Author Archives: michelewalker

Scoop! and modern day news feeds

I am guessing not many people will remember Scoop, a board game which first came out in the early 1950s and is now considered a collector’s classic (still available to buy online, or look out for at charity shops.)

Basically a card collection game, the object was to fill the ‘front page’ of a newspaper by collecting or buying (?) cards until you have a ‘story’ (ie 3 cards showing a Reporter, Photographer and a Telephone). A call is then made ‘to the editor’ on the supplied cardboard telephone,  where you find out if your story is going to be syndicated or binned.

If approved the player takes the top card from the ‘Story’ deck and, places it on their newspaper page – the winner being the player who completes the front page and goes to press, with the highest value stories and advertisements, and a stock of cash (for the legal fees when someone takes you to court of libel?).

This was a real family favourite for us, partly because the telephone to the ‘editor’ (who made all the decisions as to whether a story got to print) was an intriguing piece of cardboard technology

… and partly because I never stopped wanting to see the photos, news stories and adverts (already dated/vintage by the time I was playing in the 60s) and to try and fill my chosen paper’s front page with some of my favourite pieces.

Five UK newspapers of the time provided covers to be filled.  Three of these are still in publication – The Daily Telegraph, The Times, and The Daily Express ( The News Chronicle ceased publication by 1960, and the Daily Sketch closed in 1971) but even our leading established papers are now struggling in hardcopy against the (free?) online services available to us all on PC, tablet, or phone, when we need it, wherever we may be.

And we actually no longer have to choose a single news source, because we can pull together news from a variety of sources in one place, updated as soon as it is ‘pushed’ out online, via news feed readers. There are a number of very smart and flexible apps to do this – see review articles from the Next Web or Digital Trends for a selection of the best.

The Bodleian Law Library has tried a number of these over the years, to keep an eye on legal news in particular, and to maintain current awareness services. We started with Google’s early, simple, and very good, reader; moved on, with its demise, to try Netvibes and are now using Feedly, a free and straightforward feed aggregating tool, where we can monitor incoming news items and post out topical items to our followers on Twitter or Facebook.

We have collected a number of feeds, not only from traditional news services but also from blogs and webpage RSS output, and organised these into sub topics.

We can either view an aggregation of the news by clicking on the folder header …

… or we can focus on an individual feed’s output by clicking on the feed title.

From here, we can see what their regular output is (in the case of Civil Litigation Brief, for example, it is 12 articles a week), and can click on the feed title to go directly to their news or blog page, to read the item in full and then save or share to email, or social media.

As soon as an item is ‘published’ at source, the customer receives it in whatever format their feed reader allows (and some provide quite elaborate ‘magazine style’ presentations eg Flipboard) . It is then quick and easy  to save and organise news items, or add to boards to refer back to or share with colleagues or students.

The difference between the old Front Page and the modern Feed ‘home’ for the same newspaper is not just in layout, design and presentation but in standard online features such as searching and filtering, which allow for speedy access to articles of interest and a continuity in reading (broken occasionally by adverts or pleas for donations).

You can still read your daily paper on the commute by bus or train, but now on a smart phone or tablet instead of a space invading broadsheet.

Decipher citation abbreviations and find articles or cases with BodLaw tools

The Bodleian Law Library provides a number of database tools to help you find articles and cases from reading list citations. The basic process is to

    1. Determine the name of the journal or law report from the standard abbreviation used in the citation.

You will almost certainly be able to tell from the citation whether it is a reference to a case report or a journal article but in some instances this is less clear, which is why you need to decipher the abbreviation before you head off to the shelves or select the correct database search tab.

    • Use one of the abbreviation tools we have bookmarked on Diigo (We recommend Cardiff Abbreviations as best first port of call )
  1. Find out where, and in what format, the item is held, by searching the catalogue ( SOLO)

If you want to go straight to an online version, click ‘View Online’ (1) …

… and you will be presented with our SFX list of available sources, with holdings details.

In most cases, clicking on the link will take you directly to the title browse screen, but some database links will only take you to their main search screen.

NB Some items are available online direct from the publisher via our UK copyright agreement –  i.e. publishers have opted to provide us with electronic access rather than a hardcopy. Access to this material has to be made from a computer or networked login within the University’s IP range (2) .

