European Case Law Identifier
The European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) has been developed to facilitate the correct and unequivocal citation of judgments from European and national courts. A set of uniform metadata will help to improve search facilities for case law. The standard is laid down in the Council Conclusions inviting the introduction of the European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) and a minimum set of uniform metadata for case law of the European Union.
- 1 History
- 2 Identifier construction
- 3 Metadata
- 4 ECLI on the web
- 5 Organisation
- 6 State of implementation
- 7 See also
- 8 References
The concept of ECLI was first launched at the Legal Access Conference (Paris, December 2008) and at Jurix Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Law in Florence (December 2008). Around the same time, the study by a task group of the EU Council Working Group on e-Law showed that accessibility of judicial decisions, both at the national and European level, was seriously hampered by the lack of standardised identifiers and metadata:
The task group suggested to establish a voluntary common identification system based on the
European Case-Law Identifier (ECLI). ECLI as an identifier would be linked to an index with references. This would enable any citizen or legal practitioner to find any decision to which ECLI has been attributed from any public or private register or database in the EU. In addition a Dublin-core implementation for case-law should be established to facilitate searching case-law in different search engines.
Based on the report of this task group, the Council of Ministers agreed on the principles of ECLI and common metadata, and asked the EU Council Working Party on Legal Data Processing (e-Law) to elaborate the initial work. This continued work resulted in the Council Conclusion inviting the introduction of the European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) and a minimum set of uniform metadata for case law of the European Union., decided upon by the Council of Ministers on 22 December 2010. It was published in the Official Journal of 29 April 2011 (2011/C 127/01).
ECLI does not primarily identify a paper or electronic document containing a judgment, but instead identifies the judgment at a more abstract level. In the terminology of the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records on which it is based, ECLI is a work-level identifier. It is constructed with the intention to be meaningful, open, technological neutral, recognisable for both humans and computers, error-proof and interoperable with other identifiers. The formatting rules for ECLI are prescribed in detail in the Annex to the Council Conclusions. Summarized, an ECLI always consists of five parts, separated by a colon:
- 'ECLI' as a self-identifier;
- The country code, prescribed by the interconstitutional style guide of the EU. A special code for non-states can be assigned by the European Commission;
- The court code, to be assigned by the national ECLI co-ordinator; it has a maximum length of seven positions;
- The year the judgment is rendered, written in four digits;
- A unique code to make an ECLI unique. The maximum length of this code is 25 characters. Only letters, digits and dots are to be used, other punctuation marks or whitespace are not allowed. Pre-existing national identifiers can be used for this fifth part, of which the date of judgment can be a part too. Also a serial number which is generated especially for ECLI is possible. It is up to the national ECLI co-ordinator to decide on the construction of this last part.
Only the Latin alphabet is to be used, and that ECLI is case-insensitive, although it is written preferably in capitals. An example of a case law identifier of the Rotterdam court is ECLI:NL:RBROT:2013:5042
Metadata are attached to documents containing a judicial decision. They can relate to the ECLI itself (on the bibliographic work level, e.g.: date of the decision), but also to a specific editorial version (the 'expression level', e.g. a summary). In the Council Conclusions nine mandatory and eight optional metadata are listed. All these are based on the Dublin Core metadata standard. Being mandatory means that without these metadata, a document can not be indexed by the ECLI search interface.
The mandatory metadata, as listed in the Annex to the Council Conclusions, are:
- dcterms:identifier: a URL where the document is located;
- dcterms:isVersionOf: the ECLI;
- dcterms:creator: the name of the court;
- dcterms:coverage: country or part thereof;
- dcterms:date: the date of the decision;
- dcterms:language: the language of the document;
- dcterms:publisher: the organisation responsible for the publication of the current document;
- dcterms:accessRights: either public or private;
- dcterms:type: the type of decision. If none is specified it defaults to 'judicial decision'.
