Achievement and Promise

March 1, 2000

The Society for Computers and Law can feelextraordinarily proud of its great achievement in the final months of its 25thAnniversary year. That achievement is the enormous strides that have been takentowards the establishment of a new organisation to provide free access via theInternet to all the law in the United Kingdom. The Society has pledged £20,000to the pilot project. Other substantial donations have been promised by The BarCouncil, The Law Society of England and Wales, The Law Society of Scotland,Clifford Chance, Hammond Suddards, Jordans Publishing, the law faculties ofEdinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde.

Nothing can give me greater pride, in my final reportto you all, as joint Chairman of the Society, than to announce this achievement.I know it has long been the dream of our President, Lord Justice Brooke, to seethis achievement happen and I would like to thank him for his support andencouragement with this project and for his unfailing support of the Society andExecutive over the last few years. Sir Henry – on behalf of the Executive andthe Society thank you.

There is one other person without whose drive, support,enthusiasm and ruthless determination, I do not believe that I would be in aposition to make this announcement today. That is our Vice-Chairman – LaurieWest-Knights. Laurie, we are all indebted to you and we are looking forward verymuch indeed to your update on the project immediately after the Award Ceremonytonight. Over 200 people have registered to hear your talk, which shows theimportance of the project for members of SCL. I must also mention Lord Saville,Professor Richard Susskind, Amanda Finlay and John Sibbald who have all paid animportant role in the project to date. I am very optimistic that at nextyear’s AGM we the Society will be in a position to demonstrate the pilot (orperhaps even the live) site to you all.

The Future of the Society

During the last 12 months the Executive and Councilhave been occupied in preparing the way forward for the Society in the 21stcentury. The pressures of professional life are such that people have less timeto contribute to non-fee earning work and it is therefore important to get morepeople involved with the work of the Society. It is also important to make fulluse of the wide range of expertise and experience of the Society’s members.These are the main reasons why the Executive has proposed the establishment ofthe Working Parties. In December we wrote to the members who had indicated thatthey wished to be more involved with the Society to invite their suggestions forthe working parties. We were delighted with the response and in February we willbe inviting all those who responded to that letter to a meeting in London toestablish the working parties and their agendas for the coming year.

Present members of Council will chair some of theWorking Parties, and others members of the Society will chair the rest. Chairsof the Working Parties will be co-opted to Council. It is for this reasonCouncil is not proposing the election of any new members to Council at the AGMbut only proposing the re-election of those Council members whose term of officehas ended and who are seeking to be re-elected.

Most of the work of the Working Parties will beconducted electronically and we hope that other members will contribute to thesediscussions through the SCL Web site, where each working party will be allocatedits own area. The collective expertise of the Society is immense, andeveryone’s contribution is welcome. The Society’s voice carries a lot ofweight, and our opinions are sought by many other organisations, including thegovernment. We have directed working parties towards the areas we believe to beimportant, and we will set up new working parties as the need arises. This is anopportunity for your views to influence policy at the highest level and we lookforward to the results of this far-reaching programme.


In the next 12 months there will be important changesmade to our Web site and we would encourage you to visit it at least once aweek. This will enable you to take part in discussions and also see the latestSCL news and forthcoming events in the diary, which is regularly updated. In thevery near future we hope to distribute all group meeting notices electronically.This will result in a substantial saving of money, which can then be spent moreprofitably. If we had been able to send all notices electronically over the last12 months we would have saved over £10,000! In order to do this it is importantthat we have all members’ direct e-mail addresses – so if SCL HQ does not haveyour address please send them it by e-mail as soon as possible.

Potential members welcome the opportunity of submittingmembership applications online but it is vital that we invest in the Web site tofacilitate online secure payments amongst other improvements. Just under 10% ofthose who apply to join fail to pay their subscriptions and payment online wouldsubstantially reduce this figure.

At present the Society has 2,638 paid-up members, 20%of whom joined in the last 12 months, but numerically membership has notincreased. This reflects the growing trend of increased job mobility within thelegal profession. We feel that encouraging members to visit the Web site formeeting notices etc will persuade members who change jobs to retain theirmembership of SCL.

Computers and Law and the Web Site

The magazine Computers and Law remains theflagship of the Society and our thanks are due in no small part to LaurenceEastham, the Co-ordinating Editor, for all he does to continually raise theprofile of the magazine. One of the promising signs for the magazine over thelast few months has been an increase in SCL membership which appears to relatedirectly to the restriction to SCL members of access to any but the immediatepast issue of the magazine on the SCL Web page.

Previously, as you will recall, access was freelyavailable to all issues of the magazine. The evidence is that, once people (andin particular members who had failed to renew their subscriptions) found thatthey could no longer gain such access for free, they were happy to pay their £50to see it. This is a sharp illustration of the importance of the relationshipbetween the magazine and the Web site. The relationship will be furtherstrengthened in the next 12 months with the formation of a Media Committee (anamalgamation of the present editorial and Web site boards) with responsibilityfor both the magazine and the Web site.

However, we do want to encourage students to view themagazine and we are in discussions with BILETA as to how this could best beachieved.


