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New technology boosts legal research

Professor of Private Law Gijs van Dijck developed a technology for extracting, processing and visualizing court decisions. This allows researchers to quickly analyse a large number of cases. He worked on this together with the Netherlands eScience Center and SURF. The technology and source code are now available for the legal community.
Dafne van Kuppevelt en Gijs van Dijck

Legal scholars and law students generally analyse court decisions through human analysis, without software or other technical aid. Case law (the collection of reported cases that form the body of law) is therefore analysed based on a relatively small number of cases. Gijs van Dijck, Professor of Private Law at Maastricht University, in collaboration with the Netherlands eScience Center, developed a technology that assists the legal community in analysing case law: CaseLawAnalytics. The software enables extracting, processing and visualizing citations in court decisions (references to a certain court decision in other court decisions). This makes it possible to answer legal research questions that cannot be answered by applying traditional legal research methods.

Analysing a network of linked cases

The technology allows querying Rechtspraak.nl, which publishes court decisions, each with their own unique identifier. For each search, the user can download the data in researchable formats, such as JSON or csv. JSON files can be uploaded in the visualization tool that was developed. The visualization tool enables legal researchers to uncover a network of cases linked to each other. This makes is possible to analyse a large number of cases in a very short amount of time. It also enables researchers to discover new insights that they would have difficulty to otherwise notice. For example, identifying which cases are considered relevant by lower courts is information that remains mostly hidden in traditional legal scholarship.

Available for the legal community

With an eScience grant from the Netherlands eScience Center in 2016, van Dijck received expertise for developing his idea. A research engineer from the Netherlands eScience Center developed the appropriate technology, and SURFsara provided technical consultancy, data storage, and hosting of the web application during the development phase. The technology and source code are now available for the legal community.

The tools can be used by a broad range of legal practitioners to identify relevant court cases, including judges, policy makers, and lawyers. Additionally, students can use the technology for finding relevant cases for the courses they follow and the theses they are writing. Teachers may use the technology in their courses.

Further reading

Picture: Dafne van Kuppevelt and Gijs van Dijck. Copyright: Elodie Burrillon / HUCOPIX