The optional metadata, as listed in the Annex to the Council Conclusions, are:
- dcterms:subject: the field of law; at least one value should be picked out of a controlled vocabulary;
- dcterms:abstract: a summary or description;
- dcterms:description: keywords or headnotes;
- dcterms:contributor: judges, advocate-general or other staff;
- dcterms:issued: the date of the current document (not necessarily the date of the decision);
- dcterms:references: the use of CELEX-numbers or ECLI's is advised, but also other formats are allowed;
- dcterms:isReplacedBy: to guarantee persistency in case ECLI's are renumbered.
ECLI on the web
According to paragraph 4 of Annex to the Council Conclusions an ECLI website has to be set up. It should contain:
- general information on ECLI;
- a list of participating countries, with, for each country:
- the court codes used;
- information on the formatting of the fifth part of the ECLI code;
- information on the national ECLI co-ordinator.
The website should also give access to the ECLI search interface.
ECLI search interface
The ECLI search interface should give access to national case, stored in whatever database. Searches should be possible by ECLI or metadata.
The Council of Ministers decided on the Council Conclusions, and will be responsible for any future changes in the standard. Within the framework of the European e-Justice portal, for which the European Commission is responsible, an ECLI-website should be established. According to paragraph 5 of the Annex to the Council Conclusions the European Commission is responsible for the setting up and the technical functioning of the ECLI search interface and related services. Furthermore, the Court of Justice of the European Union is the 'national' ECLI co-ordinator for the EU.
Every Member State (or other entity that wishes to participate in the ECLI system) must have a national ECLI co-ordinator. The main responsibilities of this national ECLI co-ordinator are:
- to decide on the court codes to be used (the third part of the ECLI);
- to decide on the construction of the fifth part of ECLI;
- to update the national information pages on the implementation of ECLI on the European e-justice portal;
- to decide on specific language varieties of certain metadata.
The promotion of the use ECLI at the national level is not mentioned explicitly in the Council Conclusions, but can assumed to be a task of the national ECLI co-ordinator as well.
State of implementation
Implementation at the European level
The ECLI website is set up; it contains information on ECLI in general, and on national implementation in the various Member States. The ECLI search interface is not functioning yet. It is expected in the first quarter of 2014.
The Court of Justice of the European Union introduced ECLI on 24 March 2014. It is visible on the case listings, available on the Numerical Access page of the Curia website. ECLI is assigned to all judgments. The Court of Justice has the court code 'C', the General Court (in operation since 1989) has the court code 'T' and the Civil Service Tribunal (since 2005) has the court code 'F'. The fifth part of the ECLI code is a simple number, that has no relation to any other identifier.
Implementation at the national level
According to the Council Conclusions, Member States are free to decide on their own implementation route. A big-bang scenario is possible, but also a step-by-step approach is allowed. Only those countries having publicly available ECLI's, or having made public statements about the introduction are listed here.
Having started on 1 October 2011, Slovenia was the first country to assign ECLI's to judgments on their judiciary website. ECLI is assigned to all judgments of the Supreme Court and the courts of appeal. An example of a Slovenian ECLI is 'ECLI:SI:VSRS:2012:III.IPS.15.2012'.
France started assigning ECLI's to judgments of the Council of State (Conseil d'Etat) and Supreme Court (Cour de cassation) in September 2012. ECLI's of the Council of State can be found on Legifrance, e.g. 'ECLI:FR:CESSR:2013:358751.20130123'. Judgments of the Supreme Court have an ECLI on the website of the Court, e.g. 'ECLI:FR:CCASS:2013:AV00005'. Also all published decisions of the Constitutional Council (Conseil Constitutionnel) have an ECLI assigned.
In the Netherlands the Council for the Judiciary is the national ECLI co-ordinator. On 28 June 2013 ECLI was introduced for all courts, replacing the national LJN identifier. ECLI is not only assigned to those decisions published on the national judicial portal website Rechtspraak.nl, but also to those published in commercial law reviews and those stored in an internal database of the judiciary. In total, more than 1.5 million decisions have been assigned an ECLI.
