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JILT 1996 (3) - Andew Culley

A review of
the electronic Law Reports CD-ROM

Andrew Culley
University of Central Lancashire
a.culley@uclan.ac.uk

  1. Introduction
  2. Searches
  3. Structure of the Report
  4. Navigation
  5. Requirements and Summary

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Date of publication: 30 September 1996

Citation: Culley, A (1996) 'A Review of the electronic Law Reports CD-ROM' Application Review. 1996 (3) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/elj/jilt/sw/3elr/review/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1996_3/elr/culley/>


1. Introduction

The electronic Law Reports is a CD-ROM based service that provides the law reports of the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (apart from the Weekly Law Reports) from 1865 to the current date. Two CD-ROMs are provided: the Index CD-ROM, containing an index to all the words in the reports and the Data CD-ROM, containing the text of the reports. Searches are carried out using the Index CD-ROM. From the index, a count of documents retrieved is given. Then, if the user wishes to see it, a list of documents (described as a 'profile list' by the publishers) is displayed. The actual text of any of the listed documents can then be retrieved from the Data CD-ROM and viewed by the user. The original appearance and pagination of the Law Reports are retained as far as possible.

The interface software has the usual Windows system of buttons on a buttonbar and menus. The functionality of the buttons is duplicated on the menus. As a default, most of the buttons have text on them; many also have icons. A comprehensive and context sensitive help system is provided although, in general, use of the program is sufficiently intuitive that the help system need not be used frequently.

2. Searches

Searches are carried out across the whole of the database of reports. Simple and complex searches of the index can be carried out. Boolean searches can be carried out using 'and', 'or', 'not' and proximity connectors. The proximity search connectors use number of characters to limit proximity; they might more conveniently have been based on words. The wildcard, '*', can be used as a truncation operator to replace one or more characters at the end of a word. The wildcard, '?', can be used to replace a single letter in a word.

A simple search can be carried out on the names of parties in case titles, catchwords in reports or publication references (citations). Thus, the fields upon which a simple search can take place are limited; it would be useful to be able to carry out a simple free text search on any part of a report. Once the type of search is selected, search terms consisting of words or phrases or combinations of words and phrases can be entered in a simple text entry field and the search carried out. The text entry field has a drop-down list of search terms used in a previous search and any of those search terms (modified, if necessary) can be used for the current search.

3. Structure of the Report

Each report is divided into up to sixteen different fields (court, parties, date of judgment, catchwords, headnote, citation, argument, facts, judgment, judge, order, solicitors, reporter, petition, opinion, year) and up to six of any of these fields can be used in an advanced search. A free text field is also available on the advanced search form. The user can select and enter search terms or combinations of search terms into any of the available six fields and/or the free text entry field for each search. Boolean connectors can be used to combine search terms within fields or between fields. Users can choose search words from an index of all the words that appear in each of the fields across the database. A user can also define a list of frequently used search terms for future use with any of the fields. Once a report is displayed, it is possible to carry out further searches across the database using a word or a phrase in that report. If the name of a case in the displayed report is selected by clicking on it, the user can be taken to the text of the report of that case (provided that the case is included in the database). Users can jump to later cases in which the displayed case is discussed or to earlier cases that are relevant to the displayed case.

It is also possible to search a displayed report for the occurrence of any word or phrase. Selected text from a report may be copied to the clipboard for pasting to a document in another program. The size of the displayed text may be decreased or increased to a variety of sizes ranging from 40% to twice the original size.

4. Navigation

A comprehensive set of navigational tools is provided. Once a document is displayed, the user can view a list of the fields in the report and then jump to that field in the report. In a displayed report, the user can jump between highlighted occurrences of the search term(s). By using menu items or buttons, a user may move to the next page, the previous page or to a page with a particular number (pages are numbered as in the paper version of the reports). The user may jump to a particular report on the hit list or to the previous or next report on the hit list. Through the trail menu item and back button, the user may return to any document displayed previously in the current session. A number of reports may be opened, each in a different window, and the user can then move quickly from window to window, viewing and comparing related cases.

Annotations may be attached to any displayed law report for viewing later. A search facility is provided to aid users wishing to view annotations on particular topics.

Printing facilities are comprehensive. All of or a selection of case titles on a profile list, or the text of all documents or selected documents on a profile list may be printed. Selected parts of documents (i.e. selected fields) may be printed. When a document is displayed, the whole of that document, the current page of that document, selected pages of that document or a selected passage of that document may be printed. Print preview is available as well as all of the usual options available through Windows printer drivers.

The contents of displayed documents may be saved in an ASCII format, without any formatting details. Currently this facility is only available when a document is displayed and only the displayed document may be exported. According to the User Guide, exporting the text of a series of cases will be available in a future version of the software.

5. Requirements and Summary

Minimum Hardware and Software Requirements:
IBM-compatible PC with 486DX2-50 MHz processor;
Hard Drive with 30 MB free;
Double-speed CD-ROM drive;
Mouse;
VGA graphics adapter;
256 colour display; and
Microsoft Windows 3.1 or later.

Overall, this is a well-designed system, intuitive in use with most of the desired functionality. The help system is comprehensive and the User Guide is well-written, reasonably comprehensive and easy to use. Some of the search functionality present in systems like LEXIS is absent but the search facilities that are present are adequate for most purposes. The separation of the system onto an Index and Reports CD-ROM does cause some inconvenience for the user on a standalone machine unless the CD-ROM drive has a disk changer. If plenty of hard disk space is available or the eLR is to be used on a network, the index and/or data disk contents may be copied to (a) hard disk(s) (each of the two disks will require approximately 650 MB of storage).

The service provided by eLR is a biannual CD-ROM update plus monthly on-line updates. As to pricing, the recent CHEST deal gives academic institutions the opportunity to subscribe at the following annual rates:

Institutions teaching law to degree level £2200
  (£1900 if take out subscription before 1/4/97);
Other academic institutions £1200.

There is also the option to pay £8400 in advance for 5 years usage. The CHEST agreement also enables institutions to network the data.

If this cost is compared with the cost of purchasing a complete set of the paper version of ICLR reports back to 1865 (£16,000-&163;18,000+), this pricing is very competitive (at least in the short to medium term). However, if a comparison is made, only on cost, to a current paper subscription to ICLR reports (a minimum charge of £180 p.a.) by an institution that already has an up-to-date set of ICLR reports, the cost may seem high. On the other hand, the institution will receive a site licence under the CHEST deal and the search facilities provided with eLR give added value.

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