From the Editor’s Chair

April 30, 1998

The main article in this issue of the magazine is that from Lord Justice Brooke on IT and the English Courts. The impression that one gains from this and other coverage of progress in this area is that the progress is more often the product of action and lobbying by forward-thinking judges than a product of consumer demand. Of course one is bound to admire those members of the judiciary who have pushed for such change as we have seen and who slowly seem to be winning the battle to have IT considered as a central plank in the strategy of the Court Service. Surely, however, the battle would have been easier if there had been a stronger demand from the consumers or court users on the outside.

The particular consumers I have in mind are the majority of the Bar and the main body of litigation solicitors. There seems considerable complacency in respect of the impact which court-based IT will have on the conduct of litigation (including criminal litigation). I think much damage has been done by the delays in the implementation of the Woolf reforms as many, even now, seem to think ‘it didn’t happen before, it looks like it will never happen’ – and stretch that approach to cover related and unrelated changes focusing on IT. Well, one looks foolish firing a gun with only one round when it misfires once or twice – but not as foolish as the person still standing in front of it on the third time of asking.

There are two simple points about IT in the courts to inwardly digest.

First, most of the plans for its implementation will benefit the legal profession (as well as the taxpayer) by allowing for more efficient procedures, such as electronic filing, and by reducing delays; both factors which will improve profitability and be significant in improving the chances of UK jurisdictions being centres for litigation against international rivals. It is therefore worth pressing for the implementation of the grander plans outlined and envisaged in Lord Justice Brooke’s article. That sort of external pressure must surely further the chances of speedy implementation.

Secondly, the strategy of law firms needs to consider the significance of changes such as electronic filing, courtroom video-conferencing and the increasing reliance of judges on electronic sources of law, including law reports. I do not pretend to know what the implications are but, looking at some of the litigation-related case management systems at SOLEX earlier this month, I do fear that there may be a crucial element missing in some of the systems which are currently available. If solicitors and suppliers merely await the change and react, they will at best delay matters, and at worst miss the bus completely. It could be an expensive taxi ride to catch up.

Finally a word of thanks. This is the first issue of the magazine since the results of the survey of members became available for careful consideration. The suggestions for improvements to the magazine will be carefully considered and I am grateful to all those readers who responded with constructive suggestions. I am grateful too for the very positive response to the magazine itself – 98% of respondents thought that the presentation of the magazine was good or very good