databases and more userfriendly functions on LawNet.
LawNet today is a powerful search engine with thousands of pages of information, interactive services and links to major government agencies. An average of 900 pages of new content are added every month and these include cases, reports and contributions from about 100 law firms and other organisations in Singapore and overseas.
In addition to the Singapore Law Reports and the AGC’s versioned legislation database which are available exclusively on LawNet, users can make searches across databases which covers legal content from the United Kingdom, India, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.
The usefulness of LawNet has impressed legal communities beyond Singapore. In recent years, to give greater exposure to Singapore law in the international arena, the Singapore Academy of Law has worked with partners in Malaysia, Australia, United Kingdom and New Zealand to provide LawNet to the legal communities in these countries.