Bruce Grant and the WebJCLI

Bruce Grant and the Web Journal of Current Legal Issues

Michael Allen

It is strange looking back how circumstances come together to lead to something new and different happening. Such was the case with the creation of the Web Journal of Current Legal Issues from a chance common room discussion in December 1993. Bruce and I had been colleagues at Newcastle Law School since I arrived there in 1983. We briefly taught on the same course, Family Law, that academic year but had not otherwise worked together on any project.

In the intervening years Bruce built up an expertise in IT largely as a result of the intervention of chance. In the mid-1980s Bruce was appointed tutor to a student who was blind. Bruce quickly decided that whatever technology was available should be utilised to enhance this student's learning experience. With typical enthusiasm and energy Bruce researched what was available and then set about acquiring the necessary hardware and software and learned how to use it. From this experience Bruce developed an enthusiasm for the use of IT in education and set about acquiring the skills to facilitate the introduction of IT in the Law School.

By 1993 Bruce had ensured that the Law School had its own intranet with all staff having their own desktop workstation with internet access. Bruce was in charge of IT in the Law School in a very hands on way learning from the university IT staff how to manage the network, doing software and hardware upgrades, trouble-shooting problems and acting as "nursemaid" to academic and support staff who approached keyboards with much more trepidation.

Around this time the spectre of the next RAE in 1996 was looming with pressure mounting for staff to "get published". Lead-in times for conventional journals could be anything up to two years. Few conversations in academic common rooms around the country will have passed without mention of the RAE being made. One such conversation occurred in Newcastle Law School in December 1993. Some lecturers had been disappointed by having had articles accepted for publication in recognised journals, but with projected publication dates too late to count in the RAE. Bruce suggested the publication of articles on the World Wide Web. I was intrigued by this suggestion and soon we were talking about founding a new, independent, peer reviewed on-line journal.

I set about recruiting an editorial team and Editorial Board from universities across the UK while Bruce set about researching how to create an on-line journal. These were the early days of the World Wide Web and there was no template that we could follow. This made it all the more interesting and exciting for Bruce whose enthusiasm for the project was boundless. Together we obtained the support of Alistair MacQueen of Blackstone Press who helped us decide on the journal's title which focused on its unique selling point which was its currency and he provided the funding to create an advertising leaflet circulated to all UK law schools. By the autumn of 1994 the Web Journal of Current Legal Issues was launched with a request for submissions and the promise to publish articles accepted for publication in time for the RAE deadline.

Obtaining submissions and referees was the easy part. Designing the journal's online appearance and converting word-processed articles into html documents, manually coding footnotes, mounting the journal on a unix server and archiving it were the difficult parts. But Bruce overcame every obstacle and did so with a budget of £0. Without his perennial optimism, boundless enthusiasm and energy, the journal would not have existed nor continued its regular publication over the ensuing years. Bruce was a pioneer in academic publishing. He played the seminal part in the creation and production of the first online general legal journal. In my time as editor it was both a pleasure and privilege to work with him. After eighteen years of independent existence, albeit that the journal was hosted on Newcastle University's unix servers, the future of the journal looked in doubt when the editor resigned and a move was made by Newcastle Law School to take over the journal as an in-house production. Despite being unwell and in failing health, Bruce was energised to ensure the survival of the journal as an independent refereed publication. Thanks to his unstinting efforts the journal's archive has moved from Newcastle University to BAILII while the journal itself is now hosted with Open Journal Systems at Queen's University Belfast. The continuing success of the Web Journal of Current Legal Issues is a fitting memorial to Bruce. Many other legal journals on-line have followed but the WebJCLI will always be the first and for that the legal academic community owes Bruce a great debt of gratitude.