The interrogation of legal databases made simple

The Bureau Veritas Rules for the Classification of Ships is a set of 30,000 rules, which state the requirements for ships to be declared sea-worthy. They are expressed in technical and legal language and normally are consulted by specialists in the shipping industry or in maritime law. The CLIME project is making these rules accessible and understandable for the non-expert.

The project has developed a method of allowing non-specialists to construct complex legal or technical input to a computer using a simple, mouse driven point-and-click interface. As users are guided through input construction, a WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Meant) system supplies multilingual feedback to help people see how the system is interpreting their query.

The system is built on a method of automated legal reasoning. This requires all the concepts in the target text being represented in a knowledge framework. The target information is encoded into a formal language, after which the system can reason with these rules. The technological goal of CLIME is to supersede keyword based text and document retrieval mechanisms. As the technology develops, more bodies of text will be amenable to this formal encoding and knowledge representation treatment; such texts equiring less formal structuring.

The CLIME demonstration shows how a non-specialist can interrogate the Bureau Veritas Rules to check the requirements for seagoing oil tankers. Using a simple interface, the user may construct sophisticated queries about ships and ships' equipment and obtain an answer in English, French or Italian. Legal justification and explanation accompany the answer, with links to the original text of the relevant Rules as well as to appropriate tables and graphics.

Contact Richard BALL,British Maritime Technology Ltd
tel + 44 181 943 5544
fax + 44 181 977 9304
email richardb@bmtech.co.uk
website www.bmt.org

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