This article introduces you to some of the invaluable free resources available online for property lawyers.
The government’s sole online source of UK statute law is now legislation.gov.uk. This continues to be an excellent source of information, although it does have its limitations, highlighted in the FAQ section. In particular it estimates that only about half of the revised legislation on the website is up to date at present (ie contains all subsequent amendments) but the website does flag up “Changes to Legislation” to highlight problems.
The excellent BAILII website is the ultimate source when 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 current and the website is easy to navigate and search. You can now also subscribe to BAILII RSS feeds tailored to your area of practice. As BAILII is a registered charity, I’d urge you to make a donation as it relies upon such support to continue to function.
Another useful source of free law reports online is the Supreme Court website containing not only recent judgments (since August 2009) but helpful press summaries, which will go some way to alleviating any confusion or mis-reporting of judgments, a problem highlighted recently by Lord Neuberger in his speech “Open Justice Unbound” in March 2011; take the “media” and then “speeches” options on judiciary.gov.uk to locate this as well as other interesting speeches. Allied to the Supreme Court website is the fascinating Supreme Court Blog which rounds up each week’s cases and previews what is to come, as well as providing detailed commentary on the Court’s work and cases.
Practice and procedure
At the start of April 2011 the government re-organised all of their websites, moving many under the Justice umbrella site. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service website remains a sound practical online resource, but no longer has its own website, operating from within Justice. It contains a comprehensive database of practice directions, court forms and guidance, together with details of court costs and the Civil Procedure Rules. Their CourtFinder provides addresses and contact details for courts throughout England and Wales.
More and more lawyers are turning to mobile technology. Legal Training’s own Court Search application for Android phones is a very useful tool as you travel to court. 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 HMCTS to provide you with live progress updates for the lists in every Crown Court, and daily court lists for the High Court and above.
The Justice website contains the Civil Procedure Rules mini-site. It provides a straightforward way of keeping up to date with the regular changes to the CPR (which are updated at least quarterly) together with the text of the rules and practice directions, pre-action protocols and many court guides (including the Chancery Division).
HMCTS’s Possession Claims Online service is a very useful, streamlined system for issuing possession claims. The online service guides you through the claims process, with links to the relevant practice directions, CPR and more specific guidance where appropriate.
The Land Registry website and its various offshoots are worth investigating. Access is not completely free; they charge for title deeds for example.
The Land Registry Property Enquiries Service provides easy access to details of over 20 million registered properties in England and Wales. You can obtain copies of the title plan and register details of a property online; you pay by card and are then given access to a downloadable PDF. Interestingly, the title register also includes property price information for most properties which have been the subject of a sale since April 2000. A newer feature is the Flood Risk Indicator which uses Environment Agency data.
Meanwhile the main Land Registry website is easy to use and provides information about property prices (sorted by area, county, local authority), forms (including all forms as required by the Land Registration (Amendment) Rules 2008 and 2009) and leaflets, fees and information on registering property. Under the Practice Guides section you will find a large number of guides primarily designed for conveyancers, but often useful for others.
Finally, the new Land Registry Direct e-service provides registered users with access to over 19 million registers of title. This is all available for the statutory fees, with no additional charges for accessing the services online. There are even training modules to assist you including one to teach conveyancers how to lodge applications electronically – look under Education & Training on the Land Registry home page.
Updates and legal commentary
I cannot praise highly enough the Inner Temple Library blog. The librarians provide a comprehensive survey of the legal world as they locate and dispense relevant information from a wide variety of sources, from government websites, to professional organisations in addition to both the mainstream and legal media; it is rather like having your own personal desktop librarian hunting out interesting articles for you.
There are an ever expanding number of high quality professional legal blogs and online resources available for a property practitioner. Here is a selection:
Whilst there are many excellent associations for legal professionals, many retain much of their content for their members (for the relevant fee), so an honourable mention has to be given to the Property Litigation Association. This website has a “Library” tab which contains a large selection of freely available information, including protocols, downloadable copies of lecture notes from Speakers Corner, an equally wide selection of conference papers and a round-up of relevant recent case law. Different chambers have collected together case studies in a variety of areas of property litigation which can also be found on the website. The website highlights recent property cases before the courts, and appears to be kept very up to date.
Maitland Chambers provide interesting articles and case summaries. Aimed at commercial, chancery lawyers, it contains a lot of useful content in an easily accessible format.
propertylawuk.net is an interesting website maintained by Deputy District Judge, mediator and former barrister Gary Webber, which does contain paid-for content, but also retains an element of free property resources on the website. You can sign up to receive free monthly email summaries updating you about recent cases and other property law developments.
Housing lawyers are well-served by excellent blogs and resources which have current, regularly updated, relevant content. Take a look at Nearly Legal which is maintained by a group of barristers and solicitors experienced in housing and landlord and tenant matters. The blog is current, detailed and makes for quite fascinating reading. They have a large archive of material, some great links to other resources, and you can access their housing news feed which contains publicly available material from other websites.
Arden Chambers focus on housing, local government and property work and ardenchambers.com is something of a one-stop shop for this area. Visit their Information Centre for e-flashes of new material, the occasional series, Housing Insight, together with a selection of downloadable articles and briefings.
Garden Court Chambers provide a weekly free email Housing Law Bulletin. The Housing section contains a selection of relevant legal resources including, legislation, cases, and other research materials. You can also read monthly updates entitled Recent Developments in Housing Law which appear in the Legal Action Magazine (always available a month in arrears, to get the most recent update you would need to subscribe to the magazine).
Today’s Conveyancer provides an online news summary. They also maintain a helpful library of relevant links for conveyancers, together with a Twitter feed of conversations about conveyancing.
Solicitor Martin Goodall specialises in planning law, and provides a blog with regular posts on the subject of planning law and policy, and an archive stretching back to 2005.
Another worthy mention in this area is the website ruralurbanplanning.co.uk from Chartered Surveyor and Town Planning Consultant Ian Butter. His main website has a useful Planning Library of documents and he also has a blog in which he discusses current planning policy and practice.
The Government’s Planning Portal is a rich source of relevant online planning and building regulations information. It has a useful news section and a blog.
FreeLegalWeb is currently operating a beta release for Housing Law. This 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, definitely one to watch, and maybe even contribute to.
Amanda Millmore is a non-practising barrister and founder of CPD provider Legal Training. The material in this article is expanded upon in 2 online accredited CPD courses in the “Property 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.