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Fax it up, m’lord


I was listening to Radio Five this morning, to a debate on the NHS and at one stage an expert told the listeners that the NHS was far too behind in modern technology – by way of disparaging illustration he said “Most GP’s are still using faxes, for goodness sake”

Which reminded me of the apocryphal story of the High Court Judge sitting in a Court far away from London, reaching the end of the case and realising that he has left all of his notes and preparation for delivery of his imminent judgment back at his London home. He mentions this dilemma, and someone helpfully suggests, “Fax it up, m’lord”  – to which the Judge sadly responds, “yes, I’m afraid it rather does”

And that led me to think that anyone who began practicing law in the last ten years would probably not understand that joke.  We have a fax machine in our office, but I can’t remember the last time anyone used it in anger. All that I ever see come out of it are single page spam adverts – invariably telling us that if we have had an accident in the workplace, we could get compensation – hugely informative stuff of that type.

When I first started working in law, which was a long time ago, I was at the beck and call of the fax machine. I don’t know that I want to give precise dates, but by way of indication my Local Authority was using a junior barrister named Cherie Booth and we were dimly aware that her husband was an MP but had no idea who he was.


The fax machine and I were very close. Our first version had no programmable numbers, you had to dial them all manually. And it didn’t use ordinary paper, but some horrid shiny stuff akin to the toilet paper in schools at the time (and possibly prisons now).  When we received our evidence, we had to fax this out. It had to go to the Court, to three firms of solicitors (mum, dad, Guardian) and to our counsel. So each piece of final evidence, I, as the junior dogsbody, had to fax out five times. I was junior dogsbody for eight lawyers at the time, so there was a LOT of final evidence, most of it having to be sent out on a Friday afternoon.

And the fax couldn’t send and receive at the same time, so if we had one lawyer with evidence ready to go out, and another waiting to receive the faxed copy from the social worker, that would be a juggling act with the social services dogsbody and I on telephones “Can I start sending it now?”  “Just wait, ten seconds… oh damn, the one to Thimbleby Fisher has jammed again”

If you aren’t old, like me – for example, my colleague Gimson, who does not believe me that we didn’t always have stuff on television whenever you turned it on and that for about five years daytime television consisted of Pebble Mill then three hours of “Pages from Ceefax”, it probably seems ridiculous to think that I was spending close to eight hours a week doing nothing other than feeding paper into a fax machine and swearing copiously when two pages went through at once.  I had to do this, because there was no way of sending these documents from one computer to another.

The social worker would write their statement out by hand, take it to a typing pool, a typist would type it up, the social worker would give it to the social services dogsbody, they’d fax it to me, I’d take it to the lawyer who would check it. If it was okay, then I would fax it out to everyone.  And then when they got it, which would often be at about seven pm, because I’d be doing this for eight cases on a Friday, they’d have to fax it out to their counsel.

And as archaic and dreadful as that sounds – this was an improvement. This was cutting edge tech – it was instantaneous compared to the system that had been around before I started, when you’d be DX-ing or posting it out and it would arrive a day or two later – usually just after you’d left for Court on the case you needed the document on.

None of us had computers on our desks – I remember that coming in, and many of the lawyers being mortified that this was taking up space on their desk where their files and notes would have been. When we finally got email, it meant that we no longer had to have the social work statements faxed to us, and that we could make changes and amendments to documents without having to get a typist to do it.   (It also ended one of the other curiousities, which was that I was keeping an index for all of those cases, which I was doing by making handwritten annotations to the typed index as new documents came in, and then getting it typed about once a month – if the case was going wrong, I’d be squeezing more and more annotations into a tiny space).

But we still couldn’t send documents out by email, because most of the other solicitors didn’t have it straight away.

I can’t really imagine doing the job now without a computer, being able to see a document and edit it and perfect it and send it back and forth until it is just right, then simply send it out to everyone who needs to see it in a task that takes less than 30 seconds when it used to take an afternoon. I can’t really now, even after such a short time, really get straight in my mind what it was like to only be able to look at your emails if you were sitting at your desk – to not be able to read them on the way to Court or whilst waiting for Facts and Reasons. And that’s a change of only the last four years or so.

The really odd thing of course, is that without blackberries, and email, and computers, and word processing – without even photocopiers, the lawyers in the early days of the Children Act got all this done – and they actually did it in shorter timescales and with less delays than we manage now with all of our assistance. That’s rather like learning that Formula One cars in the 1930s were faster than modern ones (they weren’t)

I wonder what is coming in the next few years, and how it will make our lives easier, but how as Parkinson’s Law shows us, work expands to fill the time available to do it.

