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The books students are told to read

On 3 February 2016, The Washington Post ran an interesting little piece on an online initiative in the US called The Open Syllabus Project.

Elements of Style

The Open Syllabus Project (OSP) is essentially a big data project designed to capture as much information possible about the books students are instructed to read by academic institutions during their studies.

The OSP describe the initiative as “an effort to make the intellectual judgment embedded in syllabi relevant to broader explorations of teaching, publishing, and intellectual history.” The dataset used by the OSP, which at present amounts to around 1.1million syllabi, was complied by “crawling and scraping of publicly-accessible university websites.”

For anyone interested in books and reading, it’s well worth taking a look at the site. The dataset can be interrogated according to a range of criteria, including the field of study, institution and country. I was quite pleased to see that a number of UK higher education are included in the mix.

I’m a little unsure about the results the OSP pulled back when I asked for the top-ranking titles in the UK: the title ranked at #1 was Doing Your Research Project : A Guide for First-Time Researchers in Education and Social Science Bell, Judith, 1930 (I can’t say I’ve read this one myself). However, the results generated on a search of the US were quite interesting and had more of the “books you must read before you’re dead”-vibe about it. 


I’m loathe to show my ignorance twice in one blog post (the first instance being the fact that I’ve never heard of Judith Bell’s Guide for First-Time Researchers), but I’d never heard of  The Elements of Style by William Strunk either until I looked at this list.

I had a quick look on Amazon to find out more and learned that Elements of Style is a classic work on the cultivation of good writing. There’s something quite pleasing about the circularity of the most recommended read being all about writing.

It’s an interesting project, but I’m uncertain as to the accuracy of the results. Could Paul Craig’s EU Law: Text, Cases and Materials really be the most commonly occurring title in the English legal syllabus?


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Survey into UK Legal Research (an update)

Late last week, I launched a survey to understand at a very high-level the sorts of methodologies lawyers employ in their legal research.

To date, 102 responses have been collected. Given that this blog is not widely known, I’m very happy with the number of responses and am very grateful to all of those who took the trouble to take part in the survey.

I’m now going to set about reviewing the data I have collected and will follow up soon with a post detailing my findings.

Again, my thanks to all those who took part and to those who retweeted the survey link.


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I’m turning into a bit of geek when it comes to new apps and online tools and love it when I find something new that works well and renders beautiful results.

One such recent find is an online tool called Typeform.

Typeform is a nifty, visually gorgeous, WYSIWYG form builder and allows you to construct anything from details surveys with logic maps, to registration forms, quizzes and pretty much anything else that involves asking another human being questions online. The app’s streamline is “A beautiful way to interact with users humans”.

Typeform uses a freemium/premium model. The free to access service gives you pretty much everything you need to make a really pleasing, well-structured and mobile-friendly form. Paying the subscription fee unlocks additional functionality (such as logic maps and conditional questioning in surveys) and customisation (such as importing your own fonts, graphics etc).

The survey builder, even in free-to-use mode, offers a lot of power. You can use a mixture of open-ended, multiple choice, rating and opinion modelled questions.


The app also provides an impressive suite of tools to analyse results, either by exporting them in CSV or Excel format or by generating informative and well-styled reports.

I used Typeform to build a survey into UK legal research habits, which you can see here:

Give it a try here:


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Legal Research in the UK

surveyEarlier on today, I put up a quick post calling for assistance in some research I’m undertaking to better understand the ways in which practising lawyers go about researching issues of law in 2016.

I’ve developed a shortish survey that asks a range of questions about your attitudes and approaches to carrying out legal research. I am no survey designer and I am sure many a hole could be picked in the way this survey has been put together. That said, I think most of you will get the gist of what I’m asking!

Availability of legal information is a tricky issue here in the UK. Unlike many other common law jurisdictions, the UK does not have any real form of centralised, state-sponsored mechanism for disseminating primary law, let alone secondary materials. Here in the UK, we have a hodge-podge of sources, some are free, some are good value and some are incredibly expensive. Some are lean on the amount of information on offer, others throw in the kitchen sink.

The tools lawyers use to research the law do not get that much attention. But they’re important. The tools lawyers use and the ways in which they are used influence the efficiency and quality of legal advice and advocacy. This in turn influences the efficiency and quality of judicial decision-making.

This survey seeks out to understand what you use and how you use it. I can’t offer to enter you into a prize draw for an iPad for taking part of this survey, but please be assured that you have my gratitude!

You can access the survey here

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Understanding case preparation research routes

The legal information market in the UK is a mish-mash of free and very expensive research platforms. Some of them online, others are in print.

