Making New Law in Scotland – Digital Law and the New Parliament

March 1, 2000

The Scottish Group’s ground-breaking conference on 31January drew the largest attendance of any similar event in the Society’shistory with some 270 people including representatives from the new ScottishParliament, the judiciary, the legal profession, the Scottish Executive, thepolice, local government, education, those involved in community adviceprojects, and from a wide range of professional and business backgrounds.Representatives of both the Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies attended.Telewest Business Communications were the event’s major sponsors.

The keynote speech was delivered by Jim Wallace QC MPMSP, Deputy First Minister and Minister of Justice, who saw the Conference astimely and said that the moment was ripe to do all that could be done to harnessthe rapid advances being made in information communications technology for thebenefit of our society.

In his opening remarks, John Sibbald, who chaired thefirst half, said that the goal of the Conference should be to persuade the newParliament to seize the unique opportunities it had at this stage of itsexistence to use IT to modernise the law of Scotland to the benefit of the wholecommunity. This theme was taken up by Professor Neil MacCormick QC MEP andProfessor Hector MacQueen, who urged Parliament to use IT to cut through theexisting jumble of statute and case law. Professor Ian Lloyd showed how lawprimary sources had been made more satisfactorily available by AustLII andCornell.

In the second half, under the chairmanship of ProfessorAlice Brown, Co-Director of the Governance of Scotland Forum and Vice Principalof Edinburgh University, John Gailey (in a wonderfully humorous demonstration)showed what was currently available on Scottish Web sites. Kaliani Lyle, ChiefExecutive Officer of Scottish Citizen’s Advice, stressed the importance ofaccess to law by the citizen, not least to reduce the burden on the staggering430,000 inquiries handled by CABx in Scotland last year. In a highly innovativepresentation, Brandon Malone showed a model he had developed for the Conferenceof how a Citizen’s Web/TV Channel might appear and the different levels ofadvice it might offer.

Andrew Cubie, Chairman of the recent report on studentfinance, drew the conference to a close by urging the Minister to recognise thehuge support and interest the Conference had generated in finding appropriateways forward. He urged him to support the SCL UKILELI project which John Sibbaldhad earlier described to the Conference and to make the LCD Database freelyaccessible. As part of the Conference’s goal, Scotland, through its Parliament,its legal institutions and its lawyers, should become renowned for itsaccessibility, clarity of expression and the knowledge of its citizens.

A full report will follow in the next issue. Many ofthe issues discussed at the Conference will be discussed in greater depth andfrom an international perspective in the course of the Citations Workshop beingrun by BILETA in conjunction with SCRIPT and the SCL Scottish Group in Edinburghon 11 and 12 March.