If you want to consult hardcopy:

When you find a hardcopy item on the catalogue, the Find and Request tab will show you which libraries hold a copy, and what their holdings are (3)

[NB College libraries are only generally accessible to their own students, while most department and Bodleian libraries can be accessed by anyone with a valid university card – though you may need to register at circulating libraries if you wish to borrow books, where this is possible]

If the item is held in the Bodleian law Library:

You will need to find the shelfmark (4) to determine whereabouts it is held. We are still in the process of reorganising the collection by material type, but for now make use of our floor plan and index handout, or ask staff to guide you

Alternatively, try our

Law Reports & Journals database

This contains a list of all the report and journal titles we hold in the Bodleian Law Library, now with ‘value added’ abbreviations, to help make this a one-stop-shop because you can combine the first two steps (Determine the name of the journal or law report from the standard abbreviation used in the citation AND Find out where, and in what format, the item is held)

The database is listed on our home page, under Finding Resources, as shown:

or bookmark this direct link





Search for CJLJ in the abbreviations field,

leaving ‘either’ format selected if you are not sure whether it is a report or a journal, and noting too, we do not use full stops in our abbreviations, so you may need to try variations on a theme

This will automatically list…

  • the (in this case) 6 x sources we have for this item,
  • the holdings for, and format of, each one, and
  • a link to take you (in most cases) directly to the journal title, or at least the search page for the holding database.
  • The BLL shelfmark to locate hardcopy in our library, and a link to the catalogue record for hardcopies, in case you need to check for alternative holdings locations




If you already know the name of the report or journal, you can, of course, enter this as a title search, with the same results.

In the Bleak Mid Winter

Are we going to be … In the Bleak Mid Winter

Snowy branchesIt is that time of year again, when papers and news reports start scaring us with speculations about what the weather will do over the winter period. The front page of the Daily Express (Sunday 12th October) claimed: ‘Worst winter for decades: record breaking snow predicted for November’ which, thankfully, didn’t arrive as predicted (or not in the Oxford area anyway) but at least it has drawn our attention to the need for all of us to be prepared for the worst

This year we have also been warned that the risk of electricity shortages over winter is at its highest level for nearly 10 years. The National Grid has warned that in a cold winter the UK’s electricity “margin”, or safety buffer, would be just 5% – almost half last year’s level and the lowest since 2007. They said, however, that in the event of potential shortfalls industrial users of electricity would be the first to face usage restrictions, and they are confident that extra energy would flow from the Continent if the country risked a supply shortage

Lonely snowman

photo by Mike Legend via Flickr. Creative Commons

At the same time, however, the increase in electricity bills by four of the big six energy companies, has caused a jump of almost 10% in the cost of heating our homes, which may cause enormous hardship to the elderly. And if a person can’t afford to keep themselves warm, and they are old or frail, they are more likely to become ill and need to avail themselves of an already stretched healthcare service. On average 24,000 ‘extra‘ deaths occur in winter in the UK every year as a result of the cold temperatures, and figures for last year were even higher. In an attempt to prepare for some of the difficulties and help avoid some of the problems,  Public Health England (PHE) has published its Cold Weather Plan, alerting local authorities, the NHS, individuals and communities to interventions which can help prevent cold-related illnesses, before the cold weather sets in. And the Winter Health Watch website will bring together PHE’s weekly monitoring of winter related illnesses and threats. As the elderly, and those with long term illnesses, are particularly at risk during the winter months, it is crucial that we all keep an eye out for, or find time to check up on, those who may be vulnerable.

Severe weather policies at work

NoSnowmobilesMeanwhile, for those of us trying to continue to work or study through severe weather conditions, there are issues arising from adverse weather – such as days when roads are blocked or public transport disrupted, or issues in the workplace which make it difficult or impossible for businesses to open or services to operate – we need to be aware of, so that we understand our rights and the employment law which applies in such situations.

The snow chaos and employment law guide, written in January 2010, is based on UK law and is a useful pointer to all of the sticky (or slippery?) issues around getting to and being at work when the weather is harsh or the conditions treacherous. As it seems the UK is beset by ‘unexpected’ snowy weather every year, all employers should consider introducing an ‘adverse weather policy’ to ensure their employees know what is expected of them if/when severe weather strikes. The policy should contain guidance about: workplace closures, disruptions in transport services, school closures and childcare arrangements, working from home and remote IT access, whether employees will be paid if they fail to attend work, disciplinary sanctions for ‘snowball’ days, and whom employees should contact once they know they are unable to make it in.

