18 May 2011

Refugee Caselaw

The University of Michigan Law School's Refugee Caselaw site has undergone a significant makeover. The essentials remain the same, although the collection has certainly grown and is more up-to-date. (My search for cases decided between January 2010 and May 2011 produced 95 hits, with the most recent being a UK case from April 2011.) Visitors can use the "guided search" to locate decisions from over 30 different jurisdictions. As before, they can retrieve specific cases by court, date, claimant's country of origin, Hathaway numbers (i.e., "chapter and section numbers of Professor James Hathaway's treatise, The Law of Refugee Status"), concepts (or keywords), and case name.

In addition, the site now offers more personalized features for those who become members. Specifically:
By registering, you may receive e-mail updates for any search criteria based on your personal preferences, timed to arrive when you prefer. You may also post requests for advice, and respond to the advice requests of others. As a member, you may also save cases to your personal briefcase between visits - allowing you to print or otherwise access the results of your searches whenever it is most convenient for you.
The opportunity to ask for advice may prove to be particularly appealing to new members, as well as the ability to save searches and set up alerts for new cases when they are uploaded to the database.

Another draw for visitors will no doubt be the free full-text of the aforementioned book by James Hathaway, The Law of Refugee Status. You can access the text via the left-hand sidebar displayed on every page of the site, which offers the option to "access chapters." (See image.)

While the Refugee Caselaw collection is smaller than Refworld's, its customizable search options allow users to hone in on very specific concepts and to review a basic summary of a case before proceeding to the full-text. These are definitely useful features when undertaking legal research.

Value-added resources like these are challenging to maintain over the long-term, requiring both dedicated managers and content providers. Hopefully, the current contributors and those who join in the future will continue to add new cases in a timely fashion to help ensure the relevance of this site over time.

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