Introduction

Challenges of Legal Research in Malawi Malawi faces a serious problem when it comes to law reporting [5]. The Official Law Reports have been discontinued; the African Law Reports Malawi Series and the Malawi Law Reports cover only the period 1923 – 1993. The MalawiLII website [9], which is the Malawi section on the Southern Africa Legal Information Institute SAFLII, is an online resource contains court judgments issued since 1993 and some statutory laws. However, it is not complete and not easily searchable. Paid services such as Blackhall’s Laws of Malawi contain all the statutory laws (Principal and Subsidiary Legislation) of Malawi in force available at one source on the Internet in an updated and consolidated form. However this is only accessible to paid members and it comes at a substantial cost. The High Court of Malawi maintains a section with printed judgments organised in folders by year and court. However, the indexing used is too rough. The High Court Library also has a paid email subscription service, though which members received scanned images of judgments. However, these are not in a searchable form. Commentaries and digests are very rare and most sections of the law do not have any such publications, e.g., the Criminal Law. There are also private libraries that may be maintained by various law firms.

Problem Statement

In Malawi, the legal research faces significant challenges in accessing and searching for relevant information. On one hand are the issues of accessibility and the availability or the scattered nature of the official reports. On the other hand are the challenges coming from the fact that the current document structure of Malawi legal text, e.g., court judgments, does not support a system of citation that makes it possible to link statutory law, case law and secondary law or to search by “legal terms” and their specific interpretations. This research tackles the specific problem of classifying court judgments disseminated by the High Court Library. The court judgments disseminated via the Malawi High Court Library are not classified according to useful categories, such as courts, topics of the law, statues they refer to. They do not have an index and the structure of the documents is not uniform. The internal structure of judgments impacts the efficiency of a search [2,4,6].

Objectives

The aim of this research is to develop a methodology for an semi-automatic
classification of judgments disseminated by the High Court Library of the Malawi Judiciary with
the purpose of enabling ‘intelligent searching’ within this body of knowledge. Specifically, we have
the following sub-objectives.

  1. To test the efficiency of the search tool available at the moment in the MalawiLII website.
  2. To build an automatic tool for identifying and extracting the general structure of court judgments in Malawi.
  3. To build a semi-automatic tool for extracting key meta-data from court judgments: type of case, involved parties, key legal terms, and laws and statues referred to in the judgment.

References

[1] V. R. Benjamins, P. Casanovas, J. Breuker, and A. Gangemi. Law and the semantic web, an
introduction. In Law and the Semantic Web, pages 1–17. Springer, 2005.

[2] Atefeh Farzindar and Guy Lapalme. ‘LetSum, an automatic Legal Text Summarizing system’ in T. Gordon (ed.), Legal Knowledge and Information Systems. Jurix 2004: The Seventeenth Annual Conference. Amsterdam: IOS Press, 2004, pp. 11-18.

[3] Heinrich H. Dzinyemba, Subject Index of Cases Unreported: Civil and Criminal Cases 1997 – 2003’, Malawi High Court Manuscript.

[4] H. Igari, A. Shimazu, and K. Ochimizu. Document structure analysis with syntactic model and parsers: Application to legal judgments. In JSAI International Symposium on A.I., pages 126–140, 2011.

[5] Judge Kapindu’s description of the Malawi Legal System notes in 2014 http://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/Malawi1.html#_edn70

[6] Marios Koniaris George Papastefanatos Yannis Vassiliou, Towards Automatic Structuring and Semantic Indexing of Legal Documents, PCI ’16, November 10 – 12, 2016, Patras, Greece.

[7] Q. Lu, J. G. Conrad, K. Al-Kofahi, and W. Keenan. Legal document clustering with built-in topic segmentation. In Proceedings of CIKM ’11, pages 383–392, 2011.

[8] Daniel Locke, G. Zuccon, & H. Scells. Automatic query generation from legal texts for case law retrieval. In 13th Asia Information Retrieval Societies Conference (AIRS 2017), 2017, Jeju, Korea.

[9] MalawiLII Website

[10] Xiaojun Wan and Jianguo Xiao. Single Document Keyphrase Extraction Using Neighborhood Knowledge, Proceedings of the Twenty-Third AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, 2008.

[11] Adam Wyner, Raquel Mochales-Palau, Marie-Francine Moens, and David Milward, Approaches to Text Mining Arguments from Legal Cases, JURIX 2008.