Whipping the Chair Away

June 8, 2011

Like you, I am unappreciated. My singing voice for example, which has been compared to Pavorotti (I assumed they were talking about my voice – what else could a remarked upon resemblance to Pavorotti refer to?), is not held in the high esteem that I might have hoped and I am rarely encouraged in my new creative endeavours – ‘Is {i}that{/i} meant to be the sea?’ is the most positive reaction received to date.

But it is in the everyday things that the lack of appreciation really hurts – the rubbish disposal, the onion chopping and the fetching and carrying. You will have your own list of more important activities. But I console myself with the thought that just because I am seen as part of the furniture does not mean I would not be missed if I was gone.

One of the things I myself now take for granted is being able to connect to case materials, free and at any time. While I do have access to other services, Casetrack and LNUK in my case, I use BAILII for preference because I know that I can refer others to it because it is free. BAILII has become very widely accepted over the last few years. I see neutral references being used everywhere and links to BAILII in all manner of online publications, blogs and newsletters. I am genuinely surprised that it is not universally used but it is getting that way.

Before Bailii, more than ten years ago, we struggled to see the creation of anything half as good as what we now have. The range of materials at BAILII and ease of use are of a high standard. People have short memories, for good things at least, and ten years is a long time. Indeed, some users of BAILII must have been students of law and in practice only in the BAILII era and can be forgiven for taking it for granted – perhaps assuming that it is government-funded. But, while the battle for free access to primary legal materials is a battle of a past generation (and, when I find myself talking about it, I have some sympathy for those who look at me like I once looked at people who talked about their role in the desert with Montgomery), I am not that sure that the battle has truly been won.

BAILII is not government funded (although HMCS does make an important contribution to it) and, even if you think it should have a status that ensures that its future is secured from government funds as an important adjunct to citizen’s right, that is not going to happen in the near future. Only we users can keep it afloat. Traditionally and very properly, BAILII has been funded by substantial contributions from organisations like SCL and the Law Society as well as funding provided by firms of solicitors and barristers chambers. Publishers Practical Law Company, Crime Line and FLMemo make a major contribution too. Now though a major funder has decided not to continue funding BAILII, and there is uncertainty about the continuing provision of funding by other major funders. A new appeal has been launched and I hope readers of this post will lobby within their organisations for suitable contributions to be made by that organisation; firms and chambers benefit substantially from BAILII – they can refer clients to it and it does something to keep the major online publishers (relatively) honest, saving them real money. But, while large contributions are vital, BAILII would benefit too from smaller individual donations.

I still recall a dark day from my youth when going to sit back at the table with a drink in my hand. Some japester, who may now justifiably have reached the darker confines of hell, slid away the chair, leaving me to fall to the ground with beer covering my clothes (not the best first date I have ever had).

We all take things for granted – they become part of the furniture, like BAILII has now. Which is fine, until someone whips the chair away.

I have reviewed BAILII’s value to me over the years and felt bound too make a small contribution to the appeal. If you are reading this, the odds are that you too use its services and have done so for a number of years. You might well feel inclined to contribute too. I think it is a bit like an obligation to a busker or street entertainer: if you like the music or show you might throw in a small coin; but if you have stood, watched and listened for ten minutes or more, you are really obliged to put some big coins in the hat.

If you want to contribute to the BAILII appeal as an individual, you can drop big coins in its hat online (while the spirit moves you) {here: http://www.cafonline.org/apps/Charities/BasicSearch.aspx?dsp_keywords=bailii&dsp_location=&dsp_exactmatch=False&searchtype=simple}.

For more on the BAILII appeal, click {here: http://www.bailii.org/bailii/appeal.html}