A print merger waiting to happen
The acquisition of Canada Law Book provides a unique opportunity for Carswell Thomson to eliminate a significant amount of duplication in print law reporting by merging print publications like the Criminal Reports and Canadian Criminal Cases, something long overdue in a market that is filled with law report services that offer virtually identical content to virtually the same customers.
Setting aside altogether the question whether either of these full text law reporting services have any future in print, it is inconceivable that both of them will continue to be published as separate publications now that they are owned by the same publishing house.
At one point, a decade or two ago, before the advent of comprehensive online case reporting, both of these law report series played an important role in the practice of Canadian criminal law.
Canadian Criminal Cases: Born 1896
Canadian Criminal Cases, the older of the two series, was originally published in 1896. As a consequence, the CCC’s are rightly seen as an archive of Canadian criminal law. In the print era, the series was widely believed to have just about everything that a criminal lawyer needed when it came to case law.
Needless to say, the CCC’s did not publish everything. They were selective. Over time, they came to be seen as the law report series for the criminal defence bar, with a focus of English language cases decided in the common law provinces of Canada. The lead editors were generally defence counsel and the case selection that they made was believed to favour the defence. The CCCs greatest weakness was its comparative neglect of Quebec cases.
In its early days, every reported case was annotated. The founding editor, W.J. Tremeear, selected, head-noted and annotated the cases he reported. Later editors abandoned the practice of providing case annotations. More recently, as is the case with most series of law reports in Canada, the lead editors merely selected the cases to be head-noted and reported by the publisher, while the head-noting of cases was left to junior editors and to professional editorial staff.
Criminal Reports: Born 1946
By contrast, the Criminal Reports were positioned as the law report series for prosecutors. Until the appointment of a leading academic in the 1980’s, the lead editors came from the ranks of crown counsel. The series was originally designed to ensure that cases that favoured the crown were as accessible as those that favoured the defence and the series was marketed as such. In a time when the number of cases published in any given year was finite, and the case selection in the CCCs thought to be biased, the CRs made a real difference.
The series was also notable in other ways. One its key strengths was the publication of a significant number of Quebec cases in the French language. Another strength was that the CRs included case annotations and articles throughout its history, beginning with the annotations written by the founding editor, A.W. Popple.
Canadian Reports on Criminal Cases: Born 2010?
One approach to eliminating duplication in print is to simply shut one of the series down. Which one? Both series have a rich history that deserves to be recognized in some meaningful way.
A better approach might be to combine both series under a new name that reflects both traditions – the Canadian Reports on Criminal Cases, to be commonly known as the CRCCs. In this way, something of the history of each series would be continued.
What would this merger mean in practical terms? The customer could expect to see the elimination of duplication in the reporting of criminal cases. The publisher could expect to see less revenue as customers who purchase both series become customers who purchase only one series.
Research could be simplified if the existing case law classification schemes are replaced by that of the Canadian Abridgment, making it possible to link the new series to Law Source, Carswell Thomson’s online case reporting service.
Legal citation could be simplified if Carswell Thomson were to follow the recommendation of its own publication, the McGill Guide (“Canadian Guide to Legal Citation”), and become the first publisher create an official citation that drops the use of periods, i.e., by simply announcing that the new series is “to be cited as CRCC”.
All in all, not a bad outcome.
Slaw.ca as an editorial advisory board
The merger of the CCCs and the CRs is one of many opportunities for Carswell Thomson to fundamentally change the structure of legal publishing in print. The idea of structural change in the legal publishing industry must have been a motivating factor in the decision to acquire Canada Law Book, a company with a publishing program so similar to that of Carswell Thomson. To that end, I expect that Carswell Thomson will welcome the suggestions of its customers as it combines the publishing programs of the two companies in the coming year.
In the past, publishers and editors have tended to make decisions in a vacuum. In a few instances, like the Index to Canadian Legal Literature and the Canadian Abridgment, editorial advisory boards were created at the suggestion of law librarians to bridge the gulf that existed between the publisher, the law librarian, and the legal researcher. These measures proved to be so valuable to everyone involved that the editorial advisory boards became permanent continuing focus groups that provide the publisher with valuable insights into customer thinking generally.
In the internet era, slaw.ca might also be a vehicle for bridging the gulf between the publisher and the customer. Fresh ideas could be advanced by a broader range of researchers than is possible by using a formal editorial advisory board. Slaw.ca can also provide the opportunity for researchers to critique new ideas before they take their final form.
In any event, something to consider ….