Pocket Law: Improving Free Access to Legal Information

26 November 2021, by Robley Gori

Today AfricanLII and Laws.Africa are announcing a limited release of a new version of Pocket Law, a desktop application which makes African legal information available offline.

Access to the law - an important part of the development of Africa

For close to three decades since it was made available to the public, the internet has transformed lives across the world in numerous ways. The African continent has not been left behind and has taken advantage of the opportunities made possible in this new internet age. However, there is still room for improvement. Internet connectivity is still a hurdle and more than half of the continent is still offline and without access. This is partly driven by the cost of infrastructure which in turn drives up the cost of internet access.

Lack of free access to legal information is another of the challenges many people on our continent still face and has implications not only on daily lives but also on our collective future as a continent. By leveraging the internet technology available today, we can engage in initiatives that promote and sustain free and reliable access to legal information which will in turn empower individuals, communities and governments as they strive towards good governance, democracy, justice and the rule of law. One of these initiatives is Pocket Law.

Pocket Law - delivering offline access to African law

Pocket Law is an off-line desktop application for Windows and Mac, that allows users to browse and search caselaw, legislation and other legal materials, found on a Legal Information Institute (LII) website. The project is an initiative by AfricanLII and Laws.Africa that aims to provide offline access to the collection of legal information that is currently available on the various LII websites of the free access to law community in Africa. Through Pocket Law, we seek to make legal information available and accessible to users with limited or costly internet access.

PocketLaw in use

As much as the internet is gaining traction on the continent, barriers such as cost still exist that prevent a majority of people reaping from its benefits and those of freely accessible online legal information. Pocket Law aims to break down some of these barriers and make legal information accessible to even more people by providing an offline solution that mitigates against issues of poor internet accessibility and high costs of data.

Pocket Law comes bundled with a base collection of the legal materials available on the LII. Users can download the application from the LII website, or receive the installer on a USB stick. Content on the application is fully searchable and accessible even in situations where internet access may be unavailable or unreliable. Updates which may also include updated content and improvements are available once the user is in coverage and requests an update.

By leveraging technologies such as Electron and file formats such as WARC, Pocket Law will not only provide a consistent experience across platforms, but also maintain the same experience that is available on the LII websites. Users will be able to browse, read and search for content as they would on the online LII websites.

The LIIs are constantly updating and adding more content on their websites and Pocket Law will not be left out. As such, updates will be made available from time to time in order to ensure users of Pocket Law will be able to access up-to-date content and legal information.

While users will still need some level of internet access to download or update the application, it will be able to function and legislation content will still be accessible even when internet access is not available.

Pocket Law is currently in the beta stage of development and will soon be available for download on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms. Pocket Law Zimbabwe will be the first to launch making the content available on ZimLII available offline. More versions for more LIIs will be added to the project in time.

We are still scoping out the development of Pocket Law for Android and iOS.

To learn more about Pocket Law or experience the beta, reach out to us via email on info@laws.africa.

(Photo of a Red Hartebeest by Peter-Hg on Shutterstock)