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Nick Holmes

Nick Holmes is Editor of this Newsletter. He is a publishing consultant specialising in the legal sector and is Managing Director of legal web services company infolaw Limited. Email nickholmes@infolaw.co.uk. Twitter @nickholmes.

Four years on and Professor Richard Susskind has written the same book he wrote last time, so he says. He jests, yet again. The message and the underlying arguments remain constant; the same analogies are deployed (you know, the drill); but tech has moved on, more is feasible and the vision is developed and refined accordingly. His previous works have covered wide ground: law, lawyers, professions. The narrower focus of this work enables him to treat us to a more extensive, deeper consideration of the subject.

This is not a book about legal technology but an argument for repurposing the justice system to serve more people, employing technologies that are already well established and replacing cumbersome procedures that leave too many denied the justice they deserve.

The Law Society, in its report Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law, published September 2019, defines the “Access to Justice Sector” as “Comprised of all organisations supplying access to justice services. It includes law firms, Not for Profits, individual practitioner barristers and solicitors, in-house legal teams, government bodies, academics, LawTech businesses and associations.” This is not very helpful, but nevertheless true. Everyone involved in the legal sector is involved in delivering (access to) justice in some way, though we might debate the merits.

In its Report to the Civil Justice Council in February 2015, Online Dispute Resolution for Low Value Civil Claims, the ODR Advisory Group, chaired by Prof Richard Susskind recommended the establishment by HMCTS of an online court for low value civil claims, called HM Online Court (HMOC). This would overcome the fact that current practice and procedures were “too costly, too slow, and too complex, especially for litigants in person.”

This court service would be in three “tiers”. The first, “online evaluation”, would help users identify their problem, be aware of their rights and obligations and understand the options available to them.

Next, “online facilitation” would involve online mediation and negotiation, supported, where necessary, by telephone conferencing. Some “automated negotiation” might be involved.

If not resolved by mediation, “online judges” would decide suitable cases or parts of cases largely on the basis of papers submitted to them electronically, again supported, where necessary, by telephone conferencing.

Although its terms of reference were restricted to civil claims under the value of £25,000, it suggested that the jurisdiction of HMOC “should also be extended to suitable family disputes and to appropriate cases that come before today’s tribunals.”

12 March 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal envisioning a unifying structure for linking information across different computers using hypertext, which by 1991 had been developed and became known as the World Wide Web. The day was marked by three celebratory events around the world, all attended by Tim: at CERN in Switzerland, at the Science Museum in London, and in Lagos, Nigeria.

The House of Lords, in its 9 March report Regulating in a digital world concludes that “the digital world does not merely require more regulation but a different approach to regulation.” It proposes “an agreed set of 10 principles that shape and frame all regulation of the internet, and a new Digital Authority to oversee this regulation with access to the highest level of the Government to facilitate the urgent change that is needed.”

The inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, and others advocated that the underlying code for the web should be made open – publicly available on a royalty-free basis, forever. His employer, CERN, concurred and announced this in April 1993, thus sparking a global wave of creativity, collaboration and innovation on a scale not seen before.

Delia Venables’ long-standing and, many would say, iconic Legal Resources website has been relaunched at www.venables.co.uk. First published in 1995 when the legal web was in its infancy, it has grown continually in scope and size and now contains several hundred pages of listings, describing tens of thousands of websites. It remains one of the most useful legal portal sites on the web for the UK and maintains very high authority and trust rankings.

This new incarnation of Venables Legal Resources is published and managed by infolaw, with me at the helm. As long-time publishing partners, Delia and I have collaborated on our respective websites since 1995 and jointly edited the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers and the Internet for Lawyers CPD service for barristers and solicitors for over 13 years.

A snapshot of the type of content provided by the Newsletter in its early days is reproduced below from an old page on Delia’s site, retrieved courtesy of the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine. It is notable that the range of topics covered is similar to today’s mix. The main difference is that the internet was all very new back then and there was more of a focus on new sites. Delia’s Newsletter served as an essential guide to the emerging wonders of the (legal) web.

Blogging is a simple, cheap, efficient, effective way to publish and update time-sensitive information, particularly in constantly-changing fields such as the law. Blogging puts in your hands publishing power even greater than that which was the preserve of only large, established publishers with fat wallets not so long ago. Content management, feed generation, subscriber management, search engine optimisation: all is built in for free. That’s reason enough for almost everyone and every organisation to consider blogging.

Blogs are not just a publishing format, but a networking tool, a means to reach out and engage with an audience; and blogging is not just about publishing, but about conversing and contributing. That’s how blogs started out – with the desire to share thoughts and “write out loud”.

The Internet, Warts and AllThe Internet, Warts and All: Free Speech, Privacy and Truth by Paul Bernal is not a law book; it is a book about seeking to understand an environment – the internet – in which the law operates. It is a book about law, but “It is also … about technology, about politics, about psychology, about society, about philosophy.” Regulating the internet impacts all these.

Whilst the internet started off as a communications medium and an information resource and, for business, a marketing opportunity, it now underpins almost every aspect of our lives and is integral to the way our society operates. We need to face up to and accept the fact that the internet really is a mess. The way through this mess requires balances and compromises which change as the technologies develop.

This article first appeared in Legal Web Watch November 2018. Legal Web Watch is a free email service which complements the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. To receive Legal Web Watch regularly sign up here.

HM Courts and Tribunals Service held a public event on 6 November, inviting those who represent public court users to see first-hand the progress made over the last year with the court reform program.

We can (again) help you complete your continuing competence requirements this year.

Our Internet for Lawyers CPD 2018 competence service guides you, via online articles and exercises, through the legal resources and tools available, helps you understand the internet and the legal issues it raises and assists you in the practical application of internet services to your legal practice.