In the online market, at one end of the spectrum, we have BAILII – at the other end, we have the likes of WestlawUK and LexisLibrary. Hovering in the middle of the product spectrum are the lighter-weight subscriber platforms, such as those offered by the ICLR, Justis and other specialist publishers.  Some lawyers, I am told, even make use of Google searches and Wikipedia.

Online information is by no means the end of the matter. From Archbold, The White Book, Chitty, Clerk & Lindsell and so on, printed works also feature heavily in our legal research arsenal.

I’m about to carry out a research project aimed at understanding legal research patterns, principally among those in practice at the Bar.

I’m still gathering my thoughts on how best to execute this research, but if you think you’d be happy for me to contact you to ask you some questions or to take a very quick survey, please level a comment below this post or tweet me @danhlawreporter.




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Defending Inner Temple Library

Jack of Kent has just posted an excellent blog post in defence of Inner Temple Library against an incredibly misconceived plan to carve up a significant portion of the Library (58% at current estimates) to free up space for meeting rooms and a lecture theatre.

Jack of Kent’s defence of the Library is characteristically comprehensive and no-nonsense. There is very little for me to add.

Back in February, I made my own submission to the Inner Temple Strategic Review Group. My submission set out what I believe to be the main dangers of making incursions into the existing library space. My submission can be found among those of far more distinction (e.g. Stephen Sedley and Lord Sumption) in this paper. Do have a flick through them.

My humble submission is reproduced below.


Dear Strategic Review Group,

I was called to the Bar by the Inn in 2009. Since then, I have worked at the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales (ICLR) as an editor, law reporter and Research & Development manager. My current role at the ICLR is focused on product development and I was one of the designers of the ICLR Online research platform.

This submission to the Strategic Review Group (SRG) focuses specifically on the following term of reference:

“5. To assess the needs of a modern 21st century law library for the modern Bar, both Bar students and practitioners…”

 The vast bulk of my time at ICLR has been concerned with understanding and addressing the radical changes to legal research methods ushered in by the rise of online access to legal information. The general pattern, across the board, demonstrates a marked increase in the uptake of online subscriber platforms (pre-eminently, WestlawUK and Lexis Library) and a corresponding increase in the rate of attrition in subscriptions to printed materials.

The Inn, within the context of its strategic deliberations, will understandably wish to consider the advantages and disadvantages associated with recalibrating the balance of printed and online materials available through the Library. The need for the SRG to carefully consider and address that balance is made all the more critical if the possibility of the creation of a new Education & Training centre (which, may or may not include the creation of an international arbitration centre), is likely to come at a cost to the Library’s existing capacity and acreage.

The central point of this submission is to urge the SRG to adopt a cautious approach to making any significant changes to the Library’s existing resources and facilities. In particular, this submission aims to set out the risks attendant to the pursuit of a strategy that would involve a lurch in favour of online access over the maintenance of a comprehensive archive of printed materials. Most of what follows in this submission rests on the assumption that in order to give effect to various strategic aspirations, the SRG may consider (a) significantly increasing the number of computer terminals in the Library; (b) significantly reducing print subscriptions and print storage; and (c) using sections of the existing library floorplan for non-library purposes.

The curatorial function of the Library

 At the outset, I submit that any assessment of the needs of a modern 21st century Inn of Court library should be viewed through the prism of the Library having an important curatorial function. The purpose of the Library is not narrowly confined to the provision of access to legal materials as and when they are required. The Library also performs a broader function to secure and maintain a rich, varied and comprehensive archive of important legal and other relevant materials for posterity.

Risks potentially flowing from reduction in print collections and increased reliance on online subscriptions

Past editions of textbooks

It is very rare for online subscriptions to include access to past editions of textbooks. Generally, services such as WestlawUK and Lexis Library will confine access to the current edition. This is probably due to the following reasons:

  • The conversion of past editions is an expensive and time-consuming process and publishers have little appetite for digitising past volumes of long and complex bodies of text.
  • In some instances (e.g. Archbold), the quantity of past editions is too great to even consider digitising them for online access.
  • The publisher assumes that if reference to a past edition of a textbook is required, the Library-user will be able to access the printed volume.

Given the unavailability of past editions on online platforms, it will be necessary for the Library to be in a position to provide continued access to its existing print collection.

Access to materials online is rarely perpetual

Access to content made available via online services depends upon the Inn having an active subscription. The moment a subscription ends, the archive of materials that were hitherto available via that subscription ceases to be accessible. This situation stands in stark contrast with the position where printed works are concerned, because printed materials remain the property of the Inn even after the subscription expires.

