Editorial June/July

June 18, 2017

As I write this, tech lawyers throughout
the land are on tenterhooks as they await the results of Thursday’s vote. Just
how good, they ask, will the feedback be on the SCL Conference? Will it outdo
its predecessor?

By the time you read this, you will know
the result. I am confident that it will have been a strong event – though
probably more volatile than stable – and that it will have been for the many
not just the few. But, in a spirit of inclusion and with a view to giving you a
greater sense of security, I hope that our next issue will include a series of
articles reflecting the Conference so that even those unable to attend will get
some benefit from the pearls of wisdom that were imparted there.

That issue will also include the essay from
this year’s winner of the SCL Essay Prize competition, Lottie Michael. Lottie’s
essay on autonomous vehicles was described by the judge of the competition as
‘a fascinating discussion of ethical issues in addition to legal
considerations’. I congratulate her and am delighted to see that the number of
entries in this year’s competition was a record high and, judging from those I
have read, the standard of entries was truly impressive.

But this issue is packed with pearls of
wisdom and challenging articles too – some of which may ask you to stretch and
poke a toe or more outside your comfort zone. I am particularly keen on Graham
Smith’s piece on Article 15 and freedom of expression (even though I don’t
necessarily agree with it all), Peter Brogden’s blockchain/smart contracts
article (which even a blockchain cynic like me found genuinely enlightening)
and the challenging review of the ‘Queer Privacy’ book from Neil Brown. The
latter will make you think and highlights challenges that are too easy to
ignore. Since we also cover smart cities, age verification, cloud contracts,
e-commerce and data protection and much more, there really is something for
everyone in this issue.


The next big SCL event is the Online Courts
Hackathon on 1 July. This is something that has many of the techier SCL members
salivating. It provides an opportunity to contribute to the development of a
massively important change in the dispensation of justice. Participants will be
invited to design various tools to support online courts – for example, tools
to help litigants structure their legal arguments, organise their documents and
negotiate settlements without advisers, as well as systems that will promote
‘open justice’ and machine learning solutions that will help analyse all the
data generated by the online courts. A host of teams have already signed up and
it is bound to be real success.

I would like to see some of the simple
things that might trip up litigants in person addressed. Jurisdiction and
time-limits spring to mind. It would be easy for a non-lawyer claimant in
England to ignore the limits of jurisdiction and seek to claim against a
resident of Scotland (sometimes possible, sometimes not) and it should surely
be possible to attempt to alert the potential claimant to the complexities that
might then arise. Similarly, the basic bars to claims in contract arising in
limitation, though rarely relevant, seem to me to be capable of being dealt
with in and embraced by an app. Perhaps, litigants in person might also find it
useful to have assistance in creating a chronology. It is not always the case
that presenting one’s case in a chronological format is the best way forward
but it is not a bad foundation.

Tech for Tech Lawyers

If you read my suggestions for the
hackathon and didn’t shake your head regretfully, saying ‘he has no idea how
apps work’, you may well benefit from the SCL Conference in September called
‘Back to basics: the technology’. It claims that it will provide clear, simple
explanations of core tech topics, giving you ‘a solid basic knowledge of
mobiles, cloud, digital security, the Internet and much more’. It sounds like
just what I need. I doubt that I am the only one.