Letters to the Editor

January 1, 2000

From John Sibbald, Chairman Scottish Group

Chris Reed and John Irving helpfully described the Proposals for theRe-structuring the Society in the October/November 1999 issue. The ScottishGroup would indeed support their view that the Society is at a watershed.However, the Scottish Group is unable to support the Proposals as the best wayforward for the Society to achieve its aim to become ‘the leading organisationfor the encouragement and development of legal-related IT and IT-related law’.

There are a number of reasons why we are unable to do so, but chiefly theProposals fail to address two key issues which we see as critical to the futurewell being of the Society. They fail to address the jurisdictional element andcontinue the fallacy that a Society which claims to be transjurisdictional andwhich seeks to be transnational should be embodied within the Englishjurisdiction.

With the mass penetration of IT within society as a whole, there is afundamental need for SCL to re-think its aims and objectives before defining thestructure to implement these. Executive and Council began such an exercisefollowing the Membership Survey 1998, but this appears to have sunk withouttrace. This process needs to be revisited. The current Proposals are premature.

If the Proposals are implemented, then the Scottish Group may require toconsider alternative means of carrying out the Society’s aims and objectiveshere in Scotland.


John Sibbald raises a number of interesting points, and we’re grateful tohim for giving us the opportunity to share the thought processes behind ourrestructing proposal.

In February 1998 the Society undertook a membership survey, to which Johnrefers, and our proposals reflect the results of this survey. We believe thatthe use of IT has transcended geographic boundaries, therefore the SCL shouldadopt a unitary model, rather than the more federal approach which John may beimplying.

However, we recognise that different jurisdictions require separateapproaches, which we plan to accommodate by forming separate Working Partiesconsisting of interested members who put themselves forward. Within the IT LawSection we are proposing to establish ‘law reform’ and ‘access to law’Working Parties for the different jurisdictions. Should any other IT law topicarise which is specific to any particular jurisdiction we will be able to set upa Working Party within the IT law section to deal with that issue. In this waythe Executive feels that it has addressed the jurisdictional element and ensuredthat the Society is transnational.

The Working Parties can meet both electronically and physically, thusenabling members, no matter where they are based, to play an active role in theSCL’s overall activities. The Society is embodied within the Englishjurisdiction only in so far as it is a Charity registered in England and as suchis subject to English law.

From a membership services viewpoint, we intend that the regional groups willcontinue to be the SCL’s grassroots, and be geographically based wherever ademand arises. In this format we can continue to serve our members in Scotland,Ireland, England, and Wales, plus other parts of the world with equality. Animportant part of our proposals is to give as much autonomy to the Groups aspossible, within the constraints of the SCL’s charitable status, but makingsensible use of the central office resources based in Bristol wheneverpractical.

We do not share John’s view that the SCL is London based. It is true thatwe have a large and active London Group, but in many cases it is simplyexpedient to hold a number of our major events in London as over 50% of ourmembers are based in London and London is readily accessible from the rest ofthe UK. We have active Groups in other parts of these islands as well. Ourlargest event ever was held in Leeds in 1997 when the exhibition and workshopsattracted over 300 delegates. The SCL is fortunate to have an active group inScotland, who have achieved much recently regarding online access to Scottishlaw. We hope that the Westminster Parliament will shortly follow the Scottishlead in this respect.

The ‘Free the Law’ meeting on 8 November 1999 was a direct response tothe question in the membership survey on the relevance of promoting the Internetfor access to cases and statutes. 66% of those who responded thought that thiswas highly relevant to the work of the Society and a further 25% (a total of91%) thought that it was relevant. This is just one example of how the Executiveis implementing the results of the membership survey.

It would be a great loss to the SCL if the Scottish Group were ‘to go italone’, and contrary not only to the increasing unitary nature of both IT lawand technology, but also to the SCL’s objectives and principles. We very muchhope that the Scottish Group will be amongst the first to take advantage of‘the new order’, and will remain under the SCL umbrella.