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Free access to public legal information should be recognized as a universal human right

Published: 10th December 2019 Last updated: 15th April 2020

All over the world people are unjustly punished for violating laws whose existence they cannot know, because the full texts of those laws have not been adequately published or not at all, or people cannot understand the language in which they are published. In order to understand this problem, law researcher Leesi Ebenezer Mitee examined the principles of law on the duty of all governments to publish their laws so that those who are bound to obey those laws can find them, use, know, and understand them. He proposes that the United Nations should formally recognize the right of people to know the law as a human right.

Leesi Mitee, who will defend his PhD thesis on his research at Tilburg University, studied the problem in 60 English-speaking countries who officially publish their laws in the English language: 54 developing countries and the following six developed countries: United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

The major conclusions from his findings include the following.

  • Governments at all levels worldwide are responsible for the problem of inadequate access to laws because they have the moral and legal duty to publish their laws adequately for the benefit of all categories of people who are expected to know and obey them, including persons with disabilities.
  • The right to know the law is a human right because the law is interwoven with human existence, it affects all human beings universally, its violation causes serious injustice, and it is indispensable for the enjoyment of other human rights, e.g. the right of access to justice in the courts that includes fair trial and proper defence.
  • The existing laws are inadequate and cannot protect the right of people worldwide to know the law.
  • The existing methods of publishing indigenous customary law (ascertainment) are deficient and they violate the rights of the communities.
  • Official websites worldwide that contain laws are not properly organised, thereby making it difficult for people to find them.

Mitee makes sixteen major recommendations to solve the global problem and the injustice it causes people worldwide. One of these recommendations is that the United Nations should formally recognise the right of people to know the law as a human right under its proper international human rights legal framework. He also designed a model of publishing customary law termed huricompatisation, which could solve the problems of the existing methods, and a new gTLD mechanism for identifying official public legal information websites. Each tier of government, he states, should have a single one-stop website for all categories of its laws (the ONOLIWs system) so that people can find those laws easily.

Mitee is planning to take all necessary steps to submit his thesis to the United Nations to advocate implementation of his proposals. Prof. E.M.H. Hirsch Ballin will launch the advocacy and its dedicated website during Mitee’s PhD defence reception.

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