In a seemingly unannounced change, which occurred somewhere between May and July this year, the High Court’s website now contains a database of its own judgments, consisting of all judgments since 2000, and also all ‘unreported’ judgments from 1924 to 2002. The site has its own (somewhat unfashionable) url – http://eresources.hcourt.gov.au – and you can link to summaries and judgments via urls in this domain that incorporate the media neutral citation. The database is browsable and searchable, and provides copies of the judgments in .rtf and .pdf (but not html) format. The website states that new judgments will be published ‘on the day they are delivered’, although presumably they will be up within the hour, as is typical on Austlii and Jade. For now, transcripts of the Court’s hearings are not available on the Court’s website.
This change brings Australia’s national court closer into line with the practice of comparable courts, such as the Supreme Courts of New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States (but not Canada, which continues to rely on a longstanding website collaboration with a software company.) Self-publishing carries potential advantages, such as ensuring availability even when third parties’ services are disrupted and (perhaps) avoiding potential conflicts of interest. However, it also carries potential burdens, such as ensuring availability in the face of peak demand (a problem the United States Supreme Court faced when it delivered its main Obamacare decision, indirectly contributing to initial misreporting of the result) and avoiding untimely publication (as occurred when a summary of the High Court’s own same sex marriage case was published hours early on the Court’s own website.)
Interestingly, the United States Supreme Court has just announced changes to its own judgment publication practices. In the face of scrutiny of its previous practice of making unannounced post-publication changes to its slip opinions, the Court will now not only indicate when changes have been made, but will make the nature of the changes readily visible on its website. Also, in light of studies showing that many of the weblinks referred to in the Court’s judgments are broken (so-called ‘link-rot’), the Court will now archive copies of linked material on its website. The High Court’s judgment repository contains no information about its practices in these areas. Indeed (and alas), there appears to be no change to the Court’s (and others‘) insistence that lawyers rely on ‘authorised reports’ (presently the Commonwealth Law Reports published by a North American publisher), and failing that, unauthorised reports, in preference to the so-called ‘internet citation’.