There is no better place to start any tour of free web resources for lawyers than with the 2 big hitters of BAILII and legislation.gov.uk, covering as they do the twin pillars of case law and legislation. The fantastic BAILII website covers British and Irish case law and legislation dating back to 1996 (and in some cases even before that). It is easy to search, simple to navigate and best of all it is free. On the other hand, you have the relatively new government legislation website, launched at the end of July this year, which is set to replace OPSI, the useful but cumbersomely named Office of Public Sector Information, and the UK Statute Law Database. The new legislation website has the benefit of enabling you to view legislation from various points in time, thereby seeing how it has been revised by subsequent enactments. Searching is straightforward and simple enough to use.
If it is Practice Directions and judicial guidance that you are after, then the recently launched judiciary.gov.uk is a useful port of call. Still a fledgling website, it appears to be very up to date, including judgments from 2009 and 2010 (often with supporting documents) as well as many other documents that you seek.
Similarly, the Ministry of Justice website covers a wide range of information, providing guidance on everything from care proceedings reform to forced marriage. It does however lack some of the detailed documents that could be found within the website of its previous incarnation the Department of Constitutional Affairs (archived copies of the DCA website can be found at dca.gov.uk if you are interested). Within the Ministry of Justice website you will also find nestled the valuable asset that is the Family Procedure Rules mini site.
Many people prefer to receive information sent directly to their e-mail inbox without having to go searching on the internet themselves; the e-mail alerter from Family Law is a useful tool. Sign up on their website and they will send you a free Family Law Newswatch digest of recent cases and family law developments by e-mail each week.
The Family Law website itself contains a wealth of information for family lawyers, with news, practice guidance and opinion, and you can sign up for their RSS feeds to get the information to your computer as soon as it appears on the website.
The Inner Temple Current Awareness blog is another useful site, helpfully collating relevant legal news and resources from a number of sources (newspapers, Law Society Gazette, Bar Council, legislation, cases), which you are then able to skim through to find what is relevant to you and your practice. You can also view the news on their website.
Lawyers embroiled in private law matters for their clients, will be interested in the National Association of Child Contact Centres website which provides a wealth of information about this valuable resource. It is a good website to direct clients to as it answers many of the questions that they will have about using a contact centre in trying to make contact work for their children.
Child law specialists will find the Official Solicitor’s page about the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU) very helpful, and the checklists and links are invaluable if your work brings you into the sphere of child abduction. Even if international child abduction is not your specialism, it is worth being aware of these resources in case you are presented with a client suddenly facing the threat or reality of child abduction. Along the same lines, the INCADAT website which is home to the International Child Abduction Database is a great resource for case law and good practice guides.
Expert witness directories abound, but the helpful work of the Expert Witness Institute is worth a moment of your time. Their newsletter archive in particular is worth considering, as for example in their Winter 2010 issue they covered “Expert Evidence in Child Abuse Cases”. Sweet & Maxwell’s Legal Hub website has an Expert Witness Directory containing only vetted expert witnesses; the experts have to provide quality references from practising lawyers to be included within this fully searchable directory.
Family Practitioners who work in the area of relationship breakdown, divorce and ancillary relief are all too familiar with the issues of trying to separate a couple’s financial affairs with incomplete information. It is notoriously difficult to advise clients presenting with half-completed documentation. The internet can be an incredibly useful resource when advising and negotiating ancillary relief claims, and can help to fill in the gaps of information.
The former matrimonial home can be valued, and alternative properties considered with the usual property finding websites. In addition, nethouseprices.co.uk is a really helpful resource when arguing about the value of property, without waiting around for estate agents’ valuations, as it contains up to date information from the Land Registry database about sold residential house prices. You can search for prices by street, town and postcode.
Financial products can be compared via a number of websites, but the Financial Services Authority’s Money Made Clear website and its offshoot the Divorce and Separation mini-site (both created by the Consumer Financial Education Body, established by the FSA) enable you to compare everything from mortgages to savings accounts and pension annuities. It also contains a wide selection of tools and calculators enabling you to advise your clients as to what they can afford in relation to mortgages, loans and how to manage their budgets in their post-separation circumstances.
When you are dealing with clients who are currently in receipt of benefits, or who may be in the future, it is useful to be able to give them straightforward advice as to their entitlement, as it can make an enormous difference to whether a particular negotiating position or offer is workable in reality. In these situations you can turn to online benefits checkers, such as the government’s direct.gov Benefits Adviser or the non-governmental Turn2us website which helps you to find appropriate sources of financial support, either by way of benefits or grants using their detailed Benefits Search and Grants Search options.
With such a wealth of information available on the internet for family lawyers to consider, this brief summary can do no more than touch the surface, but sometimes that one bookmarked link can save you hours of your time, so these web resources are an incredibly useful tool to have in your armoury.
Amanda Millmore is a non-practising barrister and founder of Legal Training The material in this article is expanded in 4 accredited CPD courses in the “Family Practitioner’s Guide to the Internet” series.
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.