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Response to 'Sweet and Maxwell'

I reply to the letter from Sweet & Maxwell about my own review of the New Law on-line case service (and my aside about Sweet & Maxwell's own service) I am embarrassed to be seen to be wanting the last word, but that doesn't usually stop me ...

I am pleased to see that Sweet & Maxwell anticipated some of the difficulties which I also foresaw and referred to in my review of the New Law on-line service. Our agreements are more significant than our disagreements.

I agree first that we need consistent references to paragraphs within judgements and that some re-assurance has to be given to courts as to the accuracy of any document they are given. However, both problems are easily resolvable. The first can be done simply by numbering the paragraphs in the judgement. We are accustomed to page numbers, but no doubt we can change. Many years ago I am sure the Egyptians worried awfully when people wanted to move on from referencing cases by papyrus leaves, and the Romans were equally unhappy moving on from folios. We just move on, and the judges, bless their little cotton socks, will just have to move on too.

The accuracy of an electronic document can be guaranteed by a digital signature - it appears as a jumble of characters at the end of a piece of text. This can be as strong a certificate as you like. At the same time it is a mistake to assume that a fax is fiddle proof. Material I receive on a fax modem can readily be edited before printing. Equally, the client of the service will be advocates and officers of the court. If they fail to persuade a court of the honesty and accuracy of the case law they present then that advocate should perhaps be facing up to other, more pressing, qustions.

I appreciate that a fax service may be in demand from S&M's customers not connected to the Internet and I applaud its provision. It just seems to me, going back to my original review, (which was not an attack on Sweet & Maxwell) that S&M have not appreciated that anyone who has got as far as finding a real live on-line reference for a case will be so chuffed that they cannot wait to download it. To finally find something useful on this wondrous web only to be told immediately that you have to revert to the fundamentally grubby medium of a fax machine may be, to put it politely, disheartening. I speak here as one who knows. I provide a similar on- line index of cases, from which it is not possible to download a judgment.

David Swarbrick, Solicitor, 22 Bradford Rd Brighouse HD6 1RW UK
29 November 1996

Date of publication: 29 November 1996

Citation: Swarbrick D (1996), 'Response to Sweet and Maxwell's Response to New Law Goes On-line', Comment, 1996 (3) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>

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