BIALL workshop: European Union information, 21 March 2016. A review

SLLG member, Jane Condie of the Advocates Library successfully applied for an SLLG bursary to allow her to attend a BIALL workshop on EU information. This is Jane’s review of the course.


Course: BIALL Workshop – European Union Information

Trainer: Ian Thomson, Director of the European Documentation Centre, Cardiff University and Executive Editor of European Sources Online.

With the aid of a bursary from SLLG, I was able to attend a one day course at the University of the West of England – Frenchay Campus, Bristol last month. I stayed in a pleasant (but odd) guest house a few miles away from the venue – which made for an enjoyable walk to get there in the morning.

The Frenchay campus of UWE was unexpectedly large so I was fortunate to meet up with another course attendee at the gate. We navigated the way together. On arrival we were surprised by how un-library-ish the library building looked, but the presence of a large Shaun the Sheep statue reassured us we were in the right place (“…can you please meet us beside the Shaun the Sheep – Justice Baa Lamb – that is just inside the entrance to the Library…”).

Although the welcome was warm and the refreshments were yummy, I’m afraid I found this workshop somewhat disappointing. This was due, in part, to my having previously attended Ian Thomson’s course for the SLLG in 2013, but it had a good bit to do with organisational problems and an overly optimistic course timetable.

I will present my review using the course structure for headings:

Brief Introduction to the European Union
Key Institutions – Legislative Acts and Judicial decisions – How policy is made – Role of committees – Challenges

This introductory section was timetabled to last for only one hour. In practice it took up almost the entire morning. There was undoubtedly a lot of very interesting stuff here but as someone who has both attended his previous course and worked with Eur-lex for several years, I didn’t gain much new information.

Also, due to a breakdown in communication/organisation we spent more than half of the morning session without access to the detailed PowerPoint – full of links and information – the trainer had supplied. Neither he nor the organisers thought to direct us to, or even mention, the copy waiting for us on the university’s shared drive! We were just sitting in front of useless computers, listening to him talk. I don’t feel I lost out too much from this error but for those attendees new to EU law, the morning must have been an absolute blur of incomprehension.

However, I did learn about the existence of ‘Trilogues’ in the EU legislative process. About 85% of new legislative proposals have gone through this process in recent years. It speeds things up considerably but there is an issue about transparency. Although the Trilogues are not exactly secret there is no real way to obtain documents from these Trilogue sessions. The European Ombudsman is conducting a public consultation on the transparency of Trilogues. This is definitely something I’ll be keeping an eye on in future.

Searching for EU information / Guides to terminology
Search engines – EUROPA – FIND-eR – EU Bookshop – European Sources Online – Glossary – Eurojargon – IATE – Machine translation

A highlight of this section for me was probably the Search Europa site. This is basically a Google powered site, set up by the European Journalism Centre, to search the whole EUROPA portal. Ian thinks it’s better than Europa’s own search engine.

He also mentioned a number of archives which have digitised the kind of really old documents that are currently not available via Europa. He mentioned an American site – Archive of European Integration (AEI) – in particular.

Legislative and judicial information sources
EUR-LEX – Summaries of EU Legislation – Procedures (formerly PreLex) / Legislative Observatory – National Implementing Measures (NIMs) – Official Journal – COM Documents – Case law – Legal citations

There wasn’t much new information here sadly. I did however learn something interesting about the Commission’s new policy to improve the drafting of EU legislation: Consolidation, Codification and Recasting.

Consolidation has been used for a while in an attempt to simplify much amended legislation. Consolidated legislation is useful but not authoritative.

Codification brings together one or more Consolidated acts into one. The new piece of legislation passes through the full legislative process and replaces the older act(s).

Recasting is similar to Codification, in that it brings together one or more Consolidated acts, passes through the full legislative process and replaces the older acts. However, Recasting will also include substantive changes and amendments to the existing legislation. Ian Thomson says that this will be the preferred method in future.

Policy monitoring
Key documents to follow the activities of the European Commission, Council of the European Union, European Council, EU Presidency, European Parliament – European External Action Service – Registers of documents

According to my notes we seem to have pretty much skipped this section due to lack of time. Instead we engaged in a fairly lengthy ‘practical’ session which I didn’t find useful at all.

Role of an EU member State in the creation, adoption and implementation of EU law (using the UK as a case study)
Government – Government Departments – Parliament – MEPs – European Commissioners – Economic and Social Committee (etc)

This was the section I was most interested in, due to some recent enquiries I’ve had. I had been hoping for some insight into the location of implementation documentation but it wasn’t much more than a disappointingly vague overview of the process.