Titles can move between various online databases and can be removed altogether

 A substantial amount of the content available through subscriptions to WestlawUK and Lexis Library is not proprietary to the vendor of the online database. For example, the series of law reports published by ICLR (e.g. The Law Reports and The Weekly Law Reports, etc.) are available on WestlawUK and Lexis Library pursuant to a licensing agreement, meaning ICLR could withdraw the content from both of these vendors if it chose to do so when the agreement comes up for renewal. Moreover, it is within the rights of publishers to end licence agreements with one vendor only to enter into a new licensing agreement with a different vendor.

Here are a few real examples of how turbulent content licensing can be:

  • The Lloyd’s Law Reports (Lloyd’s Rep) and its sister titles were previously available as part of a subscription to WestlawUK. However, Informa (the publisher of the Lloyd’s Rep) revoked the licence. Since then, it has been necessary to subscribe to an incredibly expensive service called ilaw in order to access the Lloyd’s Rep online.
  • The Law Reports and The Weekly Law Reports were available on the Justis platform until these 2011 when ICLR decided not to renew the licence. These titles continue to be made available via WestlawUK and Lexis Library.
  • The Family Law Reports (FLR) were previously available on third party online platforms, until Jordan Publishing decided to make the FLR exclusively available via its own platform.

What this demonstrates is that direct subscriptions to the printed versions of various reports are far more insulated from commercial manoeuvring than their online counterparts.

Online services are susceptible to technical problems beyond the control of the Library staff

 Any increase in reliance on online subscriber services (along with a corresponding diminution of print services) will make the Library more dependent on third party providers ensuring continuity of online access. Clearly, it is not possible for a printed work to suddenly become unavailable by reason of a power outage or some other technical fault. A balanced collection of maintained print services is the only way the Library could ensure access to materials at a time of online outage.

A related issue concerns the ability of Library staff to assist users with information queries. At present, Library staff are able to assist users by referring them to the resources that best suit their requirements across the available online platforms and print alike. Where the print is concerned, the Library staff are able to adopt indexing methods, cataloguing and layouts of their own choosing. The same level of information control does not apply to materials provided online. In the case of online materials, the organisation of materials and the methodologies used to search and retrieve them is at the exclusive control of the online publisher. Moreover, whereas a member of the Library staff is generally able to deal with user queries themselves at present, an increased reliance on online services will decrease the staff’s ability to address user questions. Instead, the user or staff member will have to contact the online publisher, likely via customer service call centres.

Access to the Commonwealth legal collection

 Some special collections, such as the collection of Commonwealth materials, simply cannot be maintained using online subscriber services. The reasons for this are as follows:

  • A significant number of Commonwealth nations have not made to transition to online publishing – the material only exists in printed form
  • Even for Commonwealth nations that do publish their reports online, it would be necessary to subscribe to a vast number of separate and expensive online services

 The Library’s importance as a place to work and think

 The bulk of the foregoing submissions have concentrated on the issues of access, economy and information usability. However, it is also important to consider how various strategic contingencies might affect the Library as a physical space in which to work, study and think. There are many individuals, whether in study or practice, who value the Library as a quiet and well-equipped environment to focus and conduct research. The present Library layout, with its rooms full of printed volumes, is highly conducive to quiet and effective study and one wonders whether a reduced space with a greater number of computer terminals would spoil an otherwise impeccable environment.

Students do use printed materials and should be encouraged to continue to do so

 A final observation concerns the student community. It is well known that students on the BPTC are routinely provided access to various online research platforms by the course providers and that these platforms are used by students more frequently than printed materials. However, there is a strong risk of reaching the false conclusion that students do not use printed materials at all.

I frequently visit the Library and regularly see students working in the Library rooms (presumably on BPTC exercises and pro bono case preparation). Many of these students can be seen to be consulting printed materials rather than using the computer terminals. Indeed, during my own BVC studies, I frequently made use of printed practitioners works at the Library (e.g. Chitty, Archbold, etc), which are also available online.


 The purpose of this submission has been to demonstrate that despite the surge of online legal research platforms, access to printed materials remains essential for many. As the SRG begins work to imagine what the 21st century law library might look like, I hope that a rich, varied and comprehensive collection of print features in the vision alongside online.

Yours sincerely,

Daniel Hoadley

The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England & Wales

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“Rotting Links” – Permanence in Legal Scholarship in the Digital Age

Just a quick note on an essay I read today by Jonathan Zittrain, Kendra Albert and Lawrence Less in the Harvard Law Review which I found pretty interesting and may be of interest to legal information professionals.

The article, entitled “Perma: Scoping and Addressing the Problem of Link and Reference Rot in Legal Citations” explores the risks and problems associated with linking to third party providers of information for the citation of sources in legal scholarship. I suppose that this isn’t a problem confined to legal scholarship alone.

