Bar acts to prevent listing monopoly

The Bar Council is appealing for someone to take over a loss-making court listing service, to eliminate the threat of one supplier dominating the market.

The Bar is concerned that Court New Service (CNS) – one of four suppliers contracted by the Court Service last year to provide an online court listing service – is on the verge of becoming a monopoly.

CNS, which downloads crown court lists to PCs via a terrestrial broadcast channel, has proved popular, with about 70 chambers currently using the service, and it has plans to expand dramatically.

Its main competitor, CLLIX, which was taken over by Applied Computer Expertise (ACE) last April, is due to cease operating at the end of this month because it is costing the company "thousands of pounds a month", according to Stephen Murphy, sales and marketing manager of ACE.

Sweet & Maxwell, the other supplier to get a system up and running, offers a free but limited service, which the Bar Council feels does not compare.

The contracts were awarded on an exclusive basis and do not expire until the end of 1998.

A Bar Council spokesman said it was concerned about CNS having a monopoly over the listing service. It is hoping that someone will step in to the market, possible a company which offers other information services and could cross-subsidise the list facility.

The Bar has sent out a questionnaire to all its members to establish the potential market for another service.

But CNS managing director Nat Gibson said the Bar Council was unnecessarily upset. He commented: "A monopoly cannot overcharge – people would not accept it."

Gibson is planning to expand CNS, with tests for a new county court listing service starting next week and plans to introduce one for High Court cases.

He said he was intending to create the "world's first comprehensive legal news agency", which he hoped would include court lists, case summaries and Law Society information.