The Times Law Reports on CD-ROM

November 1, 1998

The Times Law Reports have always occupied a rather strangeposition in the pantheon of English case reporting. Condensed (sometimes to thepoint of incomprehensibility) and reproduced in minute type, until recently theyhave offered practitioners the only early-warning system for significantjudicial decisions.

Cases which establish an important point of principle should be reported infull within about a year in the official law reports; cases in a specialist areaare likely to be published rather sooner. So, for most notable decisions, TheTimes has only ever provided a stop-gap. Irritatingly, there has alwaysbeen a small but significant class of cases which has never been published infull, where The Times constitutes the only printed report of any kind.Often these are procedural decisions, which find their way into the White Bookcommentary on the Rules of the Supreme Court. So practitioners have to maintaincuttings libraries or purchase the print compilations, although my owninvariable practice is to search for a Lexis transcript of such a case wheneverI need to cite one of these cases to a judge.

Nowadays, of course, decisions of the House of Lords and the most importantprocedural decisions of the Court of Appeal are posted immediately on theInternet, and that is as it should be: the law of a State should be immediatelyand freely available to its citizens. Any serious litigator is also likely tohave one of the online services (New Law Online or Butterworths’ All EnglandReporter) available on their desk-top, or to receive daily digests by fax ore-mail. For transcripts of Court of Appeal cases, they may well subscribe toSmith Bernal’s Casetrack service. The Times Law Reports have beensuperseded by the new digital media, and a cynic would suspect that theycontinue to feature only as a loss-leader to pull in lucrative legal recruitmentadvertising.

Context Ltd, who publish the eLR and Weekly Law Reports onCD-ROM, are now offering a limited series of Times Law Reports in the sameseries. The CD version covers reports since 1990, and Context say they have noplans to expand it. CDs will be issued quarterly, and the service costs £450 inthe first year, and £250 for each subsequent year. This service obviously won’tfulfil the early-warning function: you will still need to buy the newspaper forthat.

The Times Reports CD runs under the Justis 5 software (the latestversion, 5.1.1, was released in October).

I cannot imagine anyone buying the Times Reports who did not alreadyhave at least one of the major series already, so they would already have Justis5 on their PC. Installing the Times Reports is straightforward,although not quite as it is described in the cover of the CD. You just openJustis 5, choose the databases icon, and select the Times Reportsfrom the list in the Case Reports folder. This adds the TimesReports to your list of available series in the right-hand window, and addsa Times copyright statement to the annoying window which comes up every time youstart Justis.

The advantage of Context’s approach is that it becomes possible to operateone search across a range of reports (now including the Lloyds’ Reports,Family Law Reports, Industrial Cases Reports), and casereferences in a Times report operate as dynamic links to other Contextreports available on the same computer. Because I was using a review copy, Icontinued to run the Times Reports from the CD. This confirmed my viewthat it is only really practical to operate by transferring all the data filesonto a local hard-drive or network server. With a 16 Gigabyte hard-drive nowavailable for only a few hundred pounds, that is easily achievable on any PC ofrecent vintage.

There are two main drawbacks of the Times Reports in their presentelectronic form. Firstly, they only cover a very limited period (roughly, thepast decade) and all these cases will be on Lexis (unlike older cases).Secondly, a practitioner is unlikely to be very interested in a Timesreport once the case is more fully reported elsewhere, but there is no method ofweeding out these reported cases from the database to be searched.

Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I rely heavily on my eLRand use them pretty much every day in the course of my practice as a barrister.I have had the Times Reports available on my system for several months,and in that time there has not been a single occasion on which I have neededthem. They are a long way down my shopping list of priorities.