To give you a feel for the direction of the article, see the quote below:

In principle, as cited sources move to the Web, this linking should become easier. Rather than requiring a reader to travel to a library to follow the sources cited by an author, the reader should be able to retrieve the cited material immediately with a single click.

But again, only in principle. The link, a URL, points to a resource hosted by a third party. That resource will only survive so as long as the third party preserves it. And as websites evolve, not all third parties will have a sufficient interest in preserving the links that provide backwards compatibility to those who relied upon those links. The author of the cited source may decide the argument in the source was mistaken and take it down. The website owner may decide to abandon one mode of organizing material for another. Or the organization providing the source material may change its views and “update” the original source to reflect its evolving views. In each case, the citing paper is vulnerable to footnotes that no longer support its claims. This vulnerability threatens the integrity of the resulting scholarship.

Well worth a read, particularly if you, like me, still haven’t shaken your trust in the printed word.

The reference to the article is 127 Harv L Rev F. 176 (just in case the link rots one day!)

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Appeals against conviction on grounds of incompetent representation: R v Achogbuo (ex tempore)

On 20 March 2014, the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) dismissed an application by the defendant for permission to appeal against his conviction of two counts of sexual touching of a girl under 13 years of age, contrary to section 7(1) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Interestingly, this case involves the use of a seldom exercised power under section 20 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 allowing the Court of Appeal, on a reference by the court registrar, to summarily dispose of a notice of appeal or application for leave to appeal does not show any substantial ground of appeal

The defendant, whose defence at trial was that the allegations were the result of collusion by the complainant and her relatives, gave a no-comment interview. Following his conviction, his counsel (whose advocacy had been commended by the trial judge) advised against applying for permission to appeal. The defendant instructed new solicitors but they took no further action.

Further solicitors were then instructed, who applied for permission to appeal on the ground that hearsay evidence had been wrongly admitted into evidence at the trial. However, following an examination of the transcript of the trial, it transpired that no hearsay evidence has in fact been admitted. The defendant’s solicitors at this point conceded that the application was misconceived.

A second application was submitted, the author of which was aware of the first application. However, the second application made no mention of the first application (Lord Thomas CJ noted that this was a serious omission which the Solicitors Regulation Authority should investigate).

The gist of the second application was that the defendant had not been told that he could waive privilege and explain to the try why he solicitors had advised him not to respond to questions during the police interview. The Court of Appeal office had written to counsel and solicitors present and the trial, the replies of which made it evident that the proposed ground on the waiving of privilege had no prospect of succeeding.

Lord Thomas CJ held that the application was frivolous and vexatious because of (a) the serious no disclosure of the first application in the second application and (b) the second application was bound to fail at any rate. His Lordship said that cases involving assertions of incompetent representation were not infrequent, but often no inquiries were being made of the lawyers (both counsel and solicitors) concerned. His Lordship said that it was not permitted to rely on the word of the defendant alone in such cases and that proper steps had needed to be taken in order to ascertain whether there was a cogent objective basis for a proposed ground of appeal of incompetent representation.

Lord Thomas said that the use of the power under s 20 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 was rare (the power was used in R v Davis [2013] EWCA Crim 2424), but would be used more frequently if cases of this sort continued to come before the court.

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No obligation to hold public inquiry into Malayan civilian deaths in 1948: Keyu v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [2014] EWCA Civ 312

The Court of Appeal in Keyu v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [2014] EWCA Civ 312; [2014] WLR (D) 138 dismissed an application by the claimants for a public inquiry or similar investigation into events that occurred on 11/12 December 1948 when a patrol of the Second Battalion of the Scots Guards shot and killed 24 civilians at the Batang Kali rubber plantation on the Sungei Remok Estate, in the State of Selangor, which was a British Protected State within the former Federation of Malaya.

Dismissing the appeal against the Divisional Court’s refusal to grant the claimant’s application, Maurice Kay LJ, giving judgment for the court, held that:

(a) The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (specifically, Article 2) did not create an obligation on the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs or the Secretary of State for Defence to conduct an inquiry into death occurring in Malaya in 1948 before the Convention was adopted and acceded to by the UK; and

(b) No duty arose under customary international law which could be enforced at common law; and

(c) The decisions of the the Secretaries of State to exercise their discretion not to establish a public enquiry were not vitiated on public law grounds.

The Court’s decision as to (a) whether the Convention created a duty to conduct an inquiry and (b) whether there was no duty to do so under customary international law affirms that of the decision of the Divisional Court ([2012] EWHC 2445 (Admin); [2012] WLR (D) 261).