In praise of the humble law reporter

Lawyers trawling case law for the killer point and students cramming for exams, spare a thought for those whose work makes your task that little bit easier – the humble law reporter.ICLR 150th Anniversary Event, 20151006

They are, as Lord Neuberger said, speaking at the bash for the 150th anniversary of the Incorporated Council of Law Reports, the ‘unsung heroes and heroines of the common law’, whose contribution is not always properly recognised.

And think what life would be like without them. Neuberger quoted from a paper penned in 1863 by Sir Nathaniel Lindley QC, one of the lawyers who conceived the ICLR, in which he explained the need for a professional body of law reporters.

Throughout the preceding centuries, law reporting he noted, had been hit and miss, with lawyers of various competence choosing to report cases on an ad hoc basis and doing so with varying reliability.

The results were described in none too flattering terms. One scribe was said to have ‘heard one half of the case and reported the other’. A colleague’s efforts were said to ‘seldom enlighten anything’, while the work of another was only ‘fit to be burned’,

Another’s toil resulted in ‘an apocryphal authority’ while yet another ‘was accustomed to slumber over his notebooks and the wags in the rear took the opportunity of scribbling nonsense in it’.

Thanks to the work of today’s law reporters, if you think you are reading balderdash, you can at least be sure it as the judges intended it.

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