Since 1930, the central pillar of the Norwegian legal information system has been the Norwegian Statute Book. This is a collection of all statutes in force, edited and distributed every other year by the Law Faculty of Oslo University. Other important building stones are the general collections of court decisions, published by the Norwegian Bar Association, and the collections of regulations published by The Prime Minister's Office in the Norwegian Legal Gazette. So far these and other collections of legal source material have been printed by traditional methods.
During the latter half of the 1970s, the need for a more efficient way of printing legal material made itself increasingly felt. Simultaneously, ideas of combining modern printing with a machine readable data base were developed at the Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law. The Center, being a branch of the Law Faculty, was in an excellent position to influence the publisher of the Statute Book. As a result, the Faculty decided to establish an internal service, called Lovdata, the task of which should be the conversion of the Statute Book into a machine readable medium. As a side-effect, a data base of statutes in force would be established.
It was obvious, however, that Lovdata represented a tool which might be used for more ambitious purposes than the mere printing of statutes. Two keywords suffice: processing of other types of legal source material; operating a computer-based system for legal information. For several reasons, it was considered sound policy to shape Lovdata as an independent structure and to give it a spider-like function in the web of Norwegian legal information. The Faculty therefore approached the Ministry of Justice, which took a keen interest in the reform of the legal information system, and which had already manifested this interest through the creation of a Legal Information Council. The outcome was the establishment of the independent foundation Lovdata.
This booklet contains the four most important documents set up during this process. Three of them are official: TheAgreement between the Law Faculty and the Ministry of Justice, the Regulations for the Lovdata Foundation, and anAide-memoire drawn up by the Ministry as background for the Agreement and the Regulations. The fourth document is a paper written by Mr. Trygve Harvold, intended for publication in a special issue of the American Computer/Law Journal. Mr. Harvold has been in charge of Lovdata since it came into being under the auspices of the Law Faculty. In his paper he discusses some of the basic problems encountered in connection with the structuring of legal information systems in the computer age.
Lovdata represents a blend of different, and even to some extent conflicting, ideologies. Many of its tasks pertain to the public sector, and it cooperates closely with the authorities. There are strong ties between the institution, the Law Faculty and the legal research community. Financially, it must survive in a competitive market, and its dealings with its customers, public as well as private, are on a strictly commercial basis. In order to secure the independence of the institution, the governing function is shared between Administration, Faculty, Judges and Practicing Lawyers.
We have thought that it might be of interest to present the Lovdata experiment to an international audience. Although practical solutions of this kind are seldom fit for export, the scheme highlights one way of solving an administrative - and one may even say constitutional - problem.
The underlying ideas may, we hope, give inspiration to others who are striving to achieve harmonization of public and commercial interests involved in legal information.
Knut S. Selmer
Chairman of the Lovdata Board.