Leith, Citizen Access to Sources of Law: Re-Engineering for eGov?

Professor Philip Leith of Queen’s University Belfast School of Law has published Citizen Access to Sources of Law: Re-Engineering for e-Gov?, 1 EJLT: European Journal of Law and Technology no. 1 (2010). Here is the abstract:

The better models of e-Gov posit high levels of informational communication between citizen and state. Unfortunately, in one area, that communication has traditionally been poor: that is, access to sources of law. There have been a number of reasons for this, but a primary one has been that law was historically mediated for the citizen by the legal profession. This situation is changing with ever increasing numbers of unrepresented litigants being involved at all levels of national court systems in each and every country as well as a generally higher level of intrusion of legislation into everyday home and business life. There have been attempts to improve access through internet based services, but these have improved communication (‘understanding of law’) to only a limited extent. It may be time, this article suggests, to consider re-engineering legal sources so that they better fit the needs of eGov.

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Patrick Quinn

Amateur attorneys are already a commonplace [shudder], and with the democratization of data amateur practitioners will become more commonplace in most information-based professions [SHUDDER].

This is one of the rubber-meets-the-road issues that makes government today so fascinating. The rules require that we permit individuals the broadest possible latitude in selecting their advocates, even if that means the selection of an advocate lacking conventional credentials. Obviously, if we (the state) possess information of use to such an advocate, we must make it available. Making the information available–which I entirely approve of–will almost certainly complicate the work of appellate courts, because they’ll be seeing more “inadequate representation” claims, and those claims will be A) correct–“fool for a client” etc.–and B) unavoidable.

So in this example, as in so many arising from the widespread adoption of new media, government finds itself in the business of making more work for itself, which seems contrary to the promise of the technology. Rob’s is an excellent example because it illustrates a case in which making more work for one’s self is the appropriate course of action.

If there’s an upside to this example, it’s that US judges–the group likely most-affected by such a change–are already managing cases in which defendants are representing themselves based on something they saw on LAW & ORDER last week, so it’s possible that the quality of their self-representation will actually improve, and that would seem to be the object of the exercise.

This same general scenario will come up over and over again, as more and more once-privileged data is made available to the public at large.