Out of juice

By | 1st November 2011

Is there a conspiracy out there? I do not normally subscribe to such thoughts but on occasions I have to accept that there seems to be an unfortunate conjunction of events to say the least.

A few weeeks back, at a time when some 40 million users of BlackBerries around the world from Europe to Asia and North America were incensed not so much by the failure of service provided by Canada’s RIM (Research in Motion) but by their obstinate refusal to tell their customers what was going on, it was little comfort to be reminded by numerous emails (if you could receive them) of a Ronnie Corbett sketch on the BBC’s One Ronnie Show, which memorably starts with his complaint that “My Blackberry is not working.”

While that fiasco will not have done anything to boost the standing of RIM in the business world (I note that since service has been restored there has been no meaningful apology or explanation and no discussion of compensation), the lack of service meant that I was behind the ‘curve’ when it came to a sudden outpouring of judicial pronouncements on subjects as wide ranging as the future of the internet, the Human Rights Act and the European Court to feminism in the courts.

All of this without so much as a judgment! All the comments were made in extra-curricular speeches made by inter alia the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls and the only female Supreme Court Justice, Baroness Hale.

The chronology is unimportant but I think that Lord Neuberger was first out of the traps with his High Sheriff’s Lecture in Leeds in mid October entitled Justice in a time of economic crisis and in the age of the internet.”

While the MR laments that even the newly created Supreme Court which requires all papers to be lodged electronically, still stipulates that the court be provided with paper copies, Lord Neuberger says we must all think about how technology can improve the court processes. After all, he says, it seems inconceivable these days that we should expect paper bundles, paper authorities and photocopies of legal texts. Quite so! But if I may be so bold as to disagree with the Master of the Rolls he then appears to perpetuate the view that technology has caused the problems which it will solve; “IT will often solve the problem it creates.” I assume he is referring to disclosure but, if so, this is a problem created by our rules of procedure and not by IT which has latterly come to the rescue of beleaguered litigators by providing cost effective and speedy solutions to their disclosure dilemmas.

Having said that, I agree that thought must be given to changing the established procedure in this electronic age if we are to reduce still further the cost of litigation and speed it up. Maybe the menu options suggested by Rupert Jackson are but the first step!

How refreshing to have a senior judge air his opinions on matters which continue to be of grave concern to the users of the courts.

The trend continued with Baroness Hale’s comments on feminist judgments. Lady Hale is booked to give the inaugural High Sheriff’s lecture at the University of East Anglia in Norwich in February 2012 so I will reserve comments on her views until I have heard them in greater detail and in person!

His Honour Judge Simon Brown QC kindly alerted me to the speech by Mr Justice Vos entitled The role of judges in the success of UK PLC.  Mr Justice Vos’s KPMG lecture seeks to place in context the role which judges and the law can and do play in the promotion of business for this country. A supporter of the Woolf reforms, he admits that “I have never thought they went far enough.”

The judge talks about changes to our legal system in matters such as pleadings and the length of trials but it is his comments on technology and the uses to which it can be put which I want to highlight. They are worth reproducing in full:

I continue to advocate the more efficient and extensive use of IT, and of electronic issue and handling processes. At the moment, IT is used as an add-on to the paper based systems. The effect is that everything is duplicated. We are always enjoined at the bottom of emails to “Save paper” “Think before you print”, but how many of us actually do think about what they print. And how many of us change our working processes completely to take account of the fact that everything should be on the computer and can be stored permanently in electronic form. 

(a) I always ask counsel for all the main documents in the case by email. I rarely get them – sometimes it is hard enough to obtain the skeletons in soft form. 

(b) I always use a computer in court, but many judges do not. We should work towards that being the norm. It makes judgment writing twice as fast. 

(c) The electronic filing of court documents should, on any bass, become the norm. how absurd is it for solicitors to prepare all their documents on a computer system, print them out, file them at court, and then only send them by email when specifically asked?

Any conspiracy theorists out there will have to concede that the conspiracy has failed. The judges are being heard and if you want to know what the Lord Chief Justice had to say about the Human Rights Act you can read it here:  Sound Judgements, The Telegraph, 2oth October, 2011.

You can read all about the rest here and who knows, you may feel minded to comment below! I hope so.