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UK Laws finally dragged out of the - er -13th century

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UK Laws finally dragged out of the – er – 13th century


Here at Legastat we bow to no-one in our commitment to making the most of the IT innovations that are on offer. And so it was with delight we received the news that UK law-making is set to make a decisive leap into the future. Well – not the future, if we’re to be scrupulously honest: more like the present.

For centuries, laws made in the British Isles have been printed on vellum, a form of very fine parchment made from layers of calfskin. Few current practices can have such noble roots: not only were the Lindisfarne Gospels written on vellum, but so also was the Magna Carta.

Committing new laws to calfskin parchment is perhaps not quite as deliberately archaic as it seems. Vellum is famous for being very nearly indestructible: books and documents printed on vellum can survive for a thousand years, and can withstand a considerable degree of handling and damage. The practice of writing new laws on vellum is one designed to signify the gravity and importance of the legislature.

But these are cash-strapped times, and Parliament has had to consider whether the use of what is hardly more than a symbolic gesture is worth the cost. Naturally enough one does not find vellum specialists on every British high street: the practice of creating the parchment is time-consuming, requiring hours of cleaning, bleaching and stretching calfskin, scraping it with a curved knife known as a ‘lunarium’, and alternating processes of wetting and drying. In order to achieve a surface which will accept ink, the vellum is then scuffed with pumice, and treated with preparations of lime and chalk.

Sounds expensive, doesn’t it? You’re not wrong – it’s been setting the tax-payer back around £80,000 a year.

The House of Commons vellum supplier has been given 30 days’ notice that its contract with Parliament is coming to an end. Concerns have been raised (and at this one point one spares a thought for the vellum company: there cannot be many clients out there) by those keen to ensure that that whatever paper substitute is used, it is unlikely to last 1,000 years.  One MP, concerned the issue had not had sufficient debate, said: “All of our most important historical documents… have been made by using vellum and because of this have lasted through the ages so that future generations can appreciate and understand our shared history. That is why it was disappointing that such an important decision, with ramifications on the future of the craft and the conservation of our history, was pushed through.” But at a time when courts are closing across the land at the speed of falling dominoes, preserving a centuries-old custom does look a little like needless expense – and we are reassured that the archival paper on which new laws will be printed ought to last a good five hundred years.

At Legastat, we have been at the forefront of IT developments in the legal word for many years, helping law firms and chambers provide a service to their clients which builds on centuries of legal tradition without compromising on modernity. If at times it feels a little as if you’re still working in the 14th century, our expert litigation support professionals can help advise you on how to make the use of the wealth of legal tech available – even if your senior partner is still using vellum and ink.