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Website reviews

1 January 04

Reviews of online legal advice and information providers

by Iain Nisbet

With the launch of Legal Data Solutions’ Orkell database (now live on the websites of a number of the 15 collaborating firms including Anderson Strathern, Lindsays, Balfour & Manson and Murray Beith Murray) I put it to the test with a series of hypothetical legal problems and compared it with the Law Society of Scotland’s Dial-a-Law service online and Citizens’ Advice Bureaux Adviceguide site.

Each service was tested on the following legal problems: a pregnancy related dismissal; defaults on mortgage payments leading to threatened repossession; and a child injured by their new (but defective) Christmas presents.

Anderson Strathern’s Knowledgebase (Orkell)

www.knowledgebase.andersonstrathern.co.uk

The Law Society of Scotland’s Dial-a-Law

www.lawscot.org.uk

CAB Advice Guide

www.adviceguide.org.uk

Pregnancy dismissal

The Knowledgebase got off to a good start with a concise and useful coverage of the issues in relation to pregnancy dismissal. I was also able to access the relevant topics directly through the search function which worked well. I felt that the explanation of the law was perhaps slightly too technical for non-lawyer users, and the point about not having to make a comparison with a sick man was unnecessarily laboured.

The Dial-a-Law pages had two sections which were of relevance to this problem: Discrimination at Work and Unfair Dismissal; although of course the viewer would have to realise that pregnancy dismissal amounted to discrimination in order to access the first. The information was again helpful and was well explained. There is also a facility to search for lawyers practising employment law in any given area of Scotland.

Finally, the CAB Advice Guide. This impressed me with how up-to-date it was, giving coverage of the new provisions outlawing discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or sexual orientation. The Advice Guide also had some practical advice on pregnancy dismissal cases, but I had to really scour for it, and again it required prior knowledge that it amounted to sex discrimination to do so. However, the advice given was accurate and also had a focus on how a lay adviser or party litigant might go about enforcing their rights in an employment tribunal, as well as providing a host of useful links.

Mortgage repossession

Unfortunately, the Knowledgebase was distinctly lacking in this area. Although there is an abundance of useful information and advice on how to obtain a mortgage and how to re-mortgage, together with the relative merits and demerits of such a course of action, there is no treatment of mortgage arrears or repossession – at least none that my diligent searching turned up. An area for future development?

Even more concerning than the above, was the treatment on the Dial-a-Law pages under the heading “Problems with your Mortgage”. This section was out of date and thus misleading, incorrect and dangerously so. The Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Act 2001 and the important protections contained therein for home owners are totally ignored. Interestingly, I couldn’t find a disclaimer on the Law Society of Scotland’s website. Does this make the inaccurate advice actionable?

CAB’s Advice Guide also disappointed, having plenty for the tenant facing eviction, but nothing for the home owner facing repossession of their property.

For information on mortgage rights, from a lender’s perspective, try Morton Fraser [www.morton-fraser.com/knowledge/knowledge.php?k_id=61] or, from a home-owner’s perspective go to Govan

Law Centre’s Mortgage Rescue pages [www.govanlc.com/mortgage].

Product liability

The Knowledgebase has a fairly detailed section on consumer rights, which covers all manner of possible legal problems. Interestingly, the issue is offered from the viewpoint of both retailer and customer. As far as defective products are concerned, the site gives pointed advice on the rights to return faulty goods in terms of the sale of goods legislation, but fails to cover issues of product liability for injuries caused by defects in products.

The Law Society’s Dial-a-Law also covers faulty goods from the consumer’s point of view and cautions against being fooled by restrictive guarantees. The rights to refund are discussed, but again no mention of what to do if someone is injured due to a defective product.

The CAB Advice Guide trumps the others in this instance by actually covering this important issue. There is a short section indicating that compensation may be available and recommendations to contact Trading Standards within the main section. This was located fairly easily. There is also a factsheet on safety which is downloadable in PDF format. It purports to be relevant in England and Wales only, but in actual fact much of it is correct in Scots law too. It covers Sale of Goods, the Consumer Protection Act 1987, British safety standards, trade descriptions and other criminal matters.

Overall ratings (out of 5, based on the problems posed)

Knowledgebase: 3/5
Dial-a-Law: 3/5
CAB Advice Guide: 4/5