Legal research on a tight budget – make sure that you are familiar with the free resources available
Updated: Jul 2
The rather gloomy economy is forcing many legal professionals to become extra cost-conscious resulting in the cancellation of subscriptions to publications and online content. In this article, we would like to suggest that you make sure that you are familiar with the free legal resources available online to enable you to make informative decisions regarding your library budget.
Where do I start if my skills are a bit rusty?
A good start is to look at the various research guides mentioned in our list under the heading Research Guides. A overall view of all the available resources on South African law is provided by the following two resources:
· Barratt, Amanda and Snyman, Pamela (Updated by Salona Lutchman). Researching South African Law. – Globallex, 2018.
· Gilmore, Shirley Ann. PULP GUIDE: Finding legal information in South Africa. – 4th ed. – Pretoria University Law Publishers, 2017.
Where can I find free case law?
The best place to go to is the website of the Southern African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII) at http://www.saflii.org/. Also note the article on SAFLII in the May 2020 issue of the Info Law Alert. A large collection of post-1994 cases are available on this site and new cases are added daily.
It’s best to acquaint yourself with the search function to use the database effectively. Information on the search function of SAFLII can be found at http://www.saflii.org/content/searching-help. Just keep in mind that the search function is not as refined as the products offered by commercial publishers. It also lacks all the convenient add-ons such as the flynotes, headnotes and indexes referring to legislation discussed.
Remember that the google search function can also be used to search for information on a particular site by adding “site:saflii.org” after your search term. An example is here below:
Apart from the Saflii website, judgments and decisions of statutory bodies and tribunals can also be found on the websites of the relevant body or court. See the sections under Judgments and Statutory Bodies & Tribunals in our Legal Research Guide for more information.
What about legislation?
The best free access to consolidated South African legislation is Laws of South Africa, compiled by University of Pretoria at http://www.lawsofsouthafrica.up.ac.za/. The March to April 2020 edition of the Info Law Alert included an article by Shirley Gilmore on this website.
The site contains more than 360 Consolidated Acts and Regulations. Keep in mind that it’s not 100% comprehensive. The Acts and Regulations are in PDF format. Navigation takes time to get used to but it is worthwhile to spend a bit of the time on the site to orientate yourself.
Parliamentary Bills can be accessed on the website of the Parliamentary Monitoring Group at https://pmg.org.za/bills/. A good indication of the progress of the Bill is also given on this site. The Parliamentary Monitoring Group also provides an overview of the stages and process involved making or changing law at https://pmg.org.za/bills/explained/.
I need access to government gazettes
Government Gazettes are difficult to work with mainly because of the bulky content of the publication. Indexes and commercial products make accessing the content much easier. If you cannot justify the cost of acquiring these products versus the actual use of the government gazettes then you need to look at sites such as:
· http://www.gov.za (Under Documents)
Copies of the provincial gazettes can be found on the SAFLII website at http://www.saflii.org/content/south-africa-index.
Retrospective copies of the government gazettes and provincial gazettes are limited on these sites.
Are there free legal e-books available?
There are a few free legal e-books available which can be accessed via the links provided in our Legal Research Guide.
Where do I find journal articles?
There are a number of open access South African legal journals available such as: De Jure at http://www.dejure.up.ac.za/ and De Rebus at http://www.derebus.org.za. A comprehensive list of open access law journals with links is available in Lexinfo’s Legal Research Guide.
The following indexes to journal articles provide references to articles.
· The Johannesburg Bar Library Journal Index at http://johannesburgbar.co.za/library/ (select Library then Bar Library and the Journal Article Index) or use http://lms.johannesburgbar.co.za/uhtbin/cgisirsi.exe/?ps=7IdOaaRbuJ/0/281700008/60/8/X/BLASTOFF
· The index provided by Sabinet at www.journals.co.za.
The full text articles can purchased via Sabinet. Many of the articles are however freely available on the internet. Just google the reference or view the list of open access journals to find the journal.
The institutional repositories of universities often publish dissertations, journal articles and research papers on their respective websites. A list of these repositories is available at: https://v2.sherpa.ac.uk/view/repository_by_country/South_Africa.html.
What is this? Weird abbreviations and acronyms
One often encounters a strange looking abbreviation or acronym. Lexinfo has compiled a list of frequently used abbreviations pertaining to legal resources that might be useful which can be accessed here. The List of Acronyms and Abbreviations compiled by The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (RP189/2009) available http://pmg-assets.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/docs/091118dojannreport6_0.pdf is also very helpful.
Help? I need a librarian
Yes, even a professional free library service is available, if you are a legal practitioner in South Africa. Just email email@example.com. More information on this amazing service offered by the National Law Library is available in the May 2020 issue of the Lexinfo InfoLaw Alert.