From the Editor’s Chair

November 1, 1999

Free the Law

By the time this issue hits members’ desks we will be only days away fromthe Free the Law event in London on 8 November. Regular readers will need noreminding that the issues concern making primary legal information freelyavailable on the Internet and the ways in which the information revolution canbe made to improve access to law for society as a whole. It is a major eventwhich will I hope see a packed house gathered to hear Professor Graham Greenleafin particular and to see leading figures discuss possible solutions.

The event is likely to be fascinating in itself and a considerable learningopportunity. The Australasian experience, and indeed the Scottish initiativeswith court judgments, provide lessons for the English jurisdiction (and in termsof legislation for the whole of Great Britain). I confess that the idea of freeaccess always appealed but nothing has convinced me more firmly of theadvantages than the politely concealed disdain of Australian legal informationprofessionals when discussing the absence of such access in the UK.

It is some months since this magazine promised to keep the pot bubbling onthis topic and we certainly hope to carry a full report of the proceedings inthe next issue. Those participating scarcely need reminding that there aremountains to climb but nothing could make the ascent easier than committedsupport from the legal community at base camp. Since the opportunity isavailable to participate in the event by video-conferencing (possibly aninteresting experience in its own right), I would hope that SCL members willflock to be involved.

IT Law Cases

This issue has analysis of three IT-law cases. Although it is true that wehave a second bite at our Mars, the existence of three cases of interest in ashort space of time is worthy of comment. It is a sign that IT law has grown upwhen reportable cases come with such rapidity. In acknowledgment of that fact,we aim to improve our case reporting by introducing reports from establishedreporting services, particularly next-day reporting services, so that ourreaders have access to a prompt report. It will also give readers an opportunityto sample the type of reports available from those operating speedy reportingservices, so killing two birds with one stone.

However, I sense that there remains a slight desperation about IT lawyers insearch of precedents. Where lawyers seize upon a first instance decision likeSouth West Water, by however distinguished a judge, and seek to analyse itsevery entrail then it is time to call for a sense of proportion. I have longsince abandoned the claim that there is no such thing as IT law (only differentapplications of contract, copyright, tort etc) and recognise that the contextdoes require separate expertise, but it must surely be acknowledged that therecan never be a major departure from the norm in IT law because it is firmlybased in other fields of mainstream law. There is never going to be a Year ZeroIT law case and every ruling will be limited by its particular facts. In factthe field is limited by its past and its future because the facts of IT tradinglife will not stay still as IT develops so rapidly.