There has been much discussion on SLAW on the state of print case law reporters in the age of online judgments (click here for some of these posts).
For other research I am conducting, I obtained a photocopy of an article by Paul Perell (now a judge) from 1991 in the Legal Research Update quarterly newsletter (circa 1986 to 1996, RIP) called “Selecting Cases for the Ontario Reports.” In that article, (the now Mr. Justice) Perell lists out the six criteria for case selection as suggested by a Butterworths editor in England:
A case will be reported if:
- it makes new law by dealing with a novel situation or by extending the application of existing principles
- it includes a modern judicial restatement of existing principles
- it clarifies condlicting decisions of lower courts
- it interprets legislation likely to have a wide application
- it interprets a commonly-found clause, for example, in a contract or will
- it clarifies an important point of practice or procedure.
Perell sums up these criteria by stating “that if a case is to be reported, then it must be important or significant beyond the resolution of the dispute between the immediate parties.”
Are these criteria still applied by editors of print case law reporters? I found Perell’s insights interesting on how potential cases were distributed to the subject experts and classified from “A” to “D” with “A” being “must be reported” to “D” being “should not be reported (with the editors challenge then being what to do with the “B”s and “C”s).
I love this quote by Perell of R.M. Willes Chitty in a 1924 letter to the editor of the Canadian Bar Review complaining about the proliferation of case law reporters:
Somebody must take the initiative in quelling this riot of printed cases that is being showered on the lawyer from every angle. Its results are deplorable. The Bar of Canada is steadily giving up the practice of reading the case-law of Canada because they do not know where to begin, and when they have begun they find they do not know where to end.
I may pursue with colleagues whether we could get copyright clearance to digitize the set of the Legal Research Update. The article I got a copy of happened to have the Table of Content to that issue (December 1991), which contained among other things, the following intriguing content:
- “Computerized Legal Data Bases: The Thrill is Gone” by Eric Gertner (I need to know: which databases? Which thrills? Where did the thrills go?)
- “Computer Searching Will Become More Important than Manual Searching” – Ken Chasse (Will SLAW posts appear to be old-fashioned 20 years from now?)
- Minutes from both the Legal Research Network (LRN) meeting of 17 May 1991 and of the CBA-BC Legal Research Section – I would love to know what was on their plate in 1991 (I joined the LRN in what must have been their last year or so in the mid 90′s).