CLE15: Reflections (PH)

by Pamela Henderson on 21/06/2015

Our CLE 2015 Conference is drawing to a close.  My co-blogger, Paul, will have the honour of posting our final blog entry, so watch out for that.  In the meantime, we have Prof. Patricia Leighton, co-director of LERN UK, bringing formal proceedings to a graceful close.  LERN has done a huge amount of work in the UK in supporting new researchers in the area of legal education.  Thank you to LERN and to Pat.

Pat explained where her reflections are coming from.  Her primary role is not to be part of the legal system/profession per se; she works largely with non-lawyers, including in FranceGermany and the Netherlands.

Pat acknowledged that a conference on access to justice is very timely as we are in a state of huge change and facing dramatic challenges in terms of how we respond to those challenges. What those challenges are,  how they impact upon access to justice, and what is the role of legal educators and lawyers in mitigating negative impacts, formed the theme of Pat’s presentation.

The role of legal educators in equipping students with the skills, perspectives and appreciation of the context of people accessing justice is considerable.  We are taking students a long way from where they have traditionally been (e.g. a didactic approach to teaching law), and involving them in activities that develop their skillset and emotional intelligence, such that they can engage with, and confront, systemic issues and limitations on individual access to justice.  Pat challenged us to ask ourselves whether we are becoming less quiescent and, if so, how far has social media influenced this?  Are we more willing, as a society, to challenge the actions of government or the legal system  On the other hand, has there been too much demand for, and focus on, de-regulation, at the expense of professionalism?  Have we begun to associate law and regulation with ‘red tape’, with its negative connotations, and losing sight of the legal protection that they afford to individuals.  Pat drew our attention to the fact that accidents at work are increasing in the UK, for the first time in many years, and there may be a link between this and our rush to de-regulation and claimed elimination of red tape.    She also reminded us of topical issues, such as certain decisions not to prosecute alleged high profile paedophiles, or the expansion of phone tapping and the snooper’s charter.  South Africa recently failed to hand over Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court in circumstances that many would consider to be embarrassing and undermining for the South African legal system.  Pat is clearly challenging us to reflect on what might be seen as societal apathy and a lack of accountability and collective responsibility.

Pat commented on how we are heading into a (near) future where legal services will be delivered by many different legal practitioners.  Pat also spoke about the ability of people to promote and pressurise for major change, facilitated by the internet and social media that can engage individuals with each other in ways we have never experienced before.  What are the implications here for access to justice?  On the one hand, there may be an emerging body of purported lawyers, but they may not all have a legal contextual background or the professionalism of the traditional legal professions.  On the other hand, social media and online petitions etc hand considerable power to the populace to campaign for change.  It is hard to imagine the European Citizens’ Initiative being at all viable without the latter!

Pat also discussed issues around barriers to access to the legal profession and the legal education itself.  We had a whistle top tour of the old common law writ system, that supported the development of law and thus expanded access to justice, built on a consumer-driven model.  Power to the people!  Nowadays, developing law and responding to changes in society is driven by Parliament (and the political party in power) rather than by individuals.

Of course, as Pat says, some academics may dine out on the fact that their textbook or other output may be cited in the Court of Appeal.  However, as she says, that is actually rare, so while we may like to acknowledge our influence on the development of law and judicial action, is it particularly significant?  Are we really so effective as change agents?  Pat appears to think not (ouch).

Pat reflected on the papers that have been delivered over the last three days and highlighted the links between the following, which have been so clearly and almost uniquely articulated in this Conference:

  • Pedagogy – the way we deliver courses – access to justice

She also commented on the friendliness and collaborative atmosphere of the Conference, which has facilitated the ready exchange of ideas and experiences.  There is much for everyone to take away on our theme and we should recognise that we are, in a way, a valuable resource for each other.

But Pat also had a word of advice for us:  there have been so many wonderful presentations on different things that we have been doing, but please can we have research into this, evaluate its effectiveness, reflect on it, be hard nosed and expose it to serious critique i.e. prove whether our good ideas are actually working.

Come to learn:  we will free you (at least to some extent)!




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