The new Legal Resources section on our website are an attempt to really capitalise on the expertise available in a large chambers such as ours and present it in a way that directly reflects and promotes the work we do.
Organised exclusively by topic, the Resource directly replicates the structure of the teams within Chambers. The five main practice areas of our Chambers are Civil, Crime, Family, Housing and Immigration. These form the core headings on the web page. By selecting one of these headings, you are then offered a further list of more specialist topics. For example under Immigration, topics shown include Appeals & Judicial Review, Deportation and Asylum Support (Community Care and Welfare Benefits) and several others.
Within each of these topics we have housed all of the available resources under sub-headings of Legislation, Cases and Useful Links. Thus, the user first chooses the topic and then scrolls through the range of materials available within that topic. We have made available an extensive collection of our own case law with links to full-text judgments and details of citations and summaries for each one. We have also added links to relevant legislation and practice guidance and links to in-house current awareness updates, Chambers reports and book reviews. All of this is provided within the relevant subject area.
How did we do it?
We wanted to go beyond a brochure website and create a research resource that capitalises on both the broad and specialist nature of Chambers’ expertise.
The broad nature of the areas of law covered by Chambers (Civil, Crime, Family, Housing and Immigration) provided the foundations of the resource and our more specialist fields such as Human Rights, Mental Health and Actions Against the Police provided the “cutting edge” with leading case law and input from experts in the field. To make it a success it was necessary to reflect our own practice areas and harness Chambers expertise within the resource. By reflecting our own internal structure, the collating, monitoring and maintenance of the resource over the longer term would be much simpler.
Collating the data for the initial draft did involve a lot of work and most of the data was sourced using anything but in-house expertise! For example, most of the case materials were sourced initially from the barrister profiles on the website and entries from the Chambers Legal Directories. This has, however, ensured a basic level of consistency across the resource and, whilst some barristers’ and teams’ records and profiles have been patchy, it has been possible to improve (although not completely rectify) this by speaking to barristers and team representatives directly. As librarian, I have provided the framework and the raw data. Team representatives on Library Committee have checked drafts and filled in gaps.
Creating the content and the links
Case Law, Legislation and Useful Links have formed the core sets of materials within each of the subject headings. So, each topic opens up to reveal links to these resources. Case law was quite straightforward once we had made the decision to include only those cases involving our own barristers. We did this partly because it enabled us to showcase our own barristers and partly because it was easier to keep it up-to-date. All of the case law links are links to the full-text judgments on BAILII. Case coverage on BAILII is very thorough and most of our reported cases are contained on this database.
The Legislation was less straightforward and it was necessary to be realistic about our aims here. Keeping on top of statutory instruments was deemed to be too ambitious, so we made the decision early on to include links just to the primary legislation. We use the new Statute Law Database to provide the legislation links. A big advantage of this is that it offers amended versions of the legislation. There have been some reports of inaccuracies and some large statutes are still unavailable on the site such as the Social Security Administration Act 1992. However, we felt that the opportunity to access amended legislation superseded these inconsistencies and, over the longer term, gaps in the Statute Law Database will probably be filled and inaccuracies dealt with.
The Useful Links were put together with a combination of unscientific Google searching and the bookmark lists of individual barristers. The section is also providing a convenient place for making available in-house reports and articles and reviews of books written by the barristers. An exciting development recently has been the request by the Social Security Law Practitioners Association (SSLPA) to house their Welfare Benefit Fraud resources and practice guidance on the site. The SSLPA have very close links with the Welfare Benefits team in Chambers and the Legal Resources pages have provided a convenient place for the joint efforts to be made available.
Feedback so far has been very positive and the user statistics show that there have already been over 800 hits within the resource pages. Six months into the project, efforts will need to focus increasingly on keeping the materials up-to-date whilst also developing further the range of internal materials on the site. The varying levels of co-operation received from the barristers will continue to present a challenge and will undoubtedly make it impossible to ensure complete consistency between each of the topics on the resource. However, with the bulk of the groundwork completed, it should be possible to put more time into fostering channels of communication with the teams and encouraging them to share information. This more then anything will ensure the continued success of and interest in the resource over the longer term.
Bridget Tough is Librarian of Garden Court Chambers.