Why Was eJudgements’ South African Online Law Reports Created?

The simple answer is frustration.

While it is possible to find out from one’s couch what time a shop opens or closes (or even better, to buy from that shop while sitting on the couch), it is not possible to find out what the law is with the same ease.

The South African Law Reports market, one could argue, is already over saturated. There are two main commercial publishers, and they have provided a valuable resource for many years (in fact, for over 100 years).

The traditional law reports model has its limitations because of the need to sift judgements for reportability (and because the decision on what is reported are left to the court reporter and the staff at the publisher means many judgements are not reported) and the limitations imposed by the print-model (eg number of pages which can be bound and cost).

eJudgements’ South African Online Law Reports does not seek to replicate the traditional model by producing headnotes (although this feature may be added in future for important cases). Nor does it have the historical cases, since most cases in the eJudgements database date from 1995 and later (the earlier judgements are generally not in electronic format). However, there is a strong argument for the contention that the law is either restated or remodeled every 15-20 years, making the need for access to the older cases less important.

There are also numerous free-to-use websites. Saflii, in particular, has filled (and continues to fill) an important gap by making judgements freely accessible to the public. The fact is that there are very few judgements which are not freely available, and if they are not being made freely available then there is something badly wrong with the justice system, as the courts in South Africa are open and court documents are public documents.

The power of the internet allows for almost unlimited storage space and extremely powerful searchability. There is no longer any reason to exclude a judgement because it is ‘not reportable’. However, the free-to-use websites do not currently index their judgements and their searchability is limited to the usual search engine functionality.

The correct answer will be found, if you have the time to look for it.

The one major advantage of the digital age is the ability to store a massive amount of data and then find it with relatively little trouble.

However, if the law was so simple that computers could define it, we would not need Judges or lawyers. This site marries the power of the electronic age with legal interpretative skills in setting up the search functions.

eJudgements’ South African Online Law Reports is always seeking to improve on the service it provides and will welcome any suggestions and improvements that can be made.