EU sources: EU Press Room – RAPID – EU Calendar – TV and web-streaming
Non-EU sources: EUObserver – EurActiv – Politico – Europe Media Monitor – Newspapers – Radio and TV – ESO – Blogs – Social media

Nothing noteworthy mentioned here.


I’m sorry if this report seems unduly harsh but I really was hoping for more from this workshop. However, in a spirit of optimism and positivity, I will finish by listing three things I did get from the day.

I learned about:

  1. The existence of ‘Trilogues’ in the EU legislative process.
  2. Digital archives of old EU documents.
  3. Consolidation, Codification and Recasting.

Thanks for the bursary SLLG!


Justice Baa Lamb – lives in the UWE Frenchay library now


Thanks for the review of this course, Jane. If any member would like to apply for a bursary as Jane did, to allow you to attend training, please see details in the members’ only section of the group webpages or talk to a member of the committee. 

Pepper v Hart training course – 26 March 2015

parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

The SLLG Committee were only too happy to help with a group bursary when Morag asked about one to attend the BIALL training on ‘Pepper v Hart’ research, in March. Equally delightful is Morag clearly got so much good from the course. Morag shares some of the key learning points.

What is “Pepper v Hart” research?

This is research of parliamentary materials and the background to legislation most commonly used where there is a problem of statutory interpretation. It originates from the case of Pepper (Inspector of Taxes) v Hart [1993] AC 593 . Mr Hart a teacher at Malvern College benefited from a “concessionary fee” scheme that allowed his son to be educated at the college for one fifth of the normal fees of a pupil. The Inland Revenue attempted to tax this benefit based on the Finance Act 1976 and there was a dispute over the correct interpretation of the Act. Lord Browne-Wilkinson (one of the Law Lords who heard the case) looked at the Hansard debates in order to help with construction. This subsequently established the principle that when primary legislation is ambiguous then, in certain circumstances, the court may refer to statements made in the House of Commons or House of Lords in an attempt to interpret the meaning of the legislation.

Why did I want to do this training?

Working in the Readers Services Department of the Advocates Library, my colleagues and I are often asked by Advocates to obtain the Parliamentary Debates for legislation in order to assist with their research into the background of certain provisions. I find this a very interesting part of my work and I have always wanted to understand how to do this better.

When BIALL offered a training course at Lincoln’s Inn Library on 26 March 2015 on “Parliamentary Debates on Legislation: How to do Pepper v Hart Research” I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to increase my knowledge and improve my skills. The SLLG kindly granted me a bursary for the cost of the training.

Course content and guidelines for “Pepper v Hart” research

The course was organised by Guy Holborn, the Librarian at Lincoln’s Inn and the number of attendees was limited to 16 places. It was an all-day course comprising of both lectures and workshops. The main points emphasised for conducting the research properly were as follows:

a) Knowledge of the parliamentary stages of a bill is essential

It is important to understand the basic pattern of the parliamentary stages of a bill as this helps to identify where the most relevant debates and amendments are likely to be found during the passage of the bill. Bills can start in either the House of Commons or the Lords. The first reading and introduction of the bill are purely formal and can largely be ignored. The second reading is likely to contain debate on the principle of the bill and the mischief aimed at, but the longest and most detailed stage (and therefore the most important) is the Committee stage. This is also where the bill is debated clause by clause and therefore is the stage most likely to be of relevance to a researcher looking to understand what a particular section might mean.

b) Use hard copy debates in preference to online

During the training exercises we used hard copy debates. This method is considered preferable to online research which can be dangerously incomplete for certain parliamentary periods and is not so easily managed on screen.

c) Check that you are you looking for debates on the right Act

The section or part of a section of interest might have been inserted by a later Act (and not the Act initially in question). The Act may also be a consolidation Act and if so, you will need to trace the derivation of the section in the previous Act and find the debates on that Act. If the Act was passed between 1984 and 2010 it is useful to consult the House of Commons Sessional Information Digest (available online from 1995/6. From 2006/07 see also the table of Bills before Parliament on

d) Find all the prints of the bill for both Commons and Lords

There will usually be 2 complete prints of the bill for the Commons and 3 for the Lords. Bill numbers are given in the Sessional Information Digest. It is also useful to have the hard copy of Act as originally enacted in order to see the position of the section in the scheme of Act. You should note whether the clause is present and in an identical form to the section of the Act throughout and if not, at what stage was it inserted or reached its final form. Note the number of the clause at each stage.

e) Find Hansard references for each stage

These can be found in a variety of sources including:
• Sessional indexes (there is a separate index volume for the House of Commons but for the House of Lords the index is contained within the last volume of the session)
• House of Commons Sessional Information Digest
• Explanatory Notes to Act (from 1999-)
• Halsbury’s Statutes (from 1993 onwards)
• Current Law Statutes (but these are not always complete!)
Bills section from 2006/7 onwards

f) Find the debates on your clause at each stage

There are 8 stages where there might be debate (but if after looking at the bills you identified a stage when the bill was significantly altered you might want to start there):
• Commons – 2nd reading
• Commons – Committee
• Commons- Report & 3rd reading
• Lords – 2nd reading
• Lord Committee
• Lords Report
• Lords -3rd reading
• Commons – Lords Amendments

g) If you find absolutely nothing relevant in the debates!