I’ve been reading a book called Future Crimes, by Marc Goodman, which is about incredible advances in technology and the opportunities that these bring, and also the threats that they may pose. It isn’t an alarmist book – every story that the writer tells, he is able to show a real-life example where this has happened (often where hackers are demonstrating weakness in things like GPS, drone missiles, pacemakers, hearing aids, central heating controls, by hacking them and taking them over as proof of concept).  It was a great read, and frankly I could devote the blog for the next month to quoting you individual stories from it – there’s something astonishing on every page. (Paypal’s privacy policy contains more words than Hamlet… how one hacked tweet knocked 20% off stock prices in America for a morning, allowing the hackers to profit by shorting stocks, Target emailing a 14 year old with discount vouchers for maternity items leading to her father writing them an angry letter only to send another one two days later  saying that unknown to him she was pregnant – Target’s shopping algorithm knew she was pregnant based on purchases of things like unscented moisturiser before the girl herself even knew)


About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

10 responses

  1. You youngsters don’t know you’re born – I remember telex. The last telex o ever sent read PLEASE TURN ON YOUR FAX MACHINE which is appropriate, isn’t it?

    • That’s beautiful Andrew. I have to confess that I have never actually encountered Telex in the workplace. I have seen, but not used, carbon paper. I’d also forgotten how often people would misdial the fax number, leading to you getting calls all afternoon from a very shrill R2D2 trying to send paper into your ears, and you shouting loudly back “I am not a fax machine” in the home that the human nearby their fax machine might hear and stop.

  2. Luxury. When I was the articled clerk there was no fax and no DX. It was me running round carrying papers between offices – and taking social workers to swear their affidavits for wardship proceedings …

    • I started work in that role, before I came to law. Running documents from one side of the town to the other (usually getting back to my desk just as someone said “Oh, can you take this to [place you JUST got back from]” )

      I always like the look of those pneumatic tubes they have in American films of offices – the Hudsucker Proxy for example, where you put a letter in and it just whizzes off and drops on the recipients desk.

  3. Well thank you gents … I now feel about 100 years old

  4. Pingback: Fax it up, m'lord | Legal In General |

  5. As someone who has had to use many a fax machine, (most of the modern ones look like Nassa space ship control panels), thank god for their demise.

  6. back in the day .Imagine being a litigant in person ,living on the poverty line on benefits ,then being asked to fax “IT” by the Local Authority , or have you got a fax ??????

    This fax it would cost £3 or more at the local library supermarket outlet.That is a lot of money for someone on benefits to pay to send a fax.
    So me being me,an having to be resourceful i soon worked out just worked out this.

    1) If you bought a fax lead ,or phone lead from PC world, connected it to you Mac book , or Desk top computer ,then you could join the fax war path to court ,an fax the LA your paperwork,leaving them confused how did you manage that? With no money,where is it coming from.

    2)I then shared this information on FB social networks in a video incase some other person might need this.its still there

    Moving on

    To your reading matter it’s a bit old. Or been done before,for real …

    You might want to check out Jeffrey Deaver author The Broken Window it is about selling on people’s data , an sorry to give away the story,it’s a it like the whole closed court experience.

    These people who hold your data,can change it,trash it, write lies, or even propagate factually incorrect information about you.

    That’s as close a narrative as anyone could exchange when picking up a book, or a case file.

    Finally a journalist who saw my FOI online , contacted me,to ask me about my experience to do with something. She says in her phone call that she does the research for Panorama, BBC ,Dispatches ….

    She also seems to me to be completely clueless about finding stuff, or getting into websites, or anything else, an it’s easy.

    The journalist was shocked ,that is a quick reply back,this was when I rang her up.
    why is it, most media, or social workers,solicitors ,judges etc think they only know how to use these technology.I mean they earn the right to be arrogant about most of what hey get away with in closed courts etc.But online how safe are you ?

    So here is another example for you

    With the exception of some bright spark legal, who was very alarmed to see another LIP parent in Barnet court up before Judge Pearl this was many years ago ,anyway the LA sol ,protested about the LIP using the laptop, an wireless .
    Judge Peal listened ,to the anxious LA sol, an then decided to allow the LIP to carry on using the laptop. I mean, fairs,fair,the LA sol used her computer,an the LIP never used this excuse about her security settings.