The Bodleian Libraries’ ‘Severe weather policy’ is stored as a pdf in the HR section of our staff intranet, and updated regularly (especially at this time of year) with notices to all staff. This way, we are kept up to date on University policy as well as local forecasts so that we can be prepared for difficulties should extreme weather arrive (again). While we will always attempt to staff the library and keep it open at the specified times, in severe conditions we do ask you to keep an eye on our webpage notices, drop us an email or give us a call,  or check our social media – Twitter, Blog or Facebook – in case our services or opening hours are affected.

penguinsRemember, too,  that a lot of resources are available electronically in the comfort and safety of your own home, huddled cosily around a heat-transmitting PC, or with a warm laptop on your knee. And the Met Office five day forecasts and warnings provide guidance on periods of cold weather or the likelihood of snow, as well as giving detailed local information across the UK, to help you make plans for the winter months

Social media law and policy

Facebook Twitter and LinkedinThe rise of social media in recent years has created a new range of tools for instant  universal communication and interaction in both personal relationships and at work. We use tools such as Twitter and Facebook to post photos, talk to our friends, provide information or news to our customers, or to track or promote items of interest and concern in our lives or at work. Professional networking tools like LinkedIn are used extensively in the work environment to establish business connections and cultivate links with our peers, while blogs are increasingly used to provide information to our colleagues, friends or service users. Even media network services like YouTube can be used as training tools or to exchange and promote ideas in an audio visual format, or to make comments on those of others.

But how many of us are fully aware of the scope and reach of these communication tools, and take due care in, and responsibility for, what we say, or how we say it, to avoid misunderstanding which causes serious offence or, even worse, steps over a legal boundary we are unaware of, risking prosecution?

Interestingly, a 2011 survey by DLA Piper and YouGov revealed a decline from 2008 to 2011 in the number of people who have had a comment or post on a social media site removed. The decline could indicate that the monitoring of social media is decreasing, possibly in light of the huge numbers of posts and re-posts going out every day swamping the site administrators responsible for mediation and moderation. Or perhaps the extensive media coverage regarding privacy claims, super-injunctions and the ‘outing’ of celebrities on Twitter, where users of social-media have been held to account for their online actions, has focussed people’s minds?

 Social media communications cases

Twitter Joke Trial

By Paul Clarke (Flickr: Twitter Joke Trial 1) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Crown Prosecution Service has had to deal with about 60 allegations involving posts on Twitter and Facebook in the last 18 months. These include several high profile cases which have come to court, most notably the tweet from Paul Chambers, joking about blowing up Doncaster airport, which led to a prolonged court battle known as the Twitter Joke trial.

Another memorable example was the arrest of a 17 year-old after a series of tweets he directed at Olympic diver Tom Daley. Mathew Woods’ grossly insensitive comments about missing schoolgirl April Jones, and Azhar Ahmed’s offensive views on our soldiers in Afghanistan, were brought to court and produced custodial sentences. Such communications range from the misjudged, tasteless or inappropriate to the insensitive, cruel and offensive, but the ever-increasing volume of communication on-line could result in the CPS being swamped by cases that allege posts are “grossly offensive,” where, in many cases, a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest.

As Lord Chief Justice stated in Chambers v DPP [2012] EWH2 2157 (Admin): “… a message which does not create fear or apprehension in those to whom it is communicated, or may reasonably be expected to see it, falls outside [section 127(i)(a)(of the Communications Act 2003)], for the simple reason that the message lacks menace.” (Paragraph 30)

And Lord Bingham explained in DPP v Collins [2006] UKHL 40 that: “There can be no yardstick of gross offensiveness otherwise than by the application of reasonably enlightened, but not perfectionist, contemporary standards to the particular message sent in its particular context”.

In his UK Human Rights Blog post for Oct 9 2012, Adam Wagner also comments on the difficult issue of consistency:

what is the difference between Matthew Woods’ sick jokes …and famous comedian Frankie Boyle’s, who joked about missing child Madeline McCann and Jimmy Saville on Twitter just last week … which was retweeted/favourited by nearly 2,000 people?

