I’ve just added a new and nifty little feature to this blog: on the right-hand navigation pane, just beneath the “Recent Transmissions” list, you will now see a self-updating feed of free case summaries published by ICLR. When you click on any of the cases in the feed, you will be taken to the full text of the summary on ICLR’s website.
What are ICLR Case Summaries?
ICLR Case Summaries (also known as the WLR Daily or WLR (D)) do exactly what they say on the tin: they are summaries of cases covered by ICLR’s law reporters.
The purpose of the summary service is to provide rapid and freely accessible digests of cases ICLR assess as being capable of changing or modifying the law in a given area. It takes a while to produce a full, authorised report of law-changing cases, so in order to bridge the gap in time between the handing down of judgment and getting the full report published, ICLR publish short summaries of important cases that can be read in conjunction with the raw transcript on BAILII.
How are ICLR Case Summaries structured?
All of ICLR’s case summaries conform to the same structure and style.
The Catchwords - At the very head of the summary you will find the “catchwords”. These are essentially keywords that capture the subject matter of the case being summarised and the key questions the court answered in the course of giving judgment. For example, these are the catchwords I drafted for the summary of the Divisional Court’s decision in DPP v Chambers (“Twitter Joke Trial”):
CRIME — Message of menacing character — Sending by means of public electronic communications network — Defendant in Twitter message apparently threatening to blow up airport — Whether offence of basic intent — Whether message of “menacing character” — Communications Act 2003, s 127(1)(a)
Immediately beneath the catchwords, you will see all of the basic information you would expect to be included in any report of a case: the name of the case; the neutral citation (along with the citation issued to the summary); the court and its constitution; and the date of judgment.
The Proposition Paragraph - Once we’ve got the catchwords and the vital statistics out of the way, we move into the meat of the summary. The first paragraph is know as the “proposition” paragraph. In this paragraph (or group of paragraphs, in long and complex cases) the law reporter attempts to extract the rule or principle of law the case in question establishes. In other words, this section of the summary tells you what the case stands as authority for. For example, again from Chambers:
A message which did not create fear or apprehension in those to whom it was communicated, or who may reasonably have been expected to see it, was not of a “menacing character” within the meaning section 127(1)(a) of the Communications Act 2003. That provision created an offence of basic intent and, accordingly, the mental element of the offence was satisfied if the accused were proved to have intended that the message should have been of menacing character or alternatively, to have been aware of or to have recognised the risk at the time of sending the message that it might have created fear or apprehension in any reasonable member of the public who had read or seen it. Moreover, a “tweet” ” sent via the social networking site Twitter, was “a message” sent by an electronic communications service for the purposes of section 127(1) of the 2003 Act regardless of whether the tweet was read as a “message” or as content on the website.
The Procedural Paragraph - Immediately below the proposition paragraph, you’ll see a section setting out the procedural and factual background of the case. This bit outlines the case’s journey through the courts, along with the absolutely essential components of the case’s factual matrix. Nothing more than that which is absolutely necessary to assist your understanding of the case is included in here. From Chambers:
The Divisional Court of the Queen’s Bench Division so held when allowing an appeal by way of case stated by the defendant, Paul Chambers, against the decision of the Crown Court at Doncaster (Judge Davies and justices) 3 March 2011 to uphold his conviction in the magistrates’ court for sending by a public electronic communication network a message of a menacing character contrary to section 127(1)(a) of the Communications Act 2003. The prosecution alleged that on 6 January 2010, following an alert on the Twitter social network, the defendant had become aware of problems due to adverse weather conditions at Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster, from where he had been due to travel nine days later. He had responded by posting a number of “tweets” on Twitter, including the following message: “Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!!”.
Note: where the decision in the case being digested turns upon or concerns a provision in a statute, that provision will be set out beneath the procedural paragraph.
Digest of the Judgment - The last bit is the part where the law reporter attempts to digest the actual judgment, without rewriting the judgment! The thing to bear in mind here is that the point of the summary is to only deal with the important stuff, anything that is not essential to understanding the ratio of the case is disregarded.
Here’s an extract of my digest of what Lord Judge CJ said in Chambers:
LORD JUDGE CJ said, in the reserved judgment of the court, that the social networking site, Twitter, fell within the description of a “public electronic communications network” and that the potential recipients of messages or “tweets” sent via that network was the public as a whole, consisting of all sections of society. It was immaterial that the accused intended only that his message be read by a limited class of people, namely his followers, who, knowing him, would be neither fearful nor apprehensive when they read it. Accordingly, Twitter, and tweets sent via that network, fell within the ambit of section 127(1) of the 2003 Act whether one read the tweet at a time when it could have been read as content, rather than a message. A message which did not create fear or apprehension in those to whom it was communicated, or who might reasonably have been expected to see it, was not of a “menacing character” within the meaning section 127(1)(a).
So there you have it – a nice little feed of new cases to stay up to date with and a guide to what you’ll find in the summaries. You can find out more about ICLR here.