    A lot of legals are getting paranoid about secret recordings going on in courts,an they also come straight out,an ask are you recording?

    Just for the record, when I got asked was I media by Judge Pearl?

    I am not , I am a MKF I was also accessing Open University Law course, which gave me access to all the same databases the social services use for training purposes.
    I was able to see how much funding certain professionals got for studies. I was able to contact them too.And when they said to me, oh there is no money in studies. Was able to work out just how much they were getting

    Your most probably asleep on the train coming back home to collect your car in the car park, an right under your very nose, someone in the car next to you isn’t hacking (or D dossing ,which is for those of you who don’t have a clue ,directing so much traffic at your website it crashes, if you have to prepared for this event)the Home Office or something like this.
    An all it takes is a couple of people, an a laptop or 2 .


  7. It sounds like the Four Yorkshiremen sketch.

    We were so poor . . .

  8. I have had to go this week an collect paperwork from my GP surgery ,as they won’t forward the results back to a London specialist hospital.
    Its necessary to check the bloods on a regular basis .
    I was first instructed to then email them into the nurse at the out patients clinic from the start The nurse then contacts the consultant ,with the results, an you get told to stay on the drug or come off it,according to reading the data The drug being used belongs in a group of other drugs being used as with cancer patients treatment.So this drug is not to be messed about with, which is which is a heavy duty auto- immune suppressants,an a costly drug .

    Bearing in mind this, I am not in the best of health,the responsibility of this unpaid work ,is put solely on me.
    Back in the day ,years ago when on this drug the doctors surgery done the bloods these were sent off ,returned, read, an contact would be with you, an then the hospital.
    Now you can’t get an appointment .Unless you say this, it’s ok ,I will go emergency out of hours,BUT YOU WILL GET CHARGED .This soon works,you get a few mins if clicking on the keyboard, an then the appointment .

    I remember a better service ,when you were looked after better at surgeries ,when nurses picked up the phone , an communicated with hospitals ,results etc , but now we have health care assistants who don’t want to do the work, or cant because they are not trained to do so.

    So in part ,the surgery do my blood tests now an again under duress, I would have to return otherwise to London ,if they said refused,which they can do this is what I will have to do,an I live outside of London.

    My friends daughter is very young,an she has the same disease .She asked me , did you get funding?
    She told me she got refused the funding for the same drug, an her parents have to take a day off work to go to GHS hospital an get her medication.Same surgery as well……..

    So it’s very tiring for patients, it’s stressful, it’s costly, an the use of a perfectly good website website ,which i use to request repeat prescriptions ,wont work for me to an collect my blood tests .which is your own data. from a GP surgery this day is just You think this is crazy,want to try this on for size then see how you would re- act to doctors .

    Subject matter for ideal hypochondriac label is :

    Which is me

    This said, I do have experience of being told I don’t have this disease ,by a so called top expert witness to do with a family law case, public law case back in 2004

    I read everything, that was the legal professionals problem

    1) I was to read a “Fax sent out by the EW to my child’s solicitor ,asking him , a question about ……. an i presume that blah de blah de blah an so it goes.

    2) This was dated all before ,my medical notes had arrived at the solicitors, or she the expert had a chance to even read them more important

    3) My solicitor specifically sent out instructions to all 3 experts an as all experts were told , don’t contact other experts. One was the exception an sent a FAX anyway …..

    4) The NHS medical data is in order as you visit appointments, another excuse the notes were not in order …

    5) What I have is incurable bowel disease UC to be precise .I present as an acute patient when it flares up,an in some cases . I need to be see in A & E as a priority case

    6) my experience of the NHS is that its changed .
    7) I would recommend parents as clients to read an request all in house faxes, an emails begin sent out in early days of court trial

    8) I continue to be treated to this day ,an have up to date evidence of ongoing disease which is active, So I wonder what this so called EW would say now about her opinion,just by looking at me,that I have never had this disease?

    9) I even return on a regular basis to the same hospital that she works in as a child Pysch an my consultant works one floor below her.

    10) So it would seem that the NHS has a few more flaws to consider when it comes down to it,

    11) it is not very long,when this happens. other parents want to talk to me about these same experts, media want to talk to me an see the evidence to support what am saying.

    Parents are very quickly,being contacted by other parents who had these experts, we shared their confidential reports during seeking advice as MKFs for court.

    An we don’t use faxes , we are up to speed on the current uses ,an templates being used for court to use for reports ……

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