Everyone has their favourite, “go to” legal website for information or research, but this compilation hopefully cuts across personal preference and offers a wide-ranging selection of some of the best legal resources for lawyers of all persuasions.
To start, I would suggest that, for an excellent overview of the range of legal resources online, you turn to the diligently prepared offering from the Inner Temple librarians at innertemplelibrary.com. This website is the librarians’ news blog, aggregating information from a range of sources, from legal journals, case reports and blogs, to government websites, legislation and mainstream media. It provides up to date current awareness information about new cases, legislation and legal news stories. If you use an RSS reader, then their RSS feed is a must, as it provides such a wide range of interesting and helpful information, and provides you with a very easy way of keeping abreast of current legal matters. If nothing else, it flags up information that you would otherwise have to track down whilst enlightening you about legal issues that you would not have had the time or energy to source yourself.
BAILII remains the prime source of online case law outside of the paid-for services of the legal publishers. With comprehensive search facilities and straightforward access to British and Irish case law (as well as offering a significant repository of European Union case law as well) this free service is unsurpassed. BAILII operates as a charity and requires donations to ensure that its services are ongoing, so if you have ever taken advantage of their services, do consider donating something to them. They offer RSS feeds for keeping up to date in your areas of specialism, and interestingly (and perhaps for the more academic reader) they also offer a leading cases database via their Open Law project which preserves and presents to you the most important historical decisions in a wide range of practice areas. In October 2012 BAILII partnered with the ICLR (Incorporated Council of Law Reporting) which publishes the official law reports, to link their online services. It works in a reciprocal way, with ICLR subscribers able to access more seamlessly the BAILI database, and BAILII users are able to go directly to the free ICLR summary if there is one for a particular case, and purchase the authorised case report as a PDF (which could be vital if you need it urgently for court).
The ICLR website itself is worth a mention, which whilst it provides a paid-for subscription service to its law reports via its ICLR Online service, and individual subscriptions to its selection of law reports, also offers some free resources which may be of use and assistance to you. They offer case summaries of recent cases of importance in the High Court and appellate Courts (formerly the WLR Daily). If you register on their website, then they will send you a free weekly email alert, highlighting the important WLR daily case summaries and case reports from the past week; whilst it is designed of course to encourage you to sign up for their services, it remains a helpful and free of charge resource to highlight recent case law.
For more case law reports and general all round fascinating information, you should take a look at the Supreme Court’s website. The Supreme Court not only produce reports of their judgments extremely quickly to the website, but they excel in providing summaries of those judgments, for those with less time on their hands but who still remain interested in the results and reasoning behind these decisions. The website offers very clear information, set out in a logical and easy to locate way; whilst these are features that you would hope to find from all official websites, the reality is far from the truth, which is why the Supreme Court website stands out as a beacon of hope for comprehensive, easily accessible and relevant information provision. If you look at the Current Cases section, it has all the information that you could need about cases before it, not just the case name and date of hearing, but which justices have been allocated, other relevant dates and an exceptionally helpful and clear case summary with the matters of law being decided and a brief outline of the facts.
Moving with the times rather faster than other areas of the legal system, the Supreme Court launched their own YouTube channel in January 2013, showing videos of judgments being handed down.
For UK statutes and statutory instruments you need to go to legislation.gov.uk which is incredibly useful, but with the caveat that it is not entirely up to date in its revised form, ie incorporating amendments from subsequent legislation into the text. When I say “not entirely” up to date, it is vital that you are aware that the website’s FAQ still states that it is broadly up to date up to 2002, with half of all items of legislation up to date to the present time. This caveat has been on the website for a number of years, and I do wonder if the FAQ itself has not been updated, given that 2002 is now 11 years ago! The key, when searching, is to look for the red “Changes to Legislation” box on each page which will flag up any amendment issues. Perhaps they have just resigned themselves to the fact that they will forever struggle to keep pace with legislative changes? Nevertheless, it is a useful website should you need access to legislation.
April 2013 saw the Ministry of Justice’s “corporate” website migrate over to the GOV.UK portal at www.gov.uk/moj. That appears to mean that information for the layman about the department is to be found there, leaving behind the helpful information for practitioners on the justice.gov.uk website, although that may be temporary. If the past migrations to GOV.UK are anything to go by, the “Simpler, Clearer, Faster” tagline will succeed in whittling down a lot of useful information for professionals until very little remains. At the time of writing, however, the relevant and useful information remains in place on the Justice website, which has evolved from being relatively sparse, to containing a wide-enough range of helpful information; it acts as an umbrella site covering not just HM Courts and Tribunals Service, but also a total of 26 different organisations including the Youth Justice Board, Probation Service and Legal Services Commission.
