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Taking possession (2002) [i]

In Spring 2002, the JSB  sent  a CD-ROM on possession claims, which I wrote, to all full and part-time judges.  It was the first CD-ROM prepared by the JSB.  This is the explanation which appeared in the JSB Journal.

Distance learning
The JSB has been considering the advantages of using distance training packages to supplement its traditional seminars for some time. As all members of the judiciary are aware, the normal training cycle is for judges to attend a ‘refresher’ course in each of their jurisdictions, once every three years. As a result, there can often be a time lag between changes in the law and the related judicial training.

Why a CD-Rom?
Most judges with a civil jurisdiction have experienced one of the JSB’s ‘new style’ civil continuation seminars. They are attended by part- and full-time judges from the Circuit and District Benches, and frequently by High Court judges, deputy High Court judges and Masters. While those seminars are generally considered to have been a success, the restrictions of the timetable, coupled with the need to balance the subject matter to meet a variety of different training needs, have led the JSB to consider completely different ways of providing training.

As a result, and as a pilot exercise, in Spring 2002 the JSB distributed a multi-media CD-ROM on possession claims to all judges who exercise a civil jurisdiction.  The aim is not only to supplement traditional ‘live’ seminars, but also to provide a useful resource, to which judges can in future refer whenever they want.

Why housing law?
Housing law is just one example of an area of law in which the quantity and complexity of legislation and the number of reported cases grow each year. In the year 2000, almost 240,000 possession claims were issued in English and Welsh county courts. It is a field in which it is increasingly hard to keep up to date. Nor is the judicial task made any easier by the relatively short time estimates often given, and the fact that many litigants are unrepresented.

The CD-ROM contains five seminars on different aspects of possession claims.

An overview, with practical tips on managing a busy possession list
2.      Local authority secure tenancies
3.      Private sector and housing association assured tenancies
4.      Mortgage possession claims, and
5.      Civil Procedure Rule Part 55.

In some ways the CD-ROM follows the familiar pattern of JSB seminars, with a lecturer, notes and syndicate exercises.  In each seminar the text appears on screen, accompanied by the voice of lecturers who include Lord Justice Waller and Her Honour Judge Sandra Andrew.  The text is followed by a case study with a suggested answer. The electronic format also allows links on screen to the materials cited during the course of the seminar. So case summaries, full law reports, and the text of relevant Acts and Regulations, Civil Procedure Rules and Practice Directions are all accessible with one click of the mouse or touch pad.

The text has been written with the intention of including material of use to all judges, ranging from newly appointed deputies or recorders on the one hand, to experienced full timers on the other.

Simple to use
The CD-ROM is compatible with the computer equipment issued to all full-time judges over the last three years.  It can also run on most computers used by part-time judges in the course of their practice.  It has been designed to make it as easy to use as possible, with instructions which are clear to the most inexperienced user. Having followed simple instructions on the CD-ROM case, Lord Justice Waller’s voice takes you through the introduction to the CD-ROM.

Updating – What’s next?
A CD-ROM is a static medium.  Unless it is replaced, it cannot be updated.  In the short term the JSB will be setting up a dedicated conference on FELIX so that updated material which is relevant to the contents of the CD-ROM can be posted on a regular basis.  This will also facilitate discussion and comments.  However as Richard Susskind has pointed out, the CD-ROM is a “transitional storage medium and will . . . be superseded by other technology” (The Future of Law, p61).  In the longer term the kind of material contained in the CD-ROM will be available via the JSB’s private web-site – it will have the flexibility to enable updating to include any development in the law, whether it be a change in legislation or a development in the case law.

It is important to emphasise that this is a pilot exercise, and that the success of future projects of this kind depends to a large degree on the responses that we get from the judges who use the CD-ROM. In the same way that participants at JSB seminars are asked to complete evaluation questionnaires, we are asking for a form that is being sent out with the CD-ROM to be completed and returned to the JSB.

Of course, this sort of training lends itself to many more areas than just housing law, and it is hoped that any lessons learnt can be applied to distance learning in further subject areas.  It is an exciting prospect for all those with an interest in judicial training.

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[i] Published in the JSB Journal  in 2002.