If after following the steps above you find absolutely nothing at least you can rest assured that you have researched this exhaustively and no vital discussion has been missed out. Naturally there are sometimes exceptions to the general outline provided above but these are the basic main points which I took from the training which may be of help to others undertaking this type of research.

Summary of course experience

I can thoroughly recommend this course for anyone interested in deepening their knowledge of parliamentary research. The printed lecture notes provided are extremely detailed and will be very useful in the future for doing Pepper v Hart research. The four practical workshops led by the Library staff at Lincoln’s Inn provided “hands on” experience of looking at the bills and debates with the opportunity to ask questions and take notes. I think the highlight of the day however was lunch in the Great Hall at Lincoln’s Inn (pictured below) which is a lot more impressive than our staff room at the Advocates Library and the food was better too.

Thank you, Morag, for a very informative blog. Group members are reminded that bursaries are available for all sorts of professional development and are directed to the bursary document for more information.

BIALL Legal Foundation Course: a review

An SLLG member applied for an SLLG bursary to undertake the BIALL Legal Foundations Course. This is their review of the course.

I started a new post as librarian with Dundas & Wilson in January 2013. It had been 21 years since I worked as an Assistant Librarian at the Faculty of Advocated library, but I was amazed at how quickly I remembered the basic principles, the names of all the standard texts, and was delighted by how far LexisNexis online had developed.

I was responsible for answering enquires from the Dundas and Wilson Edinburgh, Glasgow and London offices, and after a few months, realised felt unsure about the English law enquiries, so decided to do something about improving and extending my knowledge in this area, to make me feel confident I was providing a good service.

I applied for a SLLG bursary to do the BIALL Legal Foundation Course offered by the University of Westminster, and was pleased to be awarded the full amount. I managed to attend the Induction afternoon in London in the University of Westminster, and met many of my fellow students, most of whom were based in London, and were starting out in their careers as law librarians. I found it more useful to meet the staff, especially Avis Whyte the course leader.

The course is a distance learning course, lasting from Oct to April, covering 17 topics over 23 weeks. The topics are designed to cover all aspects of English law and range from ‘The English legal system’, Tort, Contract, Sale of Goods, Criminal, Employment, EU, Immigration, Human Rights, Wills & Probate, Civil procedure, Family IP, Media, Land, Company and Banking.

There is a lecture a week which, depending on the person giving the lecture, lasts between 60 to 120 minutes. There is then a multiple choice test at the end of each section or lesson. To be awarded the certificate of completion you are required to get 100% in each test. Luckily, you can do the test as many times as required, and you are given four weeks for each lecture. If you miss any lectures, there is another chance to catch up at Christmas, and at the end of the course.

I set myself the goal of doing the course every Monday evening from home, and tried not to back-slide. With trepidation, I started my first course (it has been a long time since I did any formal education!) and I found it to be really interesting. I started looking forward to my Monday evenings and absorbing the content – some more than others – and the challenge of getting 100%. I found some to be challenging e.g. Corporate and company law, and others surprisingly familiar: IP, family, immigration and criminal law. I think I read too many detective books!

There were the usual disgruntlements you will get with any course – inaccurate/out of date slides, people talking to fast or too slow; presuming you have too little or too much prior knowledge of a subject, and the usual technical problems, but on the whole it was really good, and I would recommend it to anyone who has to work with English law, especially those at the beginning of their career.

I found the history and the interpretation of English law very interesting and instructive, and quite challenging and also Tort, because it is so different. It introduced me to the basic ideas and the main legislation, and detailed the major cases, the options for the judges, the different approaches, and also the constantly changing aspect of the law e.g. sale of good catching up with online shopping.

It proved to be far more relevant than I ever imagined it to be, when the merger of Dundas & Wilson with CMS Cameron McKenna was announced at Christmas. From May 2014 onwards I have now been answering research enquiries as part of the CMS Cameron McKenna library team from staff all over the world (but mainly England). It has given me much more confidence in my understanding of enquiries, and in my ability to find and present the relevant results to enquirers.

Many thanks to the SLLG committee for awarding me the bursary to complete the course.