This article will give you an introduction to some of the invaluable free resources available online for civil lawyers.

A great starting place is Her Majesty’s Courts Service website which is incredibly useful when it comes to sourcing forms and guidance. It has a comprehensive database of Practice Directions, Court Forms and guidance, together with details of Court costs and the Civil Procedure Rules. The HMCS website contains Court listing information for the Royal Courts of Justice, and their HMCS CourtFinder provides you with addresses and contact details for Courts throughout England and Wales.

As a busy civil practitioner, as you find travel around to different Courts, you are probably increasingly using your mobile phone as a vital resource. Legal Training’s own Court Search application for Android phones (see “Court search” on www.legaltraining.co.uk) is a valuable tool to have with you. It provides you with full address and contact details for every Court in England and Wales together with maps and navigation tools to help you to get to Court. In addition it combines the online services from HMCS to provide you with live progress updates for the lists in every Crown Court, and daily Court lists for the High Court and above.

At present the ability to issue claims online is somewhat limited, but HMCS’s MCOL (Money Claims Online) and PCOL (Possession Claims Online) are very useful for issuing money or possession claims, and provide a streamlined system, www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk/onlineservices. Designed to assist litigants in person, they are equally accessible to the legal profession, and could save you considerable time. The online services guide you through the claims process, with links to the relevant Practice Directions, CPR and more specific guidance where appropriate.

Note also the Civil Procedure Rules Mini-Site which is an offshoot of the Ministry of Justice website. If you need to keep on top of the regular updates to the CPR, then this website is worth bookmarking in your browser. Updated at least quarterly it contains the regular updates to the CPR, together with the text of the Rules and Practice Directions, Pre-Action protocols, as well as many Court Guides (covering a range from the Queen’s Bench Division and Chancery Division to the Patents Court and Technology and Construction Court).

If your work takes you to any of the tribunals, then the Tribunals Service website can be quite a find. The most important part of the site is likely to be the Rules & Legislation heading, which acts as a one-stop resource for the Rules, Legislation, Practice Directions and Statements for the First-tier and Upper Tribunals.

Useful tools and calculators

There are many useful tools and calculators available on the internet; one that is particularly helpful is the Companies House site which contains their Webfiling and WebCheck services, which enable you to access their information swiftly and easily online. Meanwhile consider the government’s website (www.direct.gov.uk), used by many clients as a starting point as a source of information. Within the Direct.Gov website, the Do It Online services can be very helpful, in particular their Benefits Adviser service which can advise clients as to their entitlement. Similarly, the Tax Credits Questionnaire on the HMRC website provides an online calculator to assess someone’s eligibility for tax credits, relevant to many spheres of legal work and advice.

Case law

Where would we be without BAILII? BAILII is the stalwart when it comes to seeking out free law reports online; it holds a comprehensive database of decisions from the High Court to the Supreme Court, as well as decisions of the ECJ, its contents are incredibly current and the website is easy to navigate and search. You can now also get BAILII RSS feeds to suit your practice needs. Donations are always welcome as it is a registered charity, and relies upon such support to continue to function.

Other useful sources of free law reports online, include the Supreme Court’s own website which contains recent judgments (since August 2009) as well as helpful press summaries.

Allied to the Supreme Court website is the fascinating Supreme Court Blog which, in addition to commentary on recent cases, offers a round-up of each week’s cases and a preview of what is to come. This is a really helpful way of keeping up to date with the work of the UK’s highest court.

You would also do well to explore Elexica from Simmons & Simmons which contains a wealth of legal information, from current awareness articles, to case summaries and legislative updates. They offer RSS feeds and e-mail updates in your chosen practice areas as well.

Along similar lines is the Law-Now website from CMS Cameron-McKenna which, once you have registered your interest in specific practice areas, sends you very regular email updates and also provides you with the ability to search their pages for information, offering you articles and guides to a wide range of legal subjects.

Legislation

With the new year, the demise of the OPSI legislation website and the Statute Law Database website finally came to pass, replaced as planned by the comprehensive free legislation service www.legislation.gov.uk which is now the sole online source of UK statute law.

Updates and legal commentary

Whilst the original sources of information, such as BAILII and legislation.gov.uk or the CPR online are incredibly useful to have at your disposal, it can also be helpful to keep abreast of updates and commentary within your particular practice area specialisms. To remain up to date generally with what is going on in the legal world, you will find the Inner Temple Library Current Awareness blog an absolute godsend; they survey and condense information from a wide variety of sources, from government websites, to professional organisations and the mainstream and legal media.

There are a large number of high quality professional legal blogs and online resources available. Here are some of them.

If your practice includes or touches upon Human Rights work, then I would highly recommend the online Human Rights resources from 1 Crown Office Row, which contains in the region of 1000 reports, articles and commentaries. Combine this resource with their highly-respected UK Human Rights Blog which is updated almost daily, and you will have a lot more knowledge at your fingertips.

Social welfare specialists will welcome Garden Court Chambers’ website. This wide-ranging website covers a vast amount of welfare law resources, from education to mental health and housing to international law. It has regular updates in each of their specialist areas with practice notes and commentary on legislation and case law.

As to mental health you should also visit Mental Health Law UK which is a wiki resource (previously called Wiki Mental Health). It offers email updates and detailed online resources in this niche area as well as the ability to update the website yourself as a contributor.

Education lawyers will appreciate the useful commentary from the 11 King’s Bench Walk Chambers’ Education Law Blog. They also have articles and seminar notes on a variety of other topics, and offer a very successful spin-off blog for Information Law.

Employment lawyers will be interested in the excellent Employment Cases Update edited by barristers from Littleton Chambers. They offer free access to an ever-growing index of UK employment cases, with full texts of judgments within a week of publication, and articles on employment law issues, accompanied by updates on legislative changes.

Housing and Property lawyers are already likely to be aware of the FreeLegalWeb project which is currently operating a beta release focusing on housing law. It is a collaborative resource offering free public access to the law and legal guidance. It has a wealth of commentary by experts in this field, but also has the longer term aim of expanding its bases to include civil procedure and consumer law amongst other practice areas; definitely one to watch and maybe even contribute to.

There are many other housing and property law blogs and resources, but they will be the focus of an article in the next issue of the Newsletter, covering free web resources for property lawyers.

Amanda Millmore is a non-practising barrister and founder of CPD provider Legal Training. The material in this article is expanded upon in two accredited CPD courses in the “Civil Practitioner’s Guide to the Internet” series.

Email amanda@legaltraining.co.uk.

Twitter @legaltraininguk.

Legal Training is an established CPD provider, offering 100 per cent online, accredited CPD training for barristers, solicitors and legal executives.

Courses cover Family Law, Criminal Law, Property Law and Civil Law, as well as general IT skills and Chambers’ Complaints Handling.

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