Law reports on YouTube – Scotland leads the way

The Scottish Council of Law Reporting (SCLR) is the publisher of the “official” law reports for Scotland; these are known generically as Session Cases. It also includes reports of Scottish cases heard in the UK Supreme Court, the Privy Council and the House of Lords.

Session Cases have been published in one form or another since 1821, initially under the control of the Faculty of Advocates (the Bar body in Scotland). The SCLR was formed in 1957 to take over responsibility for publishing Session Cases. It is a charity with representatives from the Court of Session, the Bar and the Law Society of Scotland serving as members. The SCLR broadened its charitable objects in 2010 to embrace both “education” and “the advancement of human rights, conflict resolution or reconciliation’.

The SCLR receives a steady flow of enquiries about its work through the year. These range from student enquiries about precedent and the role of law reports to lawyers in other jurisdictions wanting information about the process of law reporting and the selection of cases for the SCLR’s main report series, Session Cases.

A new initiative

In summer 2010 the SCLR was asked by a librarian and a lecturer at one of the LLB awarding Scottish universities if it had any plans to produce some filmed material that could be used to support first year students especially those being introduced to legal materials and sources of law. We immediately recognised that this idea would fit well with our charitable objects as to legal education and might also help answer some of those regular enquiries.

We approached a number of commercial film-makers in Scotland, seeking proposals and an outline budget. The brief stated that the films should be educational rather than promotional and that the most celebrated and influential of all Scottish cases, Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] SC (HL) 31 might prove a useful hook for a story to be built. The films should also be watchable, entertaining and suitable for viewing on the Council’s website and on YouTube.

Two film-makers were invited to develop their ideas into proper “pitches” and Muckle Hen Productions of Edinburgh were awarded the contract in February 2011 with a completion target of end August, in time for the beginning of the new academic year.

Making the films

We were fortunate to get the willing support and co-operation of various bodies and people who permitted filming and provided access to people and places which are otherwise difficult to obtain including the Court of Session and the Faculty of Advocates in Parliament House, Edinburgh, the School of Law at the University of Edinburgh and solicitors’ offices.

Aside from a period reconstruction of the famous “ginger beer event”, the films were unscripted and time was spent on developing outlines for what were decided, in the end, to be five stand-alone units which can also be viewed in sequence (total running time less than 30 minutes). The open-ended questions that could be asked in interview to produce answers that were interesting and which could be edited together to tell “the story” were crucial to the success of the project.

Muckle Hen were superb, they edited the films down and sequenced them to tell exactly the story that we had envisaged could be told. Feedback from those who have seen the films has been extremely positive and we hope very much that their content is sufficiently wide to make them appeal to audiences outside Scotland – we have even translated delict (tort) in the commentary!

The five films are:

  • Donoghue v. Stevenson: The History of Law Reporting
  • The Law of Judges: Precedent and the Criteria for the Reporting of Cases
  • Anatomy of the Law: The Authority, Authorship and Arrangement of Session Cases
  • In the Case Of: Using the Reports
  • Books and Bytes: Accessing the Reports

You can view the films from the links on the SCLR’s site where you will find a wealth of Donoghue v Stevenson material, the texts of the SCLR’s Macfadyen Lecture series and lots of other helpful stuff.

Anthony Kinahan is Secretary of the Scottish Council of Law Reporting.