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General Update / PhD Thesis Submitted

There has been somewhat of a lengthy gap since I last posted anything here, mainly due to the last few months being the busiest I have ever had in some eight years at UWS. Since my last post I have been working in Rwanda, London, Aberdeen, Tilburg, the Hague, and will be travelling back to Rwanda in four weeks time. Lecturing, and in particular marking during the February – June semester was also significantly busier than had been predicted at the start of the year, leaving me little time for additional activities such as writing here.

Then came the summer and although I have taken a significant amount of annual leave, in reality I have only had one (yes one) week off since June, with the rest of annual leave having been taken in order to completely ignore all other work matters and concentrate on nothing else other than completing my PhD thesis (on the subject of contempt of court in facie curiae, courtroom environment, courtroom behaviour, Human Rights law, comparative law, and other linked areas). And so, for three weeks of annual leave taken I was in reality physically in my office with the door locked simply working in private. I am delighted to say that I successfully completed my thesis and submitted it just before the end of August. This should now be in the process of being sent to examiners to consider prior to a viva examination hopefully sometime around November.

Trying to complete a PhD whilst working full time has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do in a working sense, especially so with the exceptionally limited time that one is able to devote to it in reality during any of the teaching semesters. I would never say to anybody not to embark on this same endeavour, however I would make it absolutely clear that it will eat into your personal time significantly, it will require significant dedication and self-motivation, and it will in all likelihood leave you both physically and mentally exhausted at points. BUT – once it is all over, even in advance of any sort of result or feedback, it will feel worth it when you have a final bound thesis, effectively a finished book, in your hands, knowing that it was something that you created (albeit with some assistance) all by yourself.

Of course, whatever the result, good or bad, I will post here with an update in due course once the thesis has been examined and viva taken place.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Great Britain – Review – Theatre Royal – Haymarket – London

An unusual post for my blog, but one that I think is appropriate. Every time I go to London on external examiner duty for the University of Westminster, I make sure that I get the chance to see something at the theatre. Usually I’ll try to see something that is either political / legal in nature if there is anything in that genre. Luckily when I was in London on work during this past week, I was able to get a ticket to see the opening night of ‘Great Britain’ at the Theatre Royal on Haymarket on Tuesday 9th September.

 

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The production, written by Richard Bean, had previously held a successful run at the smaller Lyttelton Theatre during the summer months, and I was interested to see what all the fuss was about. Essentially the production is a satire on the ‘News of the World’ scandal and Leveson inquiry, however it has strong elements beyond this that focus on both political and police corruption and incompetence. As such, whilst the humour is excetionally strong, equally for those that choose to see beyond the comedy, there are real moments that give you pause for thought regarding both individual morality and modern human nature in general.

The way the production is structured is that the majority takes place in the newsroom of fictional tabloid newspaper ‘The Free Press’, with characters including the Murdoch-esque Proprietor played by Dermot Crowley, the vulgar editor played by Robert Glenister, and arguably the main character – Paige Britain (played by Lucy Punch), who is a ruthless up and coming news editor, who has frighteningly high ambitions to go as far as running the country from the murky shadows of the press by manipulating the leader of the Conservative party (Rupert Vansittart). Paige will stop at absolutely nothing to further her career and personal aspirations. Her journey takes us through initially minor areas such as employing people to go through the bins of celebrities, to more serious areas such as blackmailing members of the ‘Leveson’ committee who were investigating her conduct. The out of control spiral leads to the corruption of the previously clean Assistant Commissioner of the Police (Ben Mansfield), and eventually being caught after hacking the phones of fictionally abducted and killed twin children, and the suicide of their father after he was mistakenly arrested for their murder based on news reports stemming from Paige and her publication.

 

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All of the cast without exception were perfectly cast in their roles – there was nobody who was utterly dislikable or without some sort of redeeming quality, even if it was simply admiration for having such courage of their convictions that they were if nothing else entirely honest with themselves. Undoubtedly though there were two stars of the show – Lucy Punch as Paige Britain, and Aaron Neil as the Police Commissioner. Whilst I have said a fair amount about Paige, as yet I have not discussed the Commissioner, who is characterised as little more than a puppet, but one who is unaware that this is the role he plays. He genuinely tries his best, but is simply clueless and in over his head. By far and away the best one-liners come from the Commissioner, and Neil’s delivery is absolutely first class. Little bits of detail such as the playing on the screen of modern phenomena such as ‘youtube’ videos that people have edited of his press conference announcements in the form of a mocking ‘music video’ genuinely add something to the performance, and had the audience in hysterics.