If a decision previously has had an LJN, this code (two letters and four digits) has been transposed to the fifth part of ECLI. E.g. LJN BN5158, a decision of the court of appeal Den Bosch, is now ECLI:NL:GESHE:2010:BN5158. Decisions which are published after the introduction of ECLI have a serial number in the fifth part of ECLI. E.g. ECLI:NL:RBROT:2013:4788, a decision by the district court of Rotterdam.
Both a list of the most used court codes and a full list of all court codes can be found at the website of the judiciary. The full ECLI register and all decisions published on the portal are also available as open data. The register covers all judicial organizations of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, including the parts which are outside the European Union.
In Malta 'Courts of Malta' is the national ECLI co-ordinator. ECLI has been introduced in December 2011 for all new court decisions, but the code is not visible to the public yet.
In Germany the ECLI was introduced for the Federal administrative court on 23 September 2013. An example of an ECLI from this court: ECLI:DE:BVerwG:2013:121213U2C49.11.0. The national ECLI co-ordinator in Germany is the Ministry of Justice.
Austria started the introduction of ECLI in the beginning of 2014. Currently the ECLI is assigned to judgments of the Federal administrative court, the Federal financial court, the administrative courts and the Data protection Authority. The national ECLI co-ordinator in Austria is the Federal Chancellery.
International organizations may also participate and can request a "country code" from the European Commission.
European Patent Office
The European Patent Office introduced ECLI publicly in 2013 with "country-code" EP retroactively. An example is of a case before the Board of Appeal (BA) from 1991 is: ECLI:EP:BA:1991:W000491.19910131.
- "Council conclusions inviting the introduction of the European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) and a minimum set of uniform metadata for case law". 22 December 2010.
- Cottin, Stéphane (2011). La gestion de la documentation juridique. Paris: L.G.D.J. p. 67 (footnote 113). ISBN 978-2-275-03534-5.
- van Opijnen, Marc (2008). "Identifiers, Metadata and Document Structures: Essential Ingredients for Inter-European Case Law Search". European Legal Access Conference, Paris 10–12 December.
- van Opijnen, Marc (2008). "Finding Case Law on a European Scale – Current Practice and Future Work". In Francesconi, E.; Sartor, G.; Tiscornia, D. Legal Knowledge and Information Systems – JURIX 2008: The Twenty-First Annual Conference (IOS Press): 43–52.
- EU Working Party on Legal Data Processing (e-Law) (2009). Draft Conclusions of the Council on European Case-Law Identifier (ECLI). Retrieved 2013-01-27.
- van Opijnen, Marc (2011). "European Case Law Identifier: indispensable asset for legal information retrieval". In Biasiotti, M.A.; Faro, S. From Information to Knowledge. Online Access to Legal Information: Methodologies, Trends and Perspectives (IOS Press): 91–104.
- Publications Office of the EU. Interinstitutional Style Guide.
- ECLI website
- Report from the Working Party on e-Law (e-Justice) to Coreper/Council (16269/13). 2013. p. 5. Retrieved 2014-03-26.
- judiciary website
- "L’identifiant ECLI sur les décisions du Conseil d’Etat et de la Cour de cassation". Données juridiques. 11 September 2012. Retrieved 2013-01-27.
- "European Case Law Identifier vervangt Landelijk Jurisprudentie Nummer". 31 October 2012. Retrieved 2013-01-27.
- "The inclusion of European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) code in Malta". 1 February 2012. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
- European Legislation Identifier (ELI)
- ECLI website on the European e-Justice portal
- Seminar 'European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) and meta-data: harmonisation of case law identification in the European Union', organized by the Association of the Councils of State and Supreme Administrative Jurisdictions of the European Union (Warsaw, 30 September 2011)