NZLII opens doors to law for all


Thousands of New Zealanders – lawyers and non-lawyers alike – are benefiting from access to decisions by courts and other legal bodies, thanks to a remarkable Foundation-supported initiative.

The New Zealand Legal Information Institute (NZLII) website hosts much of the country’s case law, as well as legislation, law journals and law reform papers. It combines information from 112 databases onto a single website. Access to this information is anonymous and free.

NZLII has grown steadily from small beginnings in 2004, assisted by establishment and expansion grants from the Law Foundation. It now contains more than 164,000 documents. Users are flocking to the comprehensive site – it supplied more than six million successful information requests in 2014, an average of 16,576 requests a day.

NZLII is a joint project of the Otago University Law Faculty, the Canterbury University Law Library and the Australasian Legal Information Institute.

The project’s driving force is Otago University Associate Law Professor Donna Buckingham – she and her helpers have put in countless hours, often voluntarily, to developing the website and adding new databases.

Donna Buckingham

“One of the beauties of this website is that you don’t have to be a legal expert to use it,” she says. “Users can search for a specific item or for references to a legal idea – there are no limitations to the subject, width or depth of the search.”

She says the service depends on the co-operation of the content creators. Some supply content directly to NZLII; others allow it to be harvested from their individual websites.

From its initial base in legal decisions and legislation, the website has grown to add decisions from specialist bodies that were not previously publicly available, including Accident Compensation, the Environment Court and Coroner’s Court recommendations.

Recent innovations include adding historical material from old law reports series and decision generators, as well as nineteenth century Provincial ordinances.

NZLII is part of the Free Access to Law Movement (FALM), which has more than 50 members world-wide. It shares its technical platform with its Australian-based counterpart, AUSTLII. It subscribes to the Montreal Declaration on Free Access to Law.

Donna says that when combined with the current state-offered legislation website service and the Judicial Decisions On-line service, NZLII offers an incredibly valuable public service.

“NZLII has developed to the point that New Zealanders now have free access to a great deal of our primary law. I think that’s something to be proud of,” she says.

Users have called the service “amazing'”, “life-saving”, “fast and useful”, “wonderful” and a “fantastic resource that promotes access to justice”.


The Law Foundation has provided several grants totalling $130,000 to help establish and expand the NZLII service.

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