As many of you may know, I’ve been working at establishing The Court, a new weblog at Osgoode Hall Law School that focuses on the work of the Supreme Court. In the course of editing contributions I’ve come to realize how handy it would be to be able to link over to a designated paragraph in an SCC judgment, para numbers being the points of internal reference for online judgments since there are no page numbers, of course.
Everyone is familiar with the URL hyperlink by now: this is the way in which you make a chosen piece of link text become the open end of a magical space-time wormhole that leads directly to elsewhere. Thus, for example, the phrase Slaw, when surrounded by these tags <a href=”http://www.slaw.ca”>Slaw</a> becomes the hyperlink Slaw. If you want to link to a particular spot inside a web page, rather than to its beginning, there has to be an internal or named anchor (the “a” in “<a href”, or hypertext reference). So, if I wanted you to be able to jump to the second paragraph in this post, I would put there an anchor I could then link to, e.g. <a name=”para2″></a>, with some link text such as second para. All of which is to show you how easy it is to structure an internal linking point.
A couple of years ago some bloggers mooted having a named anchor on every paragraph with a link to it appearing as a # or a ¶ at the end. These were called purple numbers or plinks, for paragraph (or purple) links. They didn’t catch on for various reasons, though you can see them in action on Tim Bray’s site, Ongoing, when you mouse over a paragraph. The idea was to let you direct your readers to a particular paragraph in someone else’s material that you found interesting or otherwise noteworthy. Now, while this precision might be overkill for simple blog entries, it’s practically of the essence for judicial decisions.
(Although, interestingly, the United States Supreme Court doesn’t number the paragraphs in its online judgments. The judgments released by the court itself are in PDF, where there is pagination and it is possible to create links to interior pages of PDF files; and those in HTML — on FindLaw, for example, have neither paragraph numbers nor pagination. I find the Canadian approach superior here.)
One objection might be that it would add to the “weight” of a page, i.e. the size of a file, making it slower to load. I doubt that the addition of small amounts of code would have this effect. And besides, the LexUM judgments (and those at CanLII, which are identical) are so full of “cruft” (unnecessary code) that LexUM clearly can’t be specially concerned about file size. (The judgments are essentially Microsoft Word files saved in Word as HTML documents, a notoriously ugly form of coding.)
Although it’s always a pain to have to modify a system, I think it would be relatively easy for LexUM to incorporate internal anchors at paragraph numbers. Indeed, I should imagine that a simple script might enable them to modify all the cases in their database to do that for past judgments as well. It would be a valuable improvemen.