European Case Law Identifier
The European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) is an identifier for case law in Europe, implemented by the European Union Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Patent Office and several EU Member States. The identifier consists of 5 parts separated by colons: ECLI:[country code]:[court identifier]:[year of decision]:[specific identifier]. The system contains also a set of uniform metadata 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 ECLI website
- 4 ECLI search engine
- 5 Organisation
- 6 Implementation in individual jurisdictions
- 7 Metadata
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
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 interinstitutional style guide of the EU. The standard uses mostly ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 codes with the exception of the United Kingdom (UK). 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, which indicates a Dutch decision (NL) of 2013 of the Rotterdam court (RBROT) with serial number 5042.
According to paragraph 4 of the Annex to the Council Conclusions an ECLI website has to be set up, containing
- 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 ECLI website was set up within the frame work of the e-justice portal of the European Union and contains this information.
ECLI search engine
According to paragraph 5 of the Annex to the Council Conclusions an ECLI search interface has to be set up, enabling search by ECLI and metadata. This ECLI search engine launched on 4 May 2016. It provides access to national and European case law, stored in whatever database. Searches are possible on the basis of the ECLI, its metadata as well as full-text.
As prescribed by the Council Conclusions a resolver is available at https://e-justice.europa.eu/ecli/; with an ECLI typed after it, this link with show all available information on this ECLI, from whatever indexed website. As an example: https://e-justice.europa.eu/ecli/ECLI:CZ:NS:2015:32.CDO.2051.2013.1 shows from ECLI:CZ:NS:2015:32.CDO.2051.2013.1, a decision from the Czech Supreme Court, the information from the website of that court as well as from the Jurifast database of the Association of Councils of State and Supreme Administrative Jurisdictions of the EU. The latter document also has English and French metadata.
The Council of Ministers is responsible for any future changes in the standard, while the European Commission is responsible for the ECLI-website and the (planned) ECLI search interface. The Commission is also responsible for handing out 2 letter "country codes" for international organisations that use the system.
Every Member State (or other entity that wishes to participate in the ECLI system, including the EU itself) 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.
Implementation in individual jurisdictions
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. International organizations may also participate and can request a "country code" from the European Commission.
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, the Constitutional court and the Data protection Authority. The national ECLI co-ordinator in Austria is the Federal Chancellery.
Since the first of April 2012 in the Czech Republic decisions of the Supreme Court have an ECLI, e.g. 'ECLI:CZ:NS:2012:6.TDO.1416.2012.1'. The national ECLI co-ordinator in the Czech Republic is the Supreme Court.
In March 2016 ECLI was implemented on the open data portal of Finland.
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. With regard to the Tribunal des conflits only decisions from 2012 on have an ECLI. The national ECLI co-ordinator in France is the Office of Legal and Administrative Information.
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. In 2015 ECLI was also introduced for the Constitutional Court and the Federal Labour Court. The national ECLI co-ordinator in Germany is the Competence center for the federal legal information system of the Federal Office of Justice. ECLI is also available for 100 000 decisions of the courts of North Rhine-Westphalia.
In Malta 'Courts of Malta' is the national ECLI co-ordinator. According to the information supplied by Malta, ECLI has been introduced in December 2011 for all new court decisions, but the code is as of August 2014 not visible to the public.
The decisions of the Council of State have an ECLI and are available through the ECLI search engine. The country code for Greece is EL, and the court code for the council of state is COS.
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 2 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:GHSHE: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.
Having started in January 2017, a beta version of the Portuguese portal was released in May 2017, Portugal assigns an ECLI to all judicial decisions which have been rendered after 1932 on a total of 175 000 decisions. The country code for Portugal is PT. The national ECLI co-ordinator in Portugal is the Judicial High Council, and the Portal is being developed by a team of the Information Division of Judicial High Council. An example of a Portuguese ECLI is 'ECLI:PT:TRP:2017:671.14.0GAMCN.P1'. The Portuguese ECLI portal url is https://jurisprudencia.csm.org.pt
Slovakia assigns an ECLI to all judicial decisions which have been rendered after 25 July 2011. Also judgments rendered before that date, but appealed after it have an ECLI assigned.
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'.
In November 2014 the Council of the Judiciary in Spain assigned ECLI to all judgments published in its public case law database. ECLI is based on the national case law identifier 'ROJ'. E.g. for ROJ 'ROJ: STS 12/2014' the ECLI is 'ECLI:ES:TS:2014:12'. The first character of the ROJ-code, indicating the type of decision (in this example the 'S' of 'sentencia'), is not used in the ECLI.
The European Patent Office (an organ of the European Patent Organization, which has 38 Member States in Europe) is one of two not-EU related organisations which has introduced ECLI.
Council of Europe
The European Court of Human Rights - connected to the Council of Europe - introduced ECLI in 2015 retroactively in its HUDOC case law database. The country code is 'CE' (Council of Europe), the court code is 'ECHR'. The fifth part of the ECLI identifier contains from left to right: the month the document was rendered (2 digits), the day the document was rendered (2 digits), the type of document ('JUD' for judgment, 'DEC' for decision, 'REP' for report) and finally the application number (with leading zeros to a total of nine digits). The Pretto judgment can serve as an example ECLI:CE:ECHR:1983:1208JUD000798477.
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.
The Court of Justice of the European Union is the 'national' ECLI co-ordinator for the EU and introduced ECLI on 24 March 2014. ECLI is assigned to all decisions of the Court and opinions of the Advocate General. The institution uses three court codes, which also include decisions of its legal predecessors Court of Justice of the European Communities and the Court of Justice of the European Coal and Steel Communities:
- 'C', Court of Justice (colloquially: European Court of Justice)
- 'T' General Court (in operation since 1989)
- 'F', Civil Service Tribunal (since 2005)
The fifth part of the ECLI code is serial number, that has no relation to any other identifier. ECLI is now also used when the Court is citing its own case law. For this the Court uses the ECLI without the prefix 'ECLI:'. This is explained by the Court as:
In the interest of not extending the reference to no good purpose, the prefix ‘ECLI' will not be included in the citation of the decisions of the Court of Justice, the General Court or the Civil Service Tribunal,
Metadata are to be 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. The mandatory means that without these metadata, a document can not be indexed by the future 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:title; a Title field
- 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: References to other case law (the use of CELEX-numbers or ECLI's is advised, but also other formats are allowed);
- dcterms:isReplacedBy: ECLI by which the ECLI has been replaced (to guarantee persistency in case ECLI's are renumbered).
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