Laurence Eastham finds reasons to be cheerful
I like to think that I do curmudgeonly well. But, like Schwarzenegger doing comedy, I like the occasional stretch. I find myself currently playing the part of the uplifting and positive commentator on the way of the legal world.
For while I remember a time when you could get into the pictures and buy a bag of chips for a tanner (maybe), I certainly remember a time when accessing a case meant a trip to a library, and waiting for whoever had that volume of All ER to finish with it. Now we take online access for granted and, the real wonder of this, anyone can do so for free because of BAILII. A further modern pleasure is that the more grumpy of us get to complain that the Statute Law Database is not up to date, when the real wonder is that it is available at all (and is nearly up to date). Last month, the protocol for electronic disclosure in the Technology and Construction Court was revised and updated and that reminded me of the interminable battles that those involved had in gaining acceptance for the very idea of edisclosure, let alone the acceptance of rules governing it.
Those old battles, for BAILLI, for the SLD and for recognition of edisclosure rules, are relevant as two new developments emerge. None of those old battles involved the impossible dream but there were times when they were painted as such; the two new developments I have in mind are not impossible dreams either but you can bet that they too will be labelled that way.
On 16 February the Civil Justice Council will be publishing a report that calls for a new 'Online Court' to be developed in England and Wales to increase access to justice and to streamline the court process. Inviting support from all political parties, the report, by the CJC's Online Dispute Resolution Advisory Group, calls for a dedicated state-run 'Online Court' for low value civil claims, to operate alongside the traditional court system. As we go to press, the details remain unavailable but a full account is available on our web site (see 'Online Dispute Revolution?'). This has to be A Good Thing. My fears about the unscrupulous using it as an excuse to make further cuts to legal funding are probably baseless; my only real reservation is that the definition of 'low-value' is set at too low a figure and that the use of the term 'low value' could do with a make-over (£10k is very high value to many). But I hope those involved find the strength to see the report through from recommendation to implementation. I guarantee that it won't be easy to do that and reflecting on past battles that were won may help.
This issue sees coverage of the second positive development that I have in mind. Chris Marsden's piece on openlaws.eu lets us have a glimpse of a very ambitious project. Some may say that the thinking here is not so much of the blue-sky type as of the pie-in-the-sky type; they would be wrong. You can read about it here. The battle there will be a very long one indeed but I look forward to a time when I can look back on openlaws.eu like I look back on BAILLI, thinking 'what was so hard about that?'
One thing that struck me on reading Chris Marsden's article is that we are in a transitional phase where lawyers are publishing a lot of 'commentary', much of which is mere reporting of 'new developments' which happened weeks (or even months) earlier. Trying to find the material of real value is tough. I would like to think that the SCL twitter feed does some of the essential sieving for you and, while hardly a substitute for the grand project that Chris Marsden has in mind, SCL members who do not follow us on Twitter are missing out. I know, though it amazes me, that some of you do not follow us because you do not use Twitter at all. If that is you, it is time for a rethink.
If one needed a reminder of the power of Twitter, and the need to think before you tweet, it came last week when a tweet of ours compared the vaunted EU Commission 'defence' against major US IT corporations with the defence of Accrington Stanley. The SCL list of followers was supplemented that day by the Accrington Stanley fan app.
While I know it is probably a bot, I have the uneasy feeling that the Accrington Stanley fan base may be camped outside my house awaiting an opportunity to extract revenge; they might not be so numerous as to be easy to spot. So I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for any negative connotation that may have arisen from my tweet. And I thank God that I deleted the reference to the defence of a certain Premiership football team before I posted.