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JILT 1997 (2) - Peter Alldridge 1

CDs for Criminal Practitioners

Blackstone's Criminal Practice (CD-ROM version) (1997) (Blackstone)
Archbold 1997 (CD-ROM version) (Sweet and Maxwell)

Reviewed by
Peter Alldridge
Cardiff Law School
alldridge@cardiff.ac.uk


Contents
1. Introduction
2. Searching
3. Reliability
4. Date of Information
5. Pricing
6. A Choice

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This is an IT Review published on 30 June 1997.

Citation: Alldridge P 'CDs for Criminal Practitioners', IT Review, 1997 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/sw/97_2crim/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1997_2/alldridge1/>


1. Introduction

Archbold, first published in 1822, was for many years the indispensable vade mecum of the criminal law practitioner. The problem was that it got larger and larger, and eventually went into two volumes, so that busy criminal law practitioners developed a series of back and shoulder problems. A slimmer text was produced by Blackstone, aimed originally at the more indigent or less strapping counsel. It first came on the scene in the 1991 and rapidly gained acceptance at least in lower courts. The greatest testament to the success of Blackstone's is that Archbold was driven back into one volume, and anecdotal evidence shows greater customer loyalty to Blackstone's.

The dinosaur and the upstart, the oldest member and the new kids on the block, have now both been digitised. The 1997 editions of Archbold and Blackstone have been released in CD as well as on hard-copy: The respective contents of the two publications are well known, and this review will not deal with them. Suffice it that they are predominantly works of reference, and it is, of course, that sort of resource which best lends itself to use in CD form. The most important observation to make at the outset of a comparative review is that the quantum leap is that between hard copy and CD. Both products constitute enormous steps forward. One of the principal benefits of IT is to make small savings of time on operations which are repeated many times. Looking things up in practitioner books is one such operation. Practitioners using either text properly will gradually make large savings in time. Doubtless in due course questions will have to be answered as to whether it is acceptable by way of citation to pass the judge a CD or to place a portable in the usher's hand.

2. Searching

Each disk has a quite adequate search facility. Blackstone use Biblios and Archbold Folio Bound Views. I was already familiar with the latter, but the former didn't take long to learn. My impression is that either will perform the tasks required of it well. Will practitioners using these CDs require training in the use of search terms for the project? The search software is good and intuitive. My own feeling, however is that a practitioner who is not used to using search software will learn more quickly if given some preliminary training. It would be worthwhile for each publisher to put on training sessions, and it is something whose importance could clearly be established were the profession to grant Continuing Professional Development credit for such training.

3. Reliability

There is the problem of reliability in the software: nothing could be worse than to arrive in court and be unable to gain access to the data. It may be some time before the criminal practitioner goes without any fail-safe. Largely this must be a hardware issue. Rumours of software glitches, so far as my tests were concerned, have proven to be unfounded.

4. Date of Information

If either disk can secure a reputation for consistently faster updating than the other it will in due course became the market leader. This is an area in which the Blackstone's CD score very strongly. On the copies I was sent the information on Blackstone was significantly closer to date than Archbold.

5. Pricing

The pricing of CDs remains a problem. Many publishers are pricing their products to favour the 'belt and braces' approach of hard copy plus CD. In any event it will be a brave (and foolhardy) person at this stage not to have a hard copy available. My hope is that at the moment publishers are feeling their way but that the combination of competition and responsive suppliers will in due course generate a pricing structure which benefits the customer. One likely development, as a result of the update disks which are offered by both publishers, will be that it will be easier to be au fait.

6. A Choice

These are not CDs where the purchase of two is likely to prove an option, or is at all desirable. The practitioner must opt for one or the other. In my estimation the criteria for selection by the practitioner operating in the higher courts will continue to be the respect which is paid the respective publications. A comparison in the rates of citation in the Law Reports for the last 4 years shows that Blackstone has been cited in reported cases (which, in criminal law, means appealed cases) 35 times since late 1991, whereas Archbold has 655 mentions (LEXIS search conducted 12 June 1997). If Archbold continues to be the overwhelming preference of appellate judges it is difficult to suggest that appellate practitioners should go elsewhere. There is, of course, a clear element of self-authentication in this argument, but that is how a system of authorities works.

I suspect that this loyalty to Archbold does not extend to the lower courts, and that the regular practitioner in the lower courts, particularly the one who has already grown accustomed to the Blackstone format. Additional texts supplied with Blackstone include Leng and Taylor on the 1996 Act, significant recent statutes together with the Magistrates' Association Guidelines on sentencing and Suggestions for Road Traffic Penalties.

This still leaves the orthopaedic problem. The replacement of tomes by increasingly lighter portables is welcome, but difficulties caused by the reliability of portables can only really be met by the installation in courtrooms of computers with CD drives.

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