British tax law information by phone: no legal hang-up

The lawyers of England and Wales are preparing to plug their ancient profession into the futuristic world of computer technology. They are launching a pilot program that will make detailed computer-based information on the country's tax laws available to telephone users. If the program operates satisfactorily, information on other aspects of the law will be fed into the system.

Eventually, it is hoped, a huge range of legal information will be accessible via the nation's telephone network.

The project is being promoted by the Law Society and several other highly respected legal institutions. It will be operated by the National Law Library, a charitable trust created to make legal information readily available.

The system has the blessing of Lord Justice Scarman, one of England's most progressive judges, who is president of the law library. Lord Scarman wants legal information to be made available to a wider audience within the profession and beyond, and he feels the facilities provided by computers should be exploited to the full.

Tax law was selected as the subject for the pilot project because it is a largely self-contained legal area, constantly in need of updating.

A high proportion of legal business in England and Wales concerns taxes. The pilot project is certain to attract a lot of attention from lawyers around the country who would prefer to ring up for information rather than depend on weighty legal tomes which may already be obsolescent.

Initially a group of select users will test the computerized tax law data bank. "Bugs" are expected to arise in the system, and the trial users will report problems to the law library.

In the long run, the library expects to evolve legal data bases suitable for incorporation in a comprehensive retrieval system. A series of coded instructions to be used by people dialing into the system has yet to be devised.

David Andrews, chairman of the National Law Library, hopes to launch the pilot project this year. Along with other supporters of the system, he expects it to make improvements in one notorious characteristic of the English legal system -- its slowness.

A properly devised data base should enable a lawyer or layman to dial into the system and get answers within seconds.

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