Freedom of expression

Muslim preacher at Speakers' corner

By gren (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Andy Wagner also raises the important issue of free speech: Many people

would say that freedom of expression rights should not protect people who make grossly offensive jokes. …The problem is that once the state starts policing speech and thought … people become frightened to say what they feel and instead say what they think they ought to say. Such a climate would undoubtedly place a chill on the wonderful, bizarre, entertaining, sometimes concerning but always interesting world of social media.

In a New Statesman article, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Starmer, pointed out that the laws used to convict in these cases were passed before either Facebook or Twitter had been invented, and so it was now a huge problem for the CPS knowing how to police the billions of communications made, and then re-posted, publicly on social media where ‘Access is ubiquitous and instantaneous. Banter, jokes and offensive comments are commonplace and often spontaneous.’

Interim guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media On 19th December 2012, after a consultation with lawyers, experts, and representatives of the social media networks, the CPS produced a 14-page guide to assist those looking to prosecute cases involving social media communications.

In their press release the CPS stated that these guidelines are designed to give clear advice to prosecutors, ensure a consistent approach and: to strike the right balance between freedom of expression and the need to uphold the criminal law.

For potential prosecutors and police, the guidelines seek to distinguish communications which either:

  • constitute credible threats of violence to the person or damage to property;
  • specifically target an individual or individuals and which may constitute harassment or stalking within the meaning of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 or
  • may amount to a breach of a court order,


  • communications which may be considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false.

The consultation agreed that in the first three instances, cases should continue to be vigorously prosecuted using existing laws such as: section 16 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861; section 4 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. And where communications target a specific individual and the offence of blackmail is made out, prosecutors should seek to prosecute the substantive offence.

For communications which may be considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false, the consultation proposed raising the threshold to a more reasonable level before seeking to prosecute and punish with prison sentences. According to the prosecutor, the aim is to develop a set of guidelines that will allow authorities to more easily and effectively work within the parameters of the law, while introducing options other than criminal prosecution.

The guidelines will hopefully bring some much-needed restraint to the social media prosecutions, helping to make clear distinctions between material that is merely offensive, to whatever degree, and material that is part of a campaign of harassment, credible threat or clear incitement to violence. Prosecutors already have a duty to ensure that any prosecution is in the public interest as long as the “public interest” is interpreted with a very strong emphasis on free expression rights under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Already, some leniency had been shown by the courts where remorse has been shown, and a message has been swiftly removed when the person realised it was inappropriate. In such instances in future the police may consider it unnecessary to proceed to prosecution.

Public order act

There was a recent further development towards the protection of free speech when, in January 2013, a House of Lords amendment was approved removing the word “insulting” from Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1988. This followed intense lobbying by the Reform Section 5 campaign led by the Christian Institute and the National Secular Society, with major supporters including Rowan Atkinson and Peter Tatchell.

Social media in the workplace

Increasingly businesses are using social media networks as powerful communication tools – for promotion of goods and services, news and alerting services, client-provider communications, and even public relations. This brings with it the growing need to set clear standards for using social media in a work capacity via a social media policy, which includes employees using these networks for work purposes as well as their use of personal networking communications where their employer is, or may be considered to, be implicated.

The Law Donut have produced a useful checklist, ‘Social media and the law’, which gives guidance to businesses in establishing a social media policy. As well as paying attention to the big legal issues, such as copyright, intellectual property, defamation and data protection, which can too easily be infringed by online communications made without due care and awareness, it shows how important it is to set standards for public comments employees might make in their personal social media posts about your business, your other employees, your customers or your competitors. You can also use your social media policy to bring to your employees’ attention all of the above concerns regarding potentially offensive posts, particularly if they can be identified, via their profile, as an employee who may be considered to be speaking on behalf of their workplace; a standard disclaimer will often suffice (see the bottom of this post).

A useful practice note is provided by The Law Society, for all legal practitioners and practices interested in making better use of social media, and particularly for their compliance officers. This explains not only the value of using social media tools but also the importance of being aware of the risks and legal issues involved.

Co-incidentally, as I was writing this post a staff email arrived detailing our own, Bodleian Libraries’ social media policy. I have checked to make sure this post complies, but just in case of issue:

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the Bodleian Libraries’ positions, strategies or opinions.