In 1999 the Society organised two major large regionalevents in Liverpool and Bristol as well as the major ‘Free the Law’ eveningmeeting addressed by Professor Graham Greenleaf of AustLII, which was thecatalyst for the ‘Free Access to Law’ project in the UK.

On 31st January 2000 the Scottish Group of the Society,together with The Governance of Scotland Forum is holding a major event entitled‘Making New Law in Scotland – Digital Law and the New Parliament’ for whichover 250 delegates have registered. I would like to thank John Sibbald, Chairmanof the Scottish Group, for the tremendous amount of time and energy he has spenton the Scottish Group.

In line with his election promise, John Irving, myco-chairman, has attended meetings of the Liverpool, London, Northern, Scottishand South Western Groups over the last year, and he is looking forward toattending meetings of all the other groups in the coming year.

Throughout the UK the Society has organised 33 eventsin the last 12 months. This is less than in 1998 as a few of the regional groupsdid not hold any meetings. However, both the Midlands and South Western Groupshave now been re-launched with new Committees and the Executive is seeking waysto assist, where necessary, the arrangement of group meetings, to ensure thatmembers all over the UK have the opportunity to attend local meetings. TheInternet Group meets mainly in London although membership of this group isnationwide and we hope to repeat Internet Group topics in other areas.

We are grateful to all our group committees for thework they do in organising events for their members and we are indeed fortunatethat so many speakers are prepared to give their time freely to address ourmembers.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank thepartners of the large law firms and other organisations who generously providetheir excellent meeting facilities free of charge. In London, in particular,meetings are often so popular that they are oversubscribed. It is therefore verydisappointing when a large number of members fail to show at the last minute.Sometimes this means that a room which should have been full is only half fullwhich is not only discourteous to the speakers and our hosts but also means thatmembers who have been turned away could have been accommodated. I know thatCaroline Gould, who administers all the Group meetings, has become an expert oncalculating the % of ‘non-shows’ but recently even her most pessimisticcalculations have been wrong. At one London Group meeting 96 out of 153 peoplewho had booked for the lecture failed to attend. This was a meeting that washeavily oversubscribed and some members had been disappointed when theirapplications had been rejected. We would therefore ask you not to be ‘tickhappy’ but only to apply for meetings that you really think you will be ableto attend.


Caroline Gould is with us tonight and I would like tothank her for all that she does at SCL HQ, from membership and group meetingadministration to being the first contact potential members have with SCL. Therole of Ruth Baker is so fundamental to the existence of SCL that it almost goeswithout saying – but not quite, so Ruth, thank you again.

A number of far-ranging events have been organised overthe last 12 months and reports of these events have appeared on the Web site andin the magazine. In the October/November 1999 issue of Computers and LawJohn Irving (Joint-Chairman-Technology) and I set out the Executive’s visionfor the future. I would like to thank my fellow members of the Executive andmembers of Council for their input into our future, and for their continuedwork, and sage advice, in many other areas of the SCL’s activity during theyear.

I would also like to thank two members of Council whoare not seeking re-election – HHJ Anthony Thorpe and Paul Brenells. JudgeThorpe’s experience on the Council of Circuit Judges was extremely helpfulwhen we debated the new structure of SCL and we wish him well.

Paul Brenells has been a member of Council since 1988.He is probably best known for his Chairmanship of the WordPerfect Group, whichbecame the Word Processing Group. It was in 1991 that Paul invited Rick Rodgersand Robert Wilkins to present the first seminar on ‘Getting the most out ofWordPerfect for your legal practice’. It was a different world and centurywhen SCL set out to show ‘how to use macros and techniques which enablelawyers to produce tailor-made documents quickly, and how laser printers can beused to reproduce completed standard pre-printed forms on plain paper!’ Paul,thank you for your enthusiasm and support as a member of Council. We hope thatyou will continue to be involved in the work of the Society as a contributor toworking parties, the Web site and the magazine.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank EdDean for his efforts in organising the SCL Award. I know what a complex task itis to organise this event, and the Executive is very grateful to Ed for his timeand commitment.

Finally, I would like to record my personal pleasure atthe news that Richard Susskind, a former Chairman of SCL, was awarded an OBE inthe New Year’s honours list for ‘Services to Justice and IT in the Law’.This honour is richly deserved, and I am sure we all wish to congratulateRichard.

As I said at the beginning of my report, this is mylast report as Joint-Chairman of the Society. I am grateful for the opportunityyou have given me to serve you in this capacity. At the Council meetingpreceding this AGM, Harry Small was elected Joint Chairman-Law. He qualified asan English solicitor in 1981 and has worked in the IT law field ever since. Hewas one of the first British lawyers to obtain and defend an Anton Piller(search and seizure) order from the High Court against software pirates. He alsoachieved what is believed to be the largest UK damages recovery for softwarecopyright infringement. Harry has also practised extensively in non-contentiousIT law, having drafted or negotiated most types of hardware, software andtelecommunications contracts in the course of his professional life.

For the last year he has served as a Vice-Chairman ofthe Society and has made a substantial contribution to the plans forre-structuring SCL. I am delighted by his appointment and wish him well in hisrole.

With the increased importance of IT Law, and astechnology boundaries are pushed ever further outwards within the legalprofession and beyond, it is vital that SCL is seen as a major player in boththese areas. With your support I am sure that this will be achieved.