Editorial June/July

Laurence Eastham reviews this issue and some forthcoming SCL events

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.

Hackathon

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.

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