As mentioned earlier however, it is not all about the comedy. There were undertones of morality and reflections of real life corruption present, undoubtedly deliberately, throughout the show. Most of these were genuine areas that would make you think, such as; were the police really that terrified of the media prior to Leveson that they would have evidence but cover it up for fear of being portrayed in a bad light? Is whistleblowing, when made to the press and not the authorities truly ‘corruption’? (This I think I could write a blog on its own right in, so I’ll not answer the question) What really are the limits of freedom of expression and the ‘public interest’? In particular we have to reflect on the lengths some people go to just to achieve fame, and where does it really lead when we are faced with the character of Stella (Kellie Shirley), a young aspiring glamour model, who starts off agreeing to drop a dress size and have cosmetic surgery before being given a contract as a ‘page 7’ model, and eventually is accepting a large fee for the newspaper to have exclusive rights to her death inevitably coming as a result of an eating disorder.

One area that I do think was misguided, and for me did not really work was late on the performance when Paige took centre stage to ‘tell’ the audience that we didn’t really care about phone hacking when it was all about the celebrity gossip, and we only cared when there was a moral outrage over the eventual hacking of the dead children’s phones. Paige laments that had the hacking resulted in the children being found alive then she would have been a hero, but as in reality it only led to headlines and the arrest / suicide of the father she was painted as a villain. This monologue is an attempt to make the audience feel uncomfortable about their morality as it forcefully asserts unequivocally that we ‘all’ were guilty of this. I for one have never thought celebrity gossip of the nature put across by the tabloids is okay, nor have I ever thought that phone hacking etc. were ever acceptable as I believe that people have a right to a private and family life. Perhaps however this is due to my roots as a lawyer, and the fact that I have taken an active interest in issues relating to press activities and regulation since I taught media law for three years, and still act as an external examiner in the subject.

 

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Of course, eventually it all comes crashing down around Paige, the Commissioner, and most of the other characters who had been corrupted, though the twist at the end is shown as Paige, following her inappropriately lenient punishment, manages to find huge celebrity herself as the host of a US talk show purely as a result of her former infamy, making the audience wonder, is there ever truly a way out of the sleaze, or will the cycle forever be perpetuated.

Overall, this was a superb production that should appeal to a wide demographic (though definitely NOT appropriate for children due to both the subject matter and the coarse language throughout), with a number of levels of comedy, satire, political commentary, and self-reflection. If you are in a position to see this, take the chance while you can.

I would definitely rate it as five out of five.

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Practical / Clinical Education of Undergraduate Students in Law, Criminology, and Criminal Justice

It occurred to me a short time ago that having presented a short(ish – it’s circa 4,000 words) paper at the 2011 Higher Education Academy 3rd Annual Legal Education conference in Edinbugh, I never edited my paper for publication. Now some three years later it would likely be too late for this, however in order to ensure that what I discussed does not vanish into oblivion, I feel that my blog site is an ideal place to self publish. Please note that this is unedited, and so I apologise for any minor (or major!) typos, awkward sentence structures, and other errors!

 

Law, Criminology, and Criminal Justice Education: Skills and Engagement: The ‘MiniTrial’ project: Engaging pupils and students in mooting and other mock courtroom exercises.

Introduction

Education and teaching; the pedagogical side of things that Higher Education Institutions do on a day to day basis has always interested me, although it gradually began to interest me more and more as I completed my own postgraduate certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education between 2008 and 2010, when having to hold discussions with other lecturers and tutors about their teaching methods, and having to complete assessments relating to issues such as innovative teaching and assessment methods, engaging students whether in large or small groups etc.

I’ll be the first to admit that at that stage as a young lecturer, having only started teaching in 2007, this was not something I had until that point put a great deal of thought into. I was taught using lectures, tutorials and seminars therefore I taught using lectures, tutorials and seminars. I was assessed through examinations, essays and oral presentations therefore I assessed my students using examinations, essays and oral presentations.

The problem with this is of course, that whilst developing skills in writing essays and presenting information (as well as the associated research skills) is important and useful, it often does not go far enough in developing specific practical skills that lawyers and criminal justice professionals have to use throughout their careers. Nor does it really engage students with the subject area in any meaningful way beyond basic theory.

