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Review: Barnett’s Constitutional and Administrative Law

Review: Barnett’s Constitutional and Administrative Law

Hilaire Barnett’s tenth edition of Constitutional and Administrative Law comes with something completely new – an interactive edition of the textbook that gives you access to an ‘enhanced’ version of the text. The enhanced version gives you the full textbook whether you’re online, offline or on a range of portable devices for 12 months – plenty of time to study public law, do the exam and celebrate your result. However, is this new addition to our study resources user friendly? I found out and gave the whole thing a read to see how good a textbook it really is.

The book itself

Considering this is the tenth version of this book, you would expect it to be well set out and comprehensive, and it definitely is. Each chapter has a useful mini contents page so you can navigate your way through each section without the need to endlessly flick through each page or trawl through the index. The headings are all set out clearly against the body of the text, as are quotations which stand out in blue font. Although the main headings aren’t differentiated greatly from subheadings, as they are both in blue, I think they are just about clear enough. It makes a difference to see some colour in our usually drab and dense legal texts! All case names are set out in bold, allowing your eye to skip over the page to find those important cases easily.

Considering this is the tenth version of this book, you would expect it to be well set out and comprehensive, and it definitely is.

Another useful thing that I haven’t seen in many texts are the helpful ‘follow-up’ arrows next to the paragraphs. This means that if you’re reading an introductory paragraph that refers to a concept that is set out in more detail later, the chapter reference is given to you as you are reading so you can move from one part of the book to another with ease and you don’t have to look it up in the index. It seems everything in this edition is set out so the reader can find what they are looking for as quickly as possible – reducing the amount of time we have to spend in the library, of course.

In terms of content and coverage of the major public law concepts, there is a brilliant section – in fact an entire chapter – on the rule of law and what it means. Considering this is something that permeates every area of both domestic and international law, it is refreshing to see it covered comprehensively, rather than simply a quotation from AV Dicey. Though maybe a little too detailed for a first year law student, there are also sections on the rule of law as a philosophical doctrine and a political theory. These would be useful for any of those students undertaking jurisprudence or the more political modules available in many final year option lists. For those interested in international law, this chapter also compares and contrasts different countries’ concepts of the rule of law – an interesting read even if you aren’t studying it.

You can also rest assured that this version is as up-to-date as possible, with the problems caused by the 2010 hung parliament and subsequent coalition government being dealt with in the relevant chapters.

The eTextbook

The interactive eTextbook is available via a code printed in the textbook and gives you access to the enhanced version of the textbook for 12 months. The eTextbook includes features such as timelines, hyperlinks, interactive exercises to help you test yourself and updates on the ever-changing legislation surrounding public law.

After going to the specified address, you need to register with the site. Thankfully, this can be done quickly and is rather painless. In order to read the book offline, you can follow the links to download the Bookshelf application, available for a surprising number of platforms including Macs, PCs, iOS, Android and Kindle Fire. Once it’s up and running, and you input the incredibly long code, you can redeem your textbook and it appears instantly on the online site, with only a few minutes wait for it to download to your desktop for offline browsing.

You have the entire content there at your disposal without having to carry around the hefty textbook.

Admittedly, it is a bit annoying to have to register when the physical textbook is in front of you, but once you access this enhanced edition you see why it will be so useful. You have the entire content there at your disposal without having to carry around the hefty textbook. A particularly useful tool is the option to highlight different parts of the texts in different colours depending on what it relates to in your study. For example, depending on whether it relates to your exam, is just important or needs clarification, you have a colour to highlight for each cateogry. In addition, all your highlights are automatically listed under the ‘Highlights’ tab so they are easy to find – essentially you can make your own condensed textbook with only the crucial details. There is also an option to make notes after you highlight something and both are colour coded depending on the tag you have chosen.

For those of you who are worried (as I would be) about the efficacy of reading a large textbook on a computer screen, you can increase the size of the text if you are having trouble – an improvement on dealing with small font in the physical version. The offline software allows you to change the font and page background colours to one that is comfortable for you. It’s clear that the offline version has a few more helpful settings and is a bit easier to use than the online version as everything is set-out in front of you – there’s not much need for hunting in menus here. A great feature is that your highlights and notes are automatically synced across your account, so anything you change in the offline version will appear immediately in your online version or the version on your iPad.

Verdict

I was surprised by how useful the eTextbook was. In the past I’ve always neglected these resources in favour of sticking to the pages in front of me. However, the options given to highlight, comment and search the book are too good to miss out on. Whilst reading a textbook on the screen may take some getting used to, it is almost guaranteed that you won’t regret the time you have spent doing so. As for the textbook itself, it is one that you can feel confident in; it covers the important public law concepts in detail, whilst still being clear and concise.

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