A contributing author to Justis, Mukta Balroop, a Chevening Scholar, investigates the impact of online case law services on judgment writing in the Caribbean region, through a series of interviews conducted with members of the Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago. These insights reveal that a complementary approach to research could be the most effective approach for Caribbean jurists.
The judicial system of Trinidad & Tobago includes the Magistracy, High Court, Industrial Court and the Court of Appeal, with final appeals lying to the London based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Additionally, the Family Court runs as a parallel stream of the High Court with the Children Court as a new sub-division. All of these courts have industrious judges. Following the conclusion of a case, judges deliberate on the arguments filed by counsel and as argued orally, in order to arrive at a decision. This decision-making process involves them having to undertake their own legal research, which helps to verify the lawyers’ arguments. It also facilitates independent analysis of the law and application to the facts of the particular case in light of precedents and current approaches; this enables them to craft their judgments.
When it comes to using online case law services, or online libraries as they are also known, to find cases and legislation, different legal professionals utilise these resources, from trainee practitioners to judges. However, as the Hon. Mr. Justice Gregory Smith JA, an appellate judge of approximately twenty years’ experience on the bench informs us, he uses these online services “infrequently” compared to lawyers within the court who assist judges, known as Judicial Research Counsel (JRC). The JRCs have a wide spectrum of tasks. A discussion with two JRCs, Philip Koonj Beharry and Christie Borely confirm that their research is primarily conducted using online services. Both of these JRCs prefer online methods because of the range of features available.
For example, Philip finds he is able to work faster and email documents directly from the service to his boss rather than printing and copying. Additionally, he can search multiple services simultaneously, or conduct varying permutations of a search on different online platforms at the same time. Further, he likes having access to articles, cases and a range of secondary materials, through this convenient medium in one place. Christie, considers that the online legal libraries have made material much more accessible to her, including material which is not available in the traditional local library. Significantly, she’s alerted to any updates or changes in the area of law she is researching, through the online libraries as soon as they are available. She also prefers being able to access these materials from anywhere with an internet connection; this enables her to work on-the-go and in urgent situations as well.
On this singular point of being able to access material from out of office, Justice Smith agrees that this has been handy sometimes. However, he prefers to conduct his research from books, as he is “ingrained in the hand/eye coordination developed over the decades.” Additionally, he considers research in a library to have been proven as more thorough, especially for older authorities. In his view, “younger persons are almost bound by online research and find difficulties in accessing older or more detailed investigations.”
In contrast to Philip’s previous view of online services, he has on occasion observed he can waste more time relative to visiting the physical library on site, since not all online service providers have user friendly search abilities. However, he considers that with lawyers having easy access to new cases, local and regional jurisprudence have been forced to develop at a faster pace.
Christie and Philip agree on many of the benefits of online services, such as improved quality and strength of lawyers’ arguments on the law, especially for new lawyers and practitioners who are on their own and lack the assistance of a senior practitioner’s library and guidance. However, Christie considers that despite the advantages to local lawyers, they could benefit even more if online services had specific tailoring of statutes for local needs and jurisprudence. Due to this gap in coverage, there may be some difficulty for local practitioners, for example, in property law where Trinidad and Tobago’s laws are more reflected in older UK legislation which are inaccessible online.
This gap has also been a concern of Justice Smith, who feels some lawyers may miss out on details provided in texts and traditional sources (especially where older authorities are concerned); this could compromise the quality of lawyers’ arguments which may affect the development of jurisprudence.
While Christie views legal research done online as more likely to be current and accurate in light of the wider range of resources, including commentary and journal articles, she also acknowledges its limitations regarding online materials. Insofar as older authorities are concerned, Christie shares the same view with Philip observing, “a lot of the older laws are not available online and also older textbooks which can prove very helpful.” Thus, both ‘offline’ and online research are regarded as equally important in conducting thorough research.
It seems clear that different people have their own preferences regarding choice of research. Whilst judges may or may not use the online systems frequently, it is clear that those charged with assisting them employ these methods, thus complementing their approach. This symbiotic relationship between judges and JRCs means that online legal libraries at least indirectly assist with judgment writing in Trinidad & Tobago.
These perspectives reveal that while an enormous amount of effort goes into curating large online libraries, and developing technology to support legal professionals such as the JRCs, there is often still a need to use both online and offline methods to ensure that high-quality and thorough research has been conducted.
Written by Mukta Balroop
Mukta Balroop is a contributing author for Justis Publishing, specialising in Caribbean interests. Mukta graduated with an LL.B. (Hons) from the University of West Indies in 2012, where he went on to gain experience as an In-house counsel member at Tharuna Limited, and then joined the Judicial Research Counsel in the Court of Appeal for the Judiciary of Trinidad & Tobago. Recently Mukta received the prestigious Chevening Scholarship – the UK government’s global scholarship programme, funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and partner organisations – to study for an LL.M. at Queen Mary, University of London, majoring in Media Law.
Mukta has also worked for the Judicial Education Institute of Trinidad & Tobago and Hobsons Notaries Public and Trademark & Patent Agents, Attorneys-at-Law. Mukta was the overall winner at the Price Media Law Moot Court Competition Americas regional round in New York, also winning the prize for Best Oralist of the Finals. He progressed to the quarter finals at the international round of the same competition, at University of Oxford, and was distinguished as the Best Oralist Runner Up overall. Mukta has also won the Justice Jessel Hannays Memorial Prize for the highest score in Law of Remedies at the Hugh Wooding Law School.