They came, they saw, they tweeted a decision

Photo: Ontario Courts

Photo: Ontario Courts

Did you read R. v. Duncan on CanLII, April 4?

You know, the judgment of Mr. Justice Fergus O’Donnell in the St. Catharines Ontario Court of Justice. The one that begins: “You should get out of town, the man said” and makes whimsical references to Shakespeare, proverbial curses and Alice In Wonderland, before finding “Mr. Duncan is entitled to his acquittal and none should begrudge him it.”

Well, you’re not alone. Some 22,000 others also read the Lewis Carroll and James Joyce-laced acquittal. And not long after, about 5,000 people took a peek at CanLII for a sentencing decision in an infanticide case.

The folks at CanLII seem cautiously gratified by this trend of users driven to the site by references in online news sources and social media.

On one hand, exposure to legal documents by the general public is probably a good thing; on the other, CanLII notes that the social-media hits represent single-use visits. Most CanLII users are regulars, with a typical visitor accessing the site three or four times a month.

“The challenge for CanLII is to ensure that those who click the links, having found the site, leave with some knowledge of the value of the resource they have stumbled upon so that they may return when they are looking for something more than a laugh,” its news blog posted April 10. It calls the spike in visits “a phenomenon worth examining.”

Perhaps if the hapless Mr. Duncan in the now-famous Mr. Justice O’Donnell decision had relied on CanLII to conduct his research, rather than the “internet-derived gibberish” he presented in court, his case would not have provided such rich fodder for a tweet-worthy judgment.

    What do you think? Does social media enhance the practice of law and access to justice? Or reduce legal research to just another minor distraction?

    Leave a comment below and join the discussion.

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