Best of the legal web – general resources
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Everyone has their favourite, go-to legal website for information or research, but this compilation cuts across personal preference. Amanda Millmore, non-practising barrister and founder of CPD provider Legal Training, offers a broad selection of some of the best legal resources for lawyers (and would-be lawyers) of all persuasions.
For an excellent overview of the range of legal resources online, I suggest that you turn to the diligently prepared offering from the Inner Temple librarians at innertemplelibrary.com. This website is the librarians' news blog, aggregating information from a range of sources, from legal journals, case reports and blogs, to government websites, legislation and mainstream media. It provides up-to-date current awareness information about new cases, legislation and legal news stories. If you use an RSS reader, then their RSS feed is a must, as it provides such a wide range of interesting and helpful information, and provides you with a very easy way of keeping abreast of current legal matters. If nothing else, it flags up information that you would otherwise have to track down, while enlightening you about legal issues that you would not have had the time or energy to source yourself.
BAILII remains the prime source of online case law outside of the paid-for services of the legal publishers. With comprehensive search facilities and straightforward access to British and Irish case law (as well as offering a significant repository of European Union case law as well), this free service is unsurpassed. BAILII operates as a charity and requires donations to ensure that its services are ongoing, so if you have ever taken advantage of their services, do consider donating something to them. They offer RSS feeds for keeping up to date in your areas of specialism and they also offer a leading cases database via their Open Law project, which preserves and presents to you the most important historical decisions in a wide range of practice areas. In 2012 BAILII partnered with the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (ICLR), which publishes the official law reports, to link their online services. It works in a reciprocal way, with ICLR subscribers able to access more seamlessly the BAILI database and BAILII users able to go directly to the free ICLR summary if there is one for a particular case, and purchase the authorised case report as a PDF.
The ICLR website itself is worth a mention. While it provides a paid-for subscription service to its law reports via its ICLR Online service, and individual subscriptions to its selection of law reports, it also offers some free resources which may be of use. They offer summaries of recent cases of importance in the High Court and appellate courts. If you register on the website, they will send you a free weekly email alert, highlighting the important WLR daily case summaries and case reports from the past week.
For more case law reports and general all-round fascinating information, you should take a look at the Supreme Court's website. The Supreme Court not only puts reports of their judgments online extremely quickly, they excel in providing summaries of those judgments for those with less time on their hands. The website offers very clear information, set out in a logical and easy-to-locate way. The website stands out as a beacon of hope for comprehensive, easily accessible and relevant information provision. If you look at the Current Cases section, it has all the information that you could need about cases before it, not just the case name and date of hearing, but which justices have been allocated, other relevant dates and an exceptionally helpful and clear case summary with the matters of law being decided and a brief outline of the facts.
Moving with the times rather faster than other areas of the legal system, the Supreme Court has its own YouTube channel, showing videos of judgments being handed down.
For UK statutes and statutory instruments, you need to go to legislation.gov.uk. It is an incredibly useful resource, but with the caveat that it is not entirely up to date in its revised form (ie, incorporating amendments from subsequent legislation into the text). When I say “not entirely” up to date, the website's FAQ page states that it is broadly up to date to 2002, with half of all items of legislation up to date to the present time. The key, when searching, is to look for the red “Changes to Legislation” box on each page which will flag up any amendment issues. Perhaps they have just resigned themselves to the fact that they will forever struggle to keep pace with legislative changes? Nevertheless, it is a useful website should you need access to legislation. Use with care though!
2013 saw the Ministry of Justice's corporate website migrate to the 'gov.uk' portal at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ministry-of-justice . That appears to mean that information for the layman about the department is to be found there, leaving behind information for practitioners on the justice.gov.uk website. The Justice website has evolved from being relatively sparse to containing a wide-enough range of helpful information; it acts as an umbrella site covering not just HM Courts and Tribunals Service, but also a total of 26 different organisations including the Youth Justice Board, Probation Service and Legal Services Commission. The Judiciary website is also an excellent resource, containing a large range of information about not only the work of the judiciary, but details of tribunal decisions as well.
If you want to be at the cutting edge of legal information and discussion, you should head over to Twitter, where you will find a wide range of lawyers from all fields, from QCs to wannabe solicitors, academics to other professionals involved with the legal system, as well as a range of legal organisations, all engaged in discussions about the law. You can follow live tweets reporting on interesting cases (particularly, but not exclusively, criminal ones), dive head first into heated debates (or watch with interest from the sidelines); but it is also a great way to catch breaking legal news before it hits the mainstream media, often with that news originating from those directly involved in the cases. It is an excellent source of links to articles, blogs and resources if you care to look. Beware though, it is an excellent procrastination tool: there is always something more interesting to read than what you are supposed to be doing!
Halsbury's Law Exchange
If you are interested in high-quality legal commentary, then take a look at the Halsbury's Law Exchange (HLE) website. HLE is a “legal think tank working to communicate ideas on reform or legal direction to decision makers and the legal sector and promote debate through papers, reports, events and media pieces”. The website offers free weekly email updates and you can follow them through the usual social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook and RSS feed). You will find a number of policy papers written by a variety of legal experts on the website, but probably the most interesting section is the blog, with many regular expert legal contributors, covering hot topics and a more erudite version of the legal news than you will find in the mainstream media. The topics range from criminal law (which features highly, probably due to the preponderance of it in the mainstream media) to family law, environmental law to employment, immigration to tax. A bit of something for everyone, but always with an intelligent eye on the key issues of the day.
Access to justice
Finally, in the current climate with access to justice seemingly withering on the vine, the excellent Justice Gap website is worth a few moments of your time. Michael Mansfield QC explains: “The 'Justice Gap' refers to the increasing section of the public too poor to afford a lawyer and not poor enough to qualify for legal aid. At the heart of any notion of a decent society is not only that we have rights and protections under the law but that we can enforce those rights and rely upon those protections if needed.”This website aims to highlight issues relating to ordinary people in their daily lives, from a less legalistic perspective, but promoting access to justice. Contributors to the website include a wide range of legal professionals, but also journalists and others with views on the legal system, cutting a swathe across all aspects of the law. They have created an ongoing project to provide information to ordinary people about legal issues with their Advice Guide, and they have a series of events taking place offline in the real world with a forthcoming debate about lessons to be learned from the US prison system.
Amanda Millmore is a non-practising barrister, lecturer at the University of Reading and founder of CPD provider, Legal Training. Follow her on Twitter at @LegalTrainingUK. This article first appeared on Infolaw.