The Business Law Reports – Five years on

Posted on 23rd Jan 2012 in Law Reporting

Bus LR 1-12When we launched the Business Law Reports in January 2007, we began with a “Manifesto” setting out our aims and aspirations for the new series. Five years have passed since then. How do we feel the series has measured up, both by reference to its original ambitions, and in the context of current circumstances?

The intention was to provide a collection of cases that were not defined by narrow specialism, but rather by a desire to select the most important cases affecting a type of client, or practice – namely business – in the broadest sense. Our readers would primarily be lawyers, advising businesses, and judges deciding their disputes; but they would include business people themselves, and students of business or business law. The subject matter would cover three main areas: company, commercial and intellectual property law. The first two are uncontroversial. Company includes the formation, management and regulation of companies, but also their insolvency, winding up, etc. Commercial includes a variety of topics ranging from arbitration, through banking and insurance, to sale of goods. Competition and financial services have also featured prominently.

What surprised some readers, however, was the extent to which we included cases on copyright, design, patents and trade marks. The reason for this is twofold. First, there is the central importance of intellectual property to the success of businesses generally, not just in developing products but also, perhaps especially, in marketing them and maintaining the image and brand of the business as a whole. Second, it is an area of law that is not widely covered in general series of law reports, and in most cases only in one or both of two highly specialised series. Despite a certain amount of criticism, we still feel we were right to offer readers the wide coverage of IP cases involving points of law that we have provided.

The other criticism that has been made, and perhaps with more justification, concerns the proportion of cases published in the Business Law Reports which have also appeared in other ICLR series. We initially estimated that this would not exceed 20%, but it has in some years been almost double that. However, there is a reason for it. The purpose of the Business Law Reports is to provide coverage of all important cases involving or affecting businesses and those advising them. If we were to leave out of the Business Law Reports the most important business cases on the ground that, by virtue of that very importance, they were more likely also to appear in a more general series like the Weekly Law Reports or even (because they were very important) The Law Reports, we would actually be reducing the value of the Business Law Reports to its readers. It would become a mere supplement. If the most important cases were not to appear in the Weekly Law Reports or The Law Reports, that too would devalue those series to their readers. It may seem a little inefficient to reproduce the same case in two or more different series; but on the other hand, we cannot assume (thought we may hope it is the case) that all our readers are also in possession of the other series of reports published by ICLR. All we can point out is that the pricing models for the different series take into account the risk of some duplication: and indeed the price of the Business Law Reports has been reduced this year, partly for this reason.

Two major developments have occurred recently, one internal and one external. The internal development is the launch, in October last year, of ICLR Online. This makes available the entire collection of law reports published by ICLR since its foundation in 1865, some 77,000 case, on a simple integrated platform which also displays, alongside each report, a unique “index card” showing the relationship of that case to earlier and later case law, and to statutes, European enactments etc. The information is derived from the Citator+ database which holds details of almost 85,000 index cards, covering not just ICLR reports but also those published in other leading series.

When the Business Law Reports were launched in 2007, we also launched a pilot version of ICLR Online, enabling subscribers to view the cases online as well as in hard copy. The experiment was successful, if limited. The new ICLR Online is in a different league altogether. It is fast, efficient and comprehensive. You can now subscribe to an online version of any single ICLR series, including the Business Law Reports, using the integrated platform powered by Citator+; and you can do that without being obliged to subscribe to the paper series as well (though both, of course, have their advantages). To find out more, visit and follow the links on the home page to sign up for a free trial of ICLR Online.

The second major development, the external one, was the opening – for business – of the Rolls Building in Fetter Lane. This new court complex has been some years in the planning and construction, but we had known since before the launch of our series, that there would be a new “business court” in London and although we did not plan our publication or its choice of subject matters around it, it turns out to have provided a remarkably good fit. Courts from both the Chancery and Queen’s Bench Divisions have been relocated to the new complex, so that cases involving companies, commercial disputes and intellectual property litigation have indeed found themselves being heard in the same building, and reported in the same series of law reports.

In promoting the Rolls Building, the Ministry of Justice has emphasised its role in providing, in London, a global centre of legal excellence. London is already, of course, a major hub of international arbitration. What is now envisaged is that it will also be able to provide a major hub for litigation. Judgments in cases about conflicts of laws (of which we report a fair number) often speak disparagingly of litigants “forum shopping”, yet in a sense that is exactly what the MoJ would like to encourage. Bring us your business, and when it all goes pear-shaped, bring us your business disputes to resolve. We’re not just open for business; we’re open for justice too. Let’s hope the clients appreciate it.

Finally, on a personal note, I should like to point out that none of what we have achieved in the five years since we launched the Business Law Reports could have been done without the enthusiastic support of my assistant editor, Nicholas Mercer, and desk editor, Rebecca Perks. Together, I feel we have built up a series which has its own distinctive character and readership, something apt to get overlooked in the somewhat anonymised digital world, and I am keen to retain that character and that sense of a loyal readership which have made this series what it is.

PAUL MAGRATH, Editor, Business Law Reports [Taken from the Editor’s Introduction to Part 1, January 2012]