The Amsterdam Article of the Future

There is a wonderful article written by Anthony G. Amsterdam, who is a Professor of Law at New York University School of Law for those of you that may well not have heard of him, that was published in the Journal of Legal Education in 1984, stemming from a presentation he made at the National Conference on Legal Education and the Profession – Approaching the 21st Century, with the title ‘Clinical Legal Education – A 21st Century Perspective’. I would of course highlight that this is an American paper, however this does not make any difference as the areas from the paper that I would highlight are transferrable to legal and criminal justice educational debates in any jurisdiction around the world. What is particularly strong and relevant within this paper, is that the theme of this HEA conference is about ‘approaching the 21st century’, the very position that Amsterdam adopted in his writing. This may appear initially to be confusing as the paper itself was published in 1984, however to illustrate, here is the way in which the author explained the issue;

I can put behind us certain debates that bedevilled legal education at the end of the twentieth century. These debates had to do with so-called skills training and clinical legal education – what they were all about and whether they should be taught in law school…. Now that we are in the enlightened twenty-first century, I can happily assume that they have been resolved… please recall that I speak for twenty first century ears, not twentieth.[1]

From the above, it should be clear to you that Amsterdam was writing from when he rather idealistically hoped we as educators would have reached almost a Utopian standard, where all problems with law, criminology and criminal justice education have been swept aside. I’m sure you’ll agree that we have of course now reached that point…. or maybe not….

So, with a reflective outlook then, it is useful to analyse this article to assess the key points that Amsterdam discussed, and then try to compare them with the actual reality of the situation as it stands today.

From the outset, it should become obvious where we are going with this when look to the very first point Amsterdam discusses from his ‘twenty-first century’ perspective which is:

…one of the principal ways in which legal education at the end of the twentieth century was too narrow. In those days the criticism was often voiced that legal education was too narrow because it failed to teach students how to practice law, failed to develop in them practical skills necessary for the competent performance of lawyers’ work. We now realise that this criticism… concealed a deeper more valid one… (That legal education) failed to develop in students ways of thinking within and about the role of lawyers – methods of critical analysis, planning, and decision making which are… the conceptual foundations for practical skills…[2]

He goes on to say after debunking twentieth century thinking:

In the twenty-first century we realise, of course, that a major function of law schools is to give students systematic training in effective techniques for learning law from the experience of practicing law.[3]

Now, Amsterdam then goes on to discuss the merits of clinical legal education and in my opinion everything he said, now some thirty years later was and still is valid relating to all law, criminology and criminal justice undergraduate education. The question I would pose at this moment is:

Do you think that now as we stand in the real twenty first century that we have actually competently addressed and resolved these issues on a consistent basis in HEI’s across Scotland?

I would like to clarify, that of course there will be individual examples of good practice in some individual law, criminology and criminal justice modules of some HEI’s, and so universal failure is not an assertion, however through my research what I am asserting is that the examples of good practice are neither the majority, nor indeed consistently applied in HE in Scotland.

An example of a good practice initiative is the Law Wise Law Clinic at the University of the West of Scotland. This was set up in 2010 jointly by Dale McFadzean, one of the organisers of this HEA conference and various members of the Renfrewshire Law Centre in Paisley, and has been a success with positive feedback from all concerned, including the staff at the law centre and the students who have taken part. For this initiative, students in their degree or honours year of the BA (Hons) Law may apply through competitive interview process for a position at the clinic, and if successful will spend a day a week working in the law centre on both administrative tasks as well as assisting in conducting client interviews. This is a good example of the development of clinical legal skills – i.e. what lawyers actually do on a day to day basis. It is hoped that in the future, similar initiatives may be created for other degrees in similar areas at UWS such as the BA (Hons) Criminal Justice.

The problem remains though, that in spite of being a successful initiative, the practical training is still only one day a week, for one trimester in one year of a degree, at one Institution. Is this really enough?

Some educators may quite rightly point out in the past that various professional and practical skills specific to legal education were covered in what would have been the diploma in legal practice, and then further through CPD, now of course the equivalent argument might be presented in the context of PEAT 1 & 2. I would argue to rebut that however that I firmly do not believe that effectively a ‘crash course’ in legal practice is enough to teach and then develop these skills. Likewise, when it comes to specific practical skills in different areas of criminology and criminal justice, many of these are left until either Master level, or indeed not taught at all and left up to the industries taking on graduate trainees.

