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JILT 1997 (2) - John Blackie

The Scots Law Times Reports on CD-ROM (1893-1995)
..a User's perspective.

Professor John Blackie
University of Strathclyde
johnb@law.strath.ac.uk

Contents

1. Introduction

2. Using Assisted Search

3. Searching Within Dates

4. Power Search

5. Saving and Printing

6. Conclusion

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This is an IT Review published on 30 June 1997.

Citation: Blackie J, 'The Scots Law Times Reports on CD-ROM (1893-1995) ..a User's Perspective', IT Review 1997 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/sw/97_2slt/revuser/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1997_2/scotslaw/blackie/>


1. Introduction

Many a lawyer is accustomed to the ominous way in which his or her life is openly measured as passing as each volume of a set of law reports arrives on the shelf. So for a Scots lawyer to have all or nearly all (there are comparatively few cases not reported in the SLT but reported elsewhere) of the reported case law of the jurisdiction on a CD brings with it an air of release from a burden. How far does the CD-ROM in action confirm this initial impression of freedom? The answer to that question is that it does so almost entirely.

The most comprehensive way to review a reference work of any kind is to use it in one's day to day work over a period of time. This has been possible with this CD-ROM and on nearly every occasion it has achieved things quicker by far than could have been done without it and on at least one occasion it achieved something that it is very doubtful could have been achieved by using traditional hard copy reports and traditional hardcopy Digests.

2. Using Assisted Search

As that is the best tribute to this or any legal materials CD-ROM it is worth expanding on it first. Unusually this reviewer wished to find out whether there was any guidance to be had from judges as to whether the fact that the pursuer in a personal injury negligence case had taken some drink before the accident was a relevant factor for holding that the evidence should be considered in a proof before a judge alone as opposed to before a civil jury. The Scots Law on the matter is statutory and in essence is that in a personal injury case, if the pursuer wishes to have the case heard before a jury, he or she is entitled to that unless the other side can show there is "special cause" for not having a jury. Clicking on an icon called "Assisted Search" which produces a template with an "and" separator and the whole case or a choice of fields available. Entering "alcohol" and "special cause" to be found in the same case produced not just the obvious case, but four other brief dicta hidden away in cases where one would not have thought to look.

Assisted Search is thus a remarkably effective tool for doing most things that the user would want. It is not confined to the use of the default "and" Boolean operator. That can be changed to any of the others. The creators of this CD-ROM have provided in addition to search the whole text the possibility of searching limited by the use of other fields, namely, Court, Judges, Counsel, Rubric, Headnote (these latter two i.e. the summarising bits at the opening of the case). The word headnote has been used in its traditional (and correct, though now less usual) meaning to cover the longer summary. The more fields available the better. There is, however, perhaps a danger in highlighting the possibility of searching on rubric or headnote. Apart from looking up cases dealing with specific bits of legislation the user would not normally want to confine a search to rubric or headnote as they quite frequently do not convey much. The Manual is to be congratulated in pointing out specifically that real headnotes have only existed in the Scots Law Times since 1949 and were not used at all in the "Note of Recent Decisions" section until 1981. The counsel field is good fun to see who has appeared how often in what sort of case. The judge field is arguably of more substantial use when trying to track what a particular judge one has a case before has said in the past. The court field is extremely useful, because it enables one to go to only appellate level courts, and to distinguish which level, or by contrast for example, to go only to the Sheriff Court part.

Searching is possible using all the likely tools, such as proximity search, thesaurus searches and so on.

3. Searching within Dates

The Manual is very coherently written with good step-by-step worked examples. There are though some things that are not made as immediately clear as they should be. A small quibble on an important matter is that this reviewer, who may have been slow on the uptake, did not at first appreciate that when searching for a phrase one had to put inverted commas round it for that to work. Another point for the beginner could have been made clearer too. This relates to searching for something within only a specific period rather than the whole period of the CD-ROM, which is 1893 to 1995. The beginner would think that working within a specific period shorter than the whole would probably speed up a search. On page 65 the Manual points out that one might well want to use the date field . That raises hopes. But on the next page, where working with the date field is dealt with in detail the statement is found, fairly highlighted in bold, "using the date field, either on its own or combined with other search fields can slow down your search quite considerably". That, indeed, is the case. There is a general cross reference forward to "Chapter 8: Creating Efficient Search Queries" but it is only on page 117 that the solution is given. Use the "Power Search" Facility if you wish to search within dates.

4. Power Search

The point of the "Power Search" template is to enable the user to define a search to virtually any criteria. It is obviously attractive to be able to have total freedom to devise ones own search strategies. On the other hand the "Assisted Search" templates, apart from the restricted date searches, just discussed seem to covers much of what one imagines users would want. It is probably true to say that most users of law CD-ROMs and on-line legal databases do fairly crude searches in them. Very simple search strategies may often suit lawyers in a hurry. This reviewer has found, for example, that with five or ten minutes to go before teaching a class the search strategies of typing in the year and page number of the case. It comes up immediately. Practising lawyers, too, may want to remind themselves of something in a hurry.

5. Saving and Printing

Keeping material is slick and easy. There is a bookmark facility, and a highlighting facility. Printing to a printer, whether of the whole of a case or part (through highlighting) is easy. Saving is also easy. But here again there is nothing obvious on the face of the manual about it. What works is highlighting the whole or part of the case you want to save to disk and then use "save as". This reviewer's first attempt at saving were rejected on the ground that he was trying to save the whole CD Rom. It would be helpful to have an Index, not only a Contents page, to the Manual to look up these matters that do not immediately spring off the contents page. This is particularly so because the Help function is an on screen copy of the Manual. It should be stressed, however, that there is a very willing and very good helpline that worked excellently by way of Email to solve the question as to how to keep a copy of a search "hitlist", i.e. the names of the cases that a search has turned up. This can be printed from the "hitlist.ini" file in the Windows directory, and the helpline also pointed out that one can save the search that generated the Hitlist.

6. Conclusion

So despite some small matters that could be improved a little bit, this CD-ROM is a wonderful contribution to the resources of the law in Scotland. It passes the test of standing up to being used with flying colours. It saves time. It is flexible. It saves space and with it most of the case law of Scotland in active use can travel around in the inside pocket. What more could you want if you are into Scots Law?

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