Darcy du Toit did me the great honour of nominating me for an individual award purportedly sponsored by the Free Access to Law Movement. It seems that no awards were actually made, but so what. I will bask in the glory of the nomination and have asked that it be read at my funeral, if there is one.
Graham Giles is one of the longest-practising and most knowledgeable labour lawyers in South and Southern Africa. He has also lectured at a number of South African universities and participated in countless conferences and seminars. While he has been publishing for decades, his website GilesFiles has been providing free commentary and selected links to the huge volume of case law published by the Southern African Legal Information Institute (Saflii) since 2008.
Significant judgments are highlighted, together with a brief summary of the case and relevant excerpts. When a judgment is overturned this is also recorded, thus avoiding reliance on out-dated precedents. This is an extremely valuable research tool, enabling users to trace the latest case law and recent developments covering all South African law reports.
Apart from arbitration awards and judgments of the labour courts, disputes relevant to employment and labour law are also decided in the civil courts, which can have considerable importance in setting precedent.
. . . .
Drawing on his knowledge as a practitioner and a lecturer, the nominee has organised this considerable body of information into relevant and readily accessible categories, including classifications per topic, per court and per judgments of individual judges, as well as cross-references to chapters of a recent textbook on labour law (of which he is a co-author). It also has a facility for posting comments of judgments and legal issues, and a section on community housing schemes was recently added.
Through all his activities I believe the nominee has made a significant contribution to addressing the need of law students and practitioners for ready access to up-to-date legal information, more particularly the latest case law, in the rapidly-changing and contentious area of labour law. The fact that some 60% of the case load of the Labour Court consists of reviews of arbitration awards is a reflection of, amongst other things, the degree of uncertainty that continues to affect many areas of labour law some 20 years into the constitutional dispensation and the importance of accurate information in helping to settle undetermined issues.
The particular value which I believe this work has added is to make it possible for labour law practitioners and students to have free access not only in a random and general manner to the vast mass of information appearing on internet, but systematic access tailored to their needs in a highly specialised area of practice and research. Emails are furthermore sent weekly to interested persons alerting them to new posts on the website. According to the nominee there are nearly 2,000 persons on that mailing list (of which I am one). This represents a significant percentage of those active in the field of labour law, and is available to any other person seeking up-to-date information.
While it is difficult to quantify its impact, data provided by the nominee (based on Google Analytics) shows that as at 22 September 2016 there have been 5,936 users, 7,335 sessions and 12,632 page views. Its social value speaks for itself. The labour law system is integral to the operation of the economy. Given the conflicting interests of key constituencies in the world of work, a smoothly functioning dispute resolution system is essential to avoiding breakdowns in the production of goods and service delivery and pursuing the level of economic growth required in South and Southern Africa. This calls for thoroughly knowledgeable judges, arbitrators and practitioners (including trade union officials and human resources specialists) to avoid needless litigation, involving wasted cost and time as well as futile industrial action which the economy can ill afford. I have no doubt that the extensive use made of this resource has contributed to limiting such waste and laying a basis for greater effectiveness in the future.
I am not aware of any other website offering a comparable service free of charge. I see it not only as part of the Free Access to Law Movement, and a significant part of it in the field of labour law, but as part of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ which has transformed and is continuing to transform the way we work and think. I believe its use and influence can only increase as the knowledge economy and access to information technology expand.
While traditional libraries will always have their value, there can be no comparison with the dedicated information which a service like this makes available freely, instantaneously and in any location within reach of mobile telephony. It sets a precedent which could be replicated in different forms in every branch of law.