June 30, 2004


The magazine welcomes all those travelling from abroad to attend the Conference of the International Federation of Computer Law Associations in Oxford, whether delegates or speakers. The impressive programme of events and speakers suggests that it will be a great success and I hope that the weather (one variable beyond even our estimable organiser’s control) shines on the event too.

As has frequently been observed in these pages, IT and computer law show little respect to national boundaries and a complete understanding can only come to those with an appropriate knowledge of that fact – and an awareness of where the boundaries of their knowledge end and an input from another jurisdiction is required. It may well be that alliances are forged and important contacts made at Oxford – and that those attending return home wiser, and richer too.

In recognition of the event, we are giving greater prominence to our IT law material – and offer an especially rich mix. I hope that the fascination of our pages does not draw delegates away from the punting and the social events but can perhaps help pass the journey home. Since our magazine recognises the need for contributions from outside our jurisdiction, this is my opportunity to ask all attending to consider writing for us about their home jurisdiction and the special problems which arise there. I would be delighted to hear from speakers or delegates with offers of articles.

Court Hotspots

WiFi has come to English courts. The Royal Courts of Justice and six other major court centres have got hotspots for the use of the Internet via the BT Openzone system (for the full story, see the SCL Web site). I welcome this development with real enthusiasm. I believe that it is a service which will be widely used for e-mail and will enable many lawyers to use waiting time in a much more productive way. I have more doubts about the wish expressed by Lord Justice Thomas (and various other judges quoted on the DCA site) for research to be done effectively within the court premises so as to reduce the need for adjournments – perfectly possible, but it might not happen all that often. If I am wrong, and especially if judges insist on this sort of research being done quickly, then this is a great stroke of luck for online providers of legal information.

The BT voucher system for charging is not ideal for occasional use by lawyers, or the public, in these sorts of circumstances. While the £6 minimum is hardly likely to put off the researcher, it would be better if the 60 minutes that voucher provides could be used in bites over a longer period than 24 hours. A local Starbucks will occasionally prove a better investment even though court coffee is much cheaper.

My negative points are predictable. First, these zones are in the public areas of the courts (cafeterias and the like) so that the lawyer in court cannot use the service. It would be great to see a rapid extension so that persons in all areas of the court premises can have access. Secondly, the scheme is described as a three-year pilot but it is hard to see why it takes three years to monitor a simple pilot like this. With luck, the promised periodic evaluations will establish that the service is well used, that there are no security or confidentiality issues and that BT Openzone are making a profit from it then we can have wider implementation within 12 months.

But even I am a little ashamed of the negativity. Certainly I would encourage SCL members to make the most of the facility. It is a Good Thing and wider use can only serve to show the need for more.