SCL Award 2001

March 1, 2001

The presentation of the Society for Computers and Law Award 2001 took place at the Law Society on 22 January. In a three-way back-patting session, the Law Society (represented by Michael Napier) and H.M. Government (represented by David Lock MP) confirmed their new commitment to information technology and recorded their organisations’ previous lapses of faith with the zeal of the recanting heretic. The SCL (through Lord Justice Brooke) was however roundly congratulated for having continued to pursue an unswerving path towards digital correctness since 1973. The Government has now committed £43 million to achieving the vision set out in its recently published consultation paper ‘Modernising the Civil Courts’, and credit for many of the ideas is due to members of the Society.

The Awards Exhibition

Linguistically, the evening also saw a convergence between two strands of variation on standard English: computer sales jargon and Labour Government newspeak. Thus we had talk of common platforms, integrated application toolsets, deployment of end-to-end business processes and pull/portal technology solutions. From the Government side, we had challenges of assumptions, coherent strategies, and gateway partnerships (which, it seems, are to be contrasted with customer partnerships).

As for the products on the final shortlist, these were described by Laurence Eastham in the last issue. In summary, there was ‘Mentor’, a system for managing together and distributing various aspects of what law firms do (this is described as an ‘intellectual capital management system’). We saw ‘BAMM’ – ‘benefits advice in multi-media’ – which is an outwardly simple but very effective advisory system which could no doubt be adopted for other uses. There was ‘IRIS’ (‘Interface relationship intelligence server’) which appears to be a very sophisticated client contact database. And then there was ‘2ends’ (the title referring to the ability of lawyers to burn candles), which produces training seminars in interactive electronic format enabling solicitors, as the publicity handout said, to ‘fill the unforgiving minute’. Not many IT vendors quote Kipling. Finally, we saw the case management and information system developed by a high powered ICL-led consortium for use at the ‘Bloody Sunday’ Inquiry chaired by Lord Saville.

Representatives of the winning consortium

And the winner was… Bloody Sunday. The product is, needless to say, highly impressive. Level playing fields do not come into it: when you have a consortium of this nature and many millions of pounds to throw at such a project. Most eye-catching of the components was the ‘Virtual Reality Assistant’ developed by NICLR. Effectively, this creates an interactive on-screen version of Londonderry in 1972, from witness recollections and old photographs. It builds up a picture of the streets and high-rise blocks, long since demolished, and enables locations to be viewed from a variety of positions on the streets and from elevated points. There are hundreds of contemporary photographs and a view which switches from 1972 to the present day. The system enables witnesses to confirm their recollections with contemporaneous visual reconstruction and will no doubt enable the inquiry team to get closer to the truth of what happened on 30 January 1972.

Of course, the experience is similar to that of a computer game. You almost expect Lara Croft to wander into the picture or a couple of paratroopers to pop up and start turning backward somersaults before firing at the nearest high-rise building and leading you on to level 2. No wonder it won, but you really felt sorry for the producers of the more modestly resourced offerings calculating social security entitlements or giving you online lectures which are, nevertheless, more immediately relevant to practitioners. Lawyers can look forward to the day when every minor road accident will be similarly recreated in stunning virtual reality.

David Lock’s speech clearly made use of the advanced functionality of another ground breaking application: ‘GovSpeak version 2.2’. I’ve already mentioned some of the building blocks in this object-oriented language. Deployment of phrases such as ‘re-evaluation of current structure’ ‘meeting the challenges of the information age’, ‘wider customer choice’, ‘identification of demand’, and ‘enablement of change’, was well engineered and immaculately coded. It was certainly made clear to us that we have a ‘listening government’. Given the signals about the translation of court activity from physical buildings to centralised call centres, amongst those also listening should be J.D Wetherspoon.