European Case Law Identifier
The European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) is an identifier for court decisions in Europe. The identifier consists of five elements separated by colons: ECLI:[country code]:[court identifier]:[year of decision]:[specific identifier]. 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. The ECLI framework also contains a set of uniform metadata to improve search facilities for case law. Court decisions that have an ECLI assigned can be indexed by the ECLI Search Engine of the European e-Justice portal.
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 court decision 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) and Greece (EL). 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.
ECLI search engine
According to paragraph 5 of the Annex to the Council Conclusions an ECLI Search Engine 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 maintenance of the ECLI Search Engine.
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.
The table below lists all EU Member States and their current state of ECLI implementation. Also relevant European organisations that have implemented ECLI are included.
State or European organisation
|Austria||Yes||2014||Federal administrative court, Federal financial court, administrative courts, Constitutional court, Data protection Authority, Supreme Court||Federal Chancellery||No||0|
|Belgium||Yes||2017||Decisions in the internal database VAJA (all courts except administrative courts)||Yes||96.000||ECLI is not included in the public database Juridat. Hence, assigned ECLI codes can only be found via the ECLI Search Engine.|
|Bulgaria||Yes||2018||All decisions published by all courts in the national database||Supreme Judicial Council||Yes||1.933.000|
|Croatia||Yes||2017||Most decisions from Supreme Court and other relevant decisions in the Croatian database||Supreme Court||Yes||176.000|
|Cyprus||No||Department of Legal Publications||No||0|
|Czech Republic||Yes||2012||Decisions in the database of the Supreme Court (also from other courts).||Supreme Court||Yes||120.000|
|Denmark||No||Danish Court Administration||No||0||Implementation of ECLI is foreseen in a new database with court decisions.|
|Estonia||Yes||2017||All published decisions||Yes||293.000|
|Finland||Yes||2016||Unknown||Ministry of Justice||No||100||ECLI is only added in the open data portal, not on the Finlex public website. The Finnish decisions that can be found in the ECLI Search Engine are those included in the JuriFast database of ACA Europe.|
|France||Yes||2012||Decisions of Council of State (Conseil d'Etat), Supreme Court (Cour de cassation), Constitutional Council (Conseil Constitutionnel), Tribunal des conflits.||Office of Legal and Administrative Information||Yes||90.000|
|Germany||Yes||2013||Federal administrative court, Constitutional Court and the Federal Labour Court. ECLI is also available for 100 000 decisions of the courts of North Rhine-Westphalia.||Competence center for the federal legal information system of the Federal Office of Justice||Yes||49.000|
|Greece||Yes||2016||Council of State||Yes||75.000|
|Ireland||No||Department of Justice and Equality||No||0|
|Italy||Yes||2016||Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, Council of State, administrative courts, Court of auditors.||Ministry of Justice’s Directorate‑General for Automated Information Systems (ad interim)||Yes||3.504.000|
|Latvia||Yes||2017||All decisions published in the national database.||Court administration||Yes||40.000||Implementation was realised in an EU co-funded project.|
|Lithuania||No||National Courts Administration||No||0|
|Malta||No||No||0||ECLI has been introduced in December 2011 for all new court decisions, but the code is as still not visible to the public.|
|Netherlands||Yes||2013||ECLI has been assigned to all decisions published in public database of the judiciary, in internal databases as well as to (historic) decisions published by commercial publishers.||Yes||487.000||Only the (487.000) decisions that have been published (full-text) in the public database of the judiciary have been indexed by the ECLI Search Engine. Metadata about all other ECLIs (around 2 million) that have been assigned can be found in the Dutch public database as well .|
|Portugal||Yes||2017||All decisions published since 1932, accessible via the Portuguese ECLI search engine.||Judicial High Council||Yes||160.000||Implementation was realised in an EU co-funded project.|
|Romania||No||Ministry of Justice||No||0||ECLI has been introduced in the internal ECRIS database, but has not yet been included in the public ROLII database.|
|Slovenia||Yes||2011||All decisions in the public database||Supreme Court||Yes||136.000||Slovenia was the first country to implement ECLI.|
|Slovakia||Yes||2012||All decisions delivered after 25 July 2011 have an ECLI assigned. If a decision from before this date is appealed after it, it has an ECLI assigned as well.||Informatics and Project Management Section of the Ministry of Justice||No||0|
|Spain||Yes||2014||All decisions published in the public database have an ECLI assigned.||Centre for Judicial Documentation (CENDOJ)||Yes||3.642.000|
|European Union||Yes||2014||ECLI is assigned to all decisions of the Court of Justice. These decisions are available in EUR-Lex as well in the database of the Court of Justice.||Court of Justice of the EU||Yes||36.000|
|Council of Europe||Yes||2015||ECLI is assigned to all decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in the public HUDOC database.||European Court of Human Rights||No||0|
|European Patent Office||Yes||2013||ECLI is assigned to all decisions of the Boards of Appeal in the public database.||Publication Department of the European Patent Office.||Yes||36.000|
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 ECLI Search Engine.
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).
- "European Case Law Identifier: Indispensable Asset for Legal Information Retrieval" (PDF). Marc van Opijnen. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- "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". Legal Knowledge and Information Systems – JURIX 2008: The Twenty-First Annual Conference. IOS Press: 43–52. SSRN 2046266.
- EU Working Party on Legal Data Processing (e-Law) (2009). Draft Conclusions of the Council on European Case-Law Identifier (ECLI) (PDF). Retrieved 27 January 2013.
- van Opijnen, Marc (2011). Biasiotti, M.A.; Faro, S. (eds.). "European Case Law Identifier: indispensable asset for legal information retrieval". From Information to Knowledge. Online Access to Legal Information: Methodologies, Trends and Perspectives. IOS Press: 91–104. SSRN 2046160.
- Publications Office of the EU. Interinstitutional Style Guide.
- van Opijnen, Marc; Ivantchev, Alexander (2015). "Implementation of ECLI - State of Play". Legal Knowledge and Information Systems – JURIX 2015: The Twenty-Eighth Annual Conference. IOS Press. SSRN 2706768.
- "Forslag til Lov om ændring af retsplejeloven, lov om Domstolsstyrelsen og lov om retsafgifter".
- "L'identifiant ECLI sur les décisions du Conseil d'Etat et de la Cour de cassation". Données juridiques. 11 September 2012. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
- "Rechtsprechung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Search Engine". Justice portal of North Rhine-Westphalia. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
- "News page of Court Administration".
- "The inclusion of European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) code in Malta". 1 February 2012. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
- "Overview EU co-funded projects in Portugal".
- "ECLI website on e-Justice portal".