The one source to avoid are the forum sages. As a basic test do a google search about something within your expertise and look at the utter guff convincingly pontificated by people about your area of knowledge.
It is the same in my line of work. I do not frequently venture onto forums because I am conflicted by my desire to ensure people do not disappear down misconceived legal rabbit holes, but this is counterweighted by my equally strong desire not to get dragged into a flaming session wherein the end I pull out my trump card and say that I have been practicing law since 1993, and I bloody well do know the answer. To which the understandable retort is: ‘business must be tight if you are hanging around here then.’
A bright chap
In the last week I had a bright chap absolutely convinced his three-year limitation period was ‘suspended’ by a Solicitor writing a letter, and it seemed authoritative internet Counsel had told him this on good authority.
It is, cobblers. But the most common, convincing but incorrect exchanges I see are the apparently authoritative citing of genuine cases, said to be precedents. It is hardly surprising that well informed and bright people put these ‘authorities’ or ‘precedents’ up on forums because greenhorn lawyers, and even those experienced enough to know better do the same in front of real judges.
Where a scenario, say a motorcyclist overtaking by a junction and a motor vehicle emerges from the side road into the path of a motorcyclist, is discussed, I could very easily give published cases of the motorcyclist being found wholly to blame all the way to the motorcyclist being wholly exonerated on exactly that same scenario.
To quote the wise words of the Court of Appeal: ‘these cases provide a useful starting point’, but in collision cases, the judge determines the facts of what happened. Change just one single fact and a fact based decision from even a senior court becomes largely irrelevant. This is why the senior courts are very careful to set out a fact based decision does not bind other courts. The Highway Code is a much better starting point than ‘case law’ as it is a publication the Court will take into account to indicate or rebut any negligence.
The wisdom of forums
It is best to ignore the wisdom of the forums in technical aspects of the law, but if a piece of general internet advice goes out under the name of a barrister, an individual solicitor or a law firm, from your jurisdiction, chances are it will be reliable enough.
Just be sure you are not considering words of wisdom from a judge or lawyer in Indiana, Saskatchewan or Limerick. What those lawyers say is likely to be sound in the United States of America, Canada or the Republic of Ireland, not so much Oxford County Court.
Following through your case based on forum wisdom is like juggling axes. It might end up well enough, but it is a risky proposition.
Andrew Dalton – Bike Magazine May 2020