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Website reviews

20 June 05

Review of the recently updated Scottish Court Service website

by Iain Nisbet


Scottish Courts website

www.scotcourts.gov.uk

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Scottish Court Service’s inception as a Scottish Executive agency, their website has been overhauled, updated and refined. The new look site was launched on 14 May 2005, and your web reviewer has been surfing its pages ever since to bring you a verdict without the need for avizandum.

Well, first of all, the site now looks the part. The previous design was a little bit tired and didn’t really project a professional or modern (nor even particularly traditional) image of the court service. Gone is the off-yellow background colour. Gone too, are the ghastly navigational frames. In their place is a crisp, clean and modern design which manages to provide numerous navigation options on every page without making the screen seem crowded.

To be fair to the old version of the site, the usefulness of the information to be garnered from the site always far outweighed any complaints about the design (though I’m sure visitors with web browsers which couldn’t handle frames felt differently). Anyway, all of the old reasons for visiting the website are still here and, in fact, are now even easier to locate. So, you can still access a searchable database of judgments issuing forth from both sheriff and Supreme Courts. And you can still find information on sheriff courts across the country.

As I said, this information is new and improved too. The old colourful map of sheriffdoms has been replaced by a much nicer interactive one, which lights up as you point at different areas; and the information on the sheriff courts has been expanded and repackaged, including (as before) maps, directions, photos, instructions on who to report to on arrival, availability of parking, where to get a nice cup of tea nearby, etc etc. You can also access the weekly court rolls just to check your case is still on and which sheriff has been allocated.

In addition to the old information in (very nice) new clothing, there are a handful of exciting new features too. Foremost among these is the new search facility, which allows a site-wide search for keywords, rather than just searching (for example) the cases. Inevitably, on testing this function, the majority of results returned were in fact cases. Having said that, there was at least one non-case return in each instance, which can only add to the utility of this feature.

The Scottish Courts website has also adopted the now near ubiquitous RSS and offers users the opportunity to have automatic updates (including fresh Court of Session/High Court rolls) delivered directly to a news aggregator or website. Also information is generally very much better laid out and organised. So with just a couple of clicks one can download the complete set of court rules (small claims, summary/ordinary cause and Court of Session). These may well have been available on the previous version of the site, but you would have needed to track them down.

In lauding the removal of frames from the site, we have already touched on accessibility issues, and certainly the new site seems at least to be taking the issue much more seriously. Although the site has not yet been formally validated, and despite the lack of access keys, it looks as if court users with visual or motor impairments would be able to make use of it without too many difficulties. The introduction of a text-only version of the website helps a bit, and the main version seems to be pretty reasonable too. It is heartening when government bodies start complying with the law!

What else? Well, it is still early days for the new look website, but already there is a big improvement evident. The navigation is not entirely wrinkle free and I stumbled across more than one broken (internal) link – also the 404 error page looked a bit weird in both Firefox and Navigator browsers. I wouldn’t want to be harsh on a site which, by its own admission, is not the finished article. More changes and updates are promised and, as if to underline the commitment to that promise, the new vacancies section includes an advert for the post of web developer/designer. The successful candidate will no doubt be kept busy, but already has a solid foundation to build on.