Battle of the bibles: Archbold v Blackstone’s feud reignites

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By Thomas Connelly on

Top judge faces questions over his involvement in courts’ decision to ditch popular practitioners’ text

A battle for supremacy between two leading criminal law textbooks has resurfaced thanks to Sir Brian Leveson.

In the red corner, Archbold Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice. Weighing in at hefty 2.64kg, it is published by Sweet & Maxwell and costs an eye watering £395. In the blue corner, Blackstone’s Criminal Practice. The lighter of two, it weighs 2.58kg, costs £375 and is published by Oxford University Press.

So what’s the book related beef? Well, since 1822 judges and lawyers would usually refer to Archbold during criminal trials. Then, in July last year, a group of judges — including Queen’s Bench Division president Leveson — decided that the popular practitioners’ text should be replaced by the much newer Blackstone’s.

The decision, which apparently saves the courts around £100,000 a year, upset some lawyers who were fans of Archbold, and created confusion when both texts were referred to during criminal trials.

Now over a year on, the decision to ditch Archbold has been called into question after it emerged that Leveson is a member of Blackstone’s editorial advisory team. On this point, a spokesperson for the Judicial Office told The Times (£):

Sir Brian did not specifically recuse himself from discussion of the issue in judicial executive board. As is apparent from the first page of Blackstone’s, and was both known to the Lord Chief Justice and common knowledge, Sir Brian is (along with 13 others) an unremunerated editorial adviser to Blackstone’s.

Debate reignited, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) is seeking the thoughts and views of its members on the matter. In a message posted by association chair Angela Rafferty it said:

Many of our members have expressed concern that the change of official text was brought in quite suddenly and with little thought for those who use these books every day.

Concern has also been expressed that the minutes of the meeting where it was decided to switch to Blackstone’s have not been released, with the Judicial Office maintaining that it is under no obligation to do so.

Expect further battles as what is being dubbed the ‘Game of Tomes’ rumbles on.

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