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Albanian Legal Information Initiative:
Increasing Access to Legal Information in Albania


Description

 

           From October to December 1999, a special delegation from Chicago-Kent College of Law assessed Albania's current legal information structure and recommended ways to increase governmental and private access to laws, decrees, and judicial decisions through both printed and electronic means.  The project was premised on the fact that government officials throughout the country should be able to refer to official versions of agency regulations and government decrees to guide them in compliance with current laws and policies, thereby enhancing consistency in application of laws between Tirana and outlying regions.  Further, businesses both in and outside of Albania will benefit from easier access to laws and judicial decisions.  This access will enhance the predictability of the legal environment in which commercial transactions take place and in which democratic institutions can take hold. 

         During the first phase of the assessment, Chicago-Kent studied Albania's existing legal information system, including the Constitution, laws, resolutions, administrative orders, regulations, instructions, judicial decisions, and other legal decrees.  After extensive interviewing, the special delegation assessed the needs of governmental officials in various ministries, judges, legal educators, attorneys, and businesses for current legal information.  The team investigated ways the Official Gazette and other legal materials have been disseminated across the country and reported on the extent to which the private sector has collected legal information and packaged such materials for sale.  

During this initial phase of the study, the team evaluated Albania's technological infrastructure to determine what is necessary to permit electronic publishing.   Both the infrastructure (secure lines, etc.) and the technological sophistication of the population were carefully addressed, recognizing that security is less of an issue for public documents. Finally, the delegation forecasted the spread of computer literacy throughout the region.  

            In the second phase of its evaluation, the Chicago-Kent team formulated recommendations as to how to increase access to legal information in both printed and electronic formats.  With respect to the government publication center, the team considered which laws and judicial decisions should be published and studied whether the Official Publication Center can satisfy the increasing workload as more regulations and judicial decisions are published.  The EUís pledge of resources to upgrade printing and computer capacity assisted in fashioning the delegation's recommendations to reflect planned enhancements.  They then considered the question of the optimal mix between bound volumes and paper supplements, and recommended indices where appropriate. Consideration was afforded to whether the official journals should be published in English as well.  In addition, they consider whether it was advisable to retain a partial monopoly for the government publication center. Additionally, the team assessed the relative costs of the various options discussed. 

Next, Chicago-Kent's delegation studied the Albania's legal information distribution system.  The Official Gazette has been disseminated both through normal postal channels as well as by private distribution service.  It was understood that there have been serious delays, both because of the inconsistent service of the distribution providers, and because there has been insufficient study of which government offices should receive priority.   Accordingly, the team assessed which government offices should receive the documents, and whether the distribution services should be contracted out to the private sector.  They also assessed the pricing system for these documents, e.g., whether there should be a tiered system of free access within the government, some charges to schools and libraries, and a third charge to the private sector. 

In addition, Chicago-Kent proposed a classification scheme for the laws, which will enhance their transparency.  The same classification system can govern both printed and electronic versions.  The classification system will include reference to the entity formulating the law as well as to the general subject matter.  Citizens reading the laws should be able, at a minimum, to determine immediately whether the law was passed at the federal or municipal level.  The classification system from civil law countries such as Germany and Italy will be studied and can possibly be adapted to fit Albania's needs.   

The Chicago Kent prepared recommendations to simultaneously publish laws, regulations, decrees, and judicial opinions in an electronic as well as printed format.  The electronic format should promote greater coordination among government agencies, and allow disparate government offices to work more closely together in fields such as law enforcement.  In addition, the electronic format should eventually permit more businesses and private individuals to learn of government laws and judicial decisions, thus paving the way for a more stable society.  That additional transparency should contribute to an atmosphere that can promote greater business investment.

          Several strategies to implement the electronic format were considered, and precedents from other countries such as Bosnia, Poland, and Macedonia were studied.  For dissemination of final laws and decisions, the Internet ultimately may be the best choice.  Publishing such laws and decisions on the web permits anyone with access to the Internet to search the legal database instantaneously and be assured of finding the most up-to-date version.  The delegation considered the feasibility of creating mirror sites in both Albanian and English.  In addition, they studied whether current materials existing in electronic format can be integrated into the new format.

             Given the current lack of access to the Internet in Albania, however, an intranet may well prove the best route as an initial step.  Government agencies connected by an intranet, for instance, can more readily communicate with each other to obtain the most recent available judicial decisions, regulations, and laws.  That same strategy might work nation-wide, by allowing access to laws to anyone using public sites linked to the intranet across the country, whether at the university in Tirana or in public governmental buildings in Durres or Kukes.  Different levels of access to information on the intranet can be provided to protect sensitive information disclosed to government agencies.  Alternatively, the laws can be made more widely available through CD-ROMs, with a mechanism suggested for permitting updates to the information contained on the disks.  The team recommended a pilot program to test the utility of the CD v. intranet plan to promote greater access. 

          Chicago-Kent then mapped out a strategy to attain the ends recommended.  The consultants estimated the costs to implement each part of the proposal.  In particular, they considered which personnel can best accomplish the steps recommended, and whether outside consultants would be needed.  In addition, they recommended appropriate training for government personnel who would use and help implement the system and charted the anticipated hardware and software costs.

 


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