The inaugural meeting of the Jersey Legal Information Board took place 21 years ago, on 26 August 1998.
How did the Board come about?
On 1 June 1998 Advocate Peter Harris of the Jersey Law Society’s IT sub-committee wrote a paper entitled “Electronic Access to the Law in Jersey”. He quoted the maxim that “ignorance of the law is no defence to a charge that the law has been breached” and put forward that “it is the duty of government to provide its citizens with the best opportunity of discovering the law”. “With the arrival of electronic information systems all business, including legal practice, is changing. The States now have the chance to help Jersey lawyers and other professionals, and the Island as a whole, to keep pace with change and, with the available technical expertise, to place the Island ahead of almost any other jurisdiction in the world.” He proposed that there should be free access via the Internet to core information such as laws and unreported judgments, and subscription access to increased content such as the Jersey Law Reports and Jersey Law Review. The subscription fee would be in proportion to the size of each law firm.
Advocate Harris suggested that while others had thought on similar lines, it was a lack of coordination that had prevented such a project from coming to fruition. Solving this would “broadcast a message to the global audience that we have a forward thinking Government and an economy that is very much open for business in the next Millennium.”
On 7 July 1998 the then Bailiff, Sir Philip Bailhache, wrote to the presidents of the Policy and Resources, Finance and Economics, Establishment and Legislation Committees and the Crown Officers to announce that he had agreed to chair the “Legal Information Strategy Project Board” or “LISP”. The board’s objectives were to prepare a strategy for management of legal information and the role of information technology in the operation of the courts and the States’ legal services departments.
The first board meeting
Sir Philip invited stakeholders in the public and private sector to a workshop on Wednesday 26 August 1998 at the Old Library, followed by the inaugural board meeting.
The initial board comprised:
- The Bailiff, Sir Philip Bailhache as chairman
- Deputy Jerry Dorey representing the States Assembly
- Geoffrey Coppock, Greffier of the States
- Bill McGregor, Law Draftsman
- James Lambert, representing the legal services departments
- Advocate Peter Harris, representing the Jersey Law Society
- Mike Bisson of the States of Jersey Computer Services Department in the role of project manager
Sir Philip's speech at the workshop mentioned the “emphasis upon the use of computer technology and modern communications in speeding up the process of law and making life easier for all of us involved in the administration of justice”. This is just as much a concern in 2019 as it was in 1998. Our expectations of how services should be provided online have changed, and the risk that “the judicial system [becomes] stuck in the past, with ancient procedures and clumsy practices” remains, with the financial services sector more mobile than ever and able to take its business elsewhere.
A long-term programme
The Bailiff went on to say that “there will be many more meetings to be held before the review is complete and the whole process is likely to take many months, because our legal processes are steeped in traditions which will not easily be submerged by the tide of electronic progress”. 21 years on, it is clear that modernisation isn't a one-off activity. It is necessarily an ongoing process that is never complete. In August 2019 we are at the cusp of a new phase of modernisation, with plans to take the next steps in the evolution of the administration and operation of Jersey's courts.
JLIB Programme Director