Beyond the Millennium: The Legal Issues
One of the more significant law and technology events of our time is fast approaching. The year 2000 poses a number of serious questions for scholars, practitioners and policy makers on the interaction of law with technology in the market place as well as in public spheres. The potential effect of the 'year 2000 problem' is far-reaching, hitting a range of activities. It represents a sea change in the way in which we look at legal issues affecting technology. Health care providers, such as the National Health Service, may be impeded in their mission to provide care, and critical care may be seriously impeded. Safety-related products may fail and cause or exacerbate life-threatening situations. Innovation may be choked off by the potentially tremendous liability that the computer industry may face.
The implications for the interaction of law and technology raised by the Year 2000 problem will extend beyond the millennium. Law is not a static endeavour. As has been the case in other paradigmatic events in law and technology, the knock-on effects of the millennium will continue well beyond the year 2000.
On the 17th and 18th of September 1998, the conference 'Beyond the Millennium: The Legal Issues,' was held at Gregynog, a conference centre of the University of Wales. The event covered the principal law and technology issues relating to the Year 2000. A number of prominent academics and practitioners were in attendance and submitted papers. The papers will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Information Law and Technology. The proceedings were generously supported by the British and Irish Legal Education Technology Association (BILETA).
The approach of the papers was to undertake a comprehensive examination of the legal issues relating to the year 2000 and beyond. The conference papers reflect the nature of the law and technology 'interface,' in which technology does not respect formal legal categories. Only the highlights will be presented here. The full papers will be published in the forthcoming issue of the Journal.
The proceedings started off with introductory remarks by John Wright, information technology consultant and representative of BILETA. Mr. Wright's presentation identified the key areas of uncertainty and complexity in the Year 2000 problem. He also placed the information technology issues in a legal context.
John Angel, Visiting Fellow, Information Technology Unit, Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London offered a paper on developments in electronic commerce , public key digital signatures, certification authorities, differences between traditional and digital signatures, the European Union directive on a common framework for electronic signatures, and United Kingdom approaches to digital signature regulation.
Rob Bradgate, Reader in Law, University of Sheffield presented a substantial paper on issues relating to the sale of goods. His focus was on damages under the sale of goods act, the probability of litigation, harm to consumers, whether software is a 'good' under the Sale of Goods Act, and various significant contract questions.
Andrew Campbell, Lecturer in Law, University of Wales, Aberystwyth presented a paper on banking law and the effects of the Year 2000 problem on lending and banking practice. His paper provided substantial insights on how banks have and will respond to the millennium, and includes a detailed explanation of how the clauses in lending agreements can be interpreted to deal with the Year 2000 problem.
Geraint Howells, Reader in Law, University of Sheffield, wrote a paper addressing various aspects of the 'millennium bug' and product liability. He addressed issues such as whether a product containing a millennium bug defective, whether a producer is protected by the development risks defence, whether a producer has a duty to recall and repair products or issue warnings to consumers, and the impact of limitations periods.
Gordon Hughes, Director, Safety Systems Research Centre, University of Bristol presented a paper that reflects issue in management information and computer science. Dr. Hughes is a computer scientist and not a legal scholar, and his paper was welcomed as one that flushed out a number of issues for legal scholars to consider.
Elizabeth Macdonald, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Wales, Aberystwyth prepared a paper entitled 'Aspects of Contractual Liability: Damages and Exemptions.' The paper covered such issues as the time frame for assessment of loss, the type of loss that can occur in a Year 2000 case, mitigation of damages issues, and effect of unfair contract terms legislation on liability.
John Peysner, Research Fellow, Nottingham Trent University, presented a paper on the impact of the Year 2000 on litigation and litigation strategies. Mr. Peysner's paper looked at, among other things, litigation risk, case theory and litigation strategy in both the UK and the US.
Diane Rowland, Senior Lecturer in Law of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth presented a paper on professional negligence and software design. Dr. Rowland's paper explored the issues of what is the liability of software developers for safety-critical applications, the tests for negligence to be applied to developers, and whether codes of professional ethics should address questions of the competence of software developers.
Professor Celia Wells, Cardiff Law School wrote on the millennium bug and corporate criminal liability. Her paper addressed the question whether the state could prosecute persons in the computer industry if the millennium bug caused a large number of 'catastrophes and fatalities.'
Professor John Williams, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, presented a paper on Year 2000 issues relating to the regulation of health care. He examined the question of whether the National Health Service will be in compliance and whether non-compliance will result in liability to the NHS.
The meeting was concluded by John Wright, who summarised the themes of the conference. Mr. Wright also discussed the objectives of BILETA in getting more mainstream lawyers, legal scholars and computer professionals involved in the organisation. There was also a discussion of the future agenda and prospects for BILETA, and support for the organisation was encouraged.
Discussion proved to be stimulating and informative. The papers were excellent and reflect the outlines of the debate. We look forward to seeing the papers in print in the forthcoming issue of JILT.
This is a Conference Report published on 30 October 1998.
Citation: Linarelli J, 'Beyond the Millennium', Conference Report, 1998 (3) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/98-3/linarelli.html>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1998_3/linarelli/>