The daily court lists are always helpful, and the Procedure Rules section (with mini-sites for Criminal, Civil and Family Procedure Rules) remains in the favourites list on the Justice website. These mini-sites are well worth knowing about, as they don’t simply contain the contents of the relevant Procedure Rules, but also the associated Practice Directions, Protocols and court forms, essential for practitioners. Equally the information under the Tribunals heading is well-signposted, albeit that some of the guidance sends you off to the Judiciary website (an excellent resource in its own right). Whilst not always containing the depth of information and resources that the individual websites used to, the Justice website is worth bookmarking, as there are some hidden gems in there. I would also suggest keeping an eye on the Ministry of Justice section on GOV.UK at www.gov.uk/moj as it is not clear at the moment whether the current split of information between the old Justice website and the GOV.UK website will remain as it is; things are very much in flux, rather like the justice system itself at the moment.
The law section of the Guardian newspaper until recently was a vital source of information for lawyers looking for current news and information in the mainstream media. With expert commentary from the likes of Joshua Rozenberg, and a variety of commissioned articles from lawyer experts in their fields it was really shining. The Guardian Legal Network is an excellent idea, collating and signposting the best legal blogs and websites to share with its readers. Unfortunately, in the last few months the Guardian has moved over to an automated publishing system, which lacks the personal touch of editors who seemed to understand their readership and care about commissioning high quality legal news stories. The impact of this automation remains to be seen, but it does seem to have stilted an otherwise interesting legal section.
If you want to be at the cutting edge of legal information and discussion, you should head over to Twitter – perhaps an unusual suggestion, but if you look carefully you will find a wide range of lawyers from all fields, from QCs to wannabe solicitors, academics to other professionals involved with the legal system, as well as a range of legal organisations, all engaged in discussions about the law. You can follow live tweets reporting on interesting cases (particularly, but not exclusively, criminal ones), dive head first into heated debates (or watch with interest from the sidelines); but it is also a great way to catch breaking legal news before it hits the mainstream media, often with that news originating from those directly involved in the cases. It is an excellent source of links to articles, blogs and resources if you care to look. Beware though, it is an excellent procrastination tool: there is always something more interesting to read than what you are supposed to be doing!
Halsbury’s Law Exchange
If you are interested in high quality legal commentary, then take a look at the Halsbury’s Law Exchange website. HLE is a “legal think tank working to communicate ideas on reform or legal direction to decision makers and the legal sector and promote debate through papers, reports, events and media pieces”. The website offers free weekly email updates and you can follow them through the usual social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook and using an RSS feed). You will find a number of policy papers written by a variety of legal experts on the website, but probably the most interesting section is the blog, with many regular expert legal contributors, covering hot topics and a more erudite version of the legal news than you will find in the mainstream media. The topics range from criminal law (which features highly, probably due to the preponderance of it in the mainstream media) to family law, environmental law to employment, immigration to tax. A bit of something for everyone, but always with an intelligent eye on the key issues of the day.
Access to justice
Finally, in the current climate with access to justice seemingly withering on the vine, the excellent Justice Gap website is worth a few moments of your time. As Michael Mansfield QC explains on the website, “The ”˜Justice Gap’ refers to the increasing section of the public too poor to afford a lawyer and not poor enough to qualify for legal aid. At the heart of any notion of a decent society is not only that we have rights and protections under the law but that we can enforce those rights and rely upon those protections if needed.” This website aims to highlight issues relating to ordinary people in their daily lives, from a less legalistic perspective, but promoting access to justice. Contributors to the website include a wide range of legal professionals, but also journalists and others with views on the legal system, cutting a swathe across all aspects of the law. They have created an ongoing project to provide information to ordinary people about legal issues with their Advice Guide, and they have a series of events taking place offline in the real world with a forthcoming debate about lessons to be learned from the US prison system.
Amanda Millmore is a non-practising barrister and founder of CPD provider Legal Training. The material in this article is expanded upon in a number of accredited CPD courses available on her website, in the “Practitioner’s Guide to the Internet” series, focusing upon different practice areas, Criminal, Family, Property and Civil. Follow her on Twitter @LegalTrainingUK.
Legal Training is an established CPD provider, offering 100 per cent online, flexible, accredited CPD training for barristers, solicitors, chartered legal executives and licensed conveyancers. Courses cover Family Law, Criminal Law, Property Law, Civil Law and IT skills as well as a range of other topics which would be of general interest to legal professionals.Tweet