To illustrate why I do not believe that these current ideas of leaving practical training to this stage is unsuitable, I would highlight this example: It is well established educational fact that ‘cramming’ before an exam only leads to short term memory retention of the concepts in question, and that only long term learning and contextual understanding actually leads to full retention and ability to properly apply that knowledge. It is my assertion that teaching specific law, criminology and criminal justice skills, and engagement of students with the key concepts of these areas, should be viewed in the very same light as this. A one year ‘crash course’ at diploma or masters level may allow us to assess students and the majority to pass the test, however will they really after this be ready to take on the challenge of going straight into employment within the fields of law or criminal justice with well-rounded and fully developed skills? I do not believe so. As professionals in Higher Education, we can and should be doing better in this regard.

Indeed it seems that those at the top of assessing what makes a graduate suitable for employment specifically in the area of law are beginning to take note of many of the points made here. When I was given the task in 2010 of evaluating a variety of modules for a prospective LL.B degree validation recently at UWS, and having to align those modules with the most recent Law Society of Scotland foundation programme accreditation guidelines, I noted that in the most recent iteration of the criteria (in force since 2010), that specifically within the ‘Skills’ section of the required outcomes which now all qualifying law degrees must meet, these are two of the specific outcomes:

  • Apply knowledge and analysis

o   Creatively to complex situations in order to provide arguable solutions to concrete problems by presenting a range of viable options from a set of facts and law.

And;

  • In all formats demonstrate an ability to address the resolution of disputes by a variety of adversarial and non-adversarial skills.

So in what way is this all relevant then, and where is this heading? Well let me refer back again to Amsterdam, in conjunction with the criticisms I have asserted of the current situation with law, criminology and criminal justice education in Higher Education. Amsterdam was saying in his position of looking back from a fictional twenty-first century, that we now, actually being in the twenty-first century should realise that students will effectively learn about areas such as law, criminology and criminal justice most effectively by actually practicing the law. One of the main objections that educators and programme designers may well cite is that they simply don’t have access to a facility such as the Renfrewshire Law Centre, who are willing to enter into a collaboration Neither do they actually have the ability to send a large number of their students into any other relevant firm or criminal justice organisation in order to develop these skills relevant to professional practice.

However this is overcomplicating the issue, as of course for many years our students have in fact being developing these skills themselves, albeit often on a purely voluntary basis through their student law and criminal justice societies. In this regard I am referring to specific activities such as mooting and making use of mock court facilities, when the students will prepare and argue out in practice a fictional adversarial case, often based on real life examples. This is an option that I believe should not in fact be an option. I firmly believe that in order to at least on some level make consistent across law, criminology and criminal justice education the need to develop relevant practical skills, that mooting should be built in to the programme design for all qualifying law degrees, as well as any criminology or criminal justice degree where the student should expect upon gaining employment that they will have to regularly liaise in some way with the criminal justice system (or indeed civil courts). At the most basic level, this practice can be built in to tutorial exercises, where students role-play the parts of prosecution and defence lawyers (if law students), or ordinary or expert witnesses (if criminology or criminal justice students). Perhaps even more appropriately, these exercises can even be used as a form of summative assessment for relevant modules (examples being Criminal Law, Evidence, Family Law, Criminology, Criminal justice, Victimology etc.).

Some anecdotal evidence for you about this purely based on my own personal experience: As discussed earlier, I only began fully considering these types of issues relating to law, criminology and criminal justice education to a serious extent in 2010, and the mooting idea was one grabbed my attention. I had just taken over as coordinator of the UWS BA (Hons) Law degree’s third year ‘Law of Evidence’ module, and put in place a strategy leading towards potentially using mooting as a means of summative assessment. In order to see if it would work as part of an assessment strategy however, rather than leap in head first, I decided in that first year to run the mooting exercises as tutorials only. For the module I ran alternate sessions – one week it would be standard problem questions and mooting preparation questions / legal research in teams, the next week it would be the physical moot where I would act in the capacity of the Judge. This rotated so that by the end of the module, the students had taken part in four separate moots, yet still carried out their other necessary problem based examination preparation style tutorial questions.

In order to assess the impact of this format on the module and to help to ascertain if it was viable to carry this forward for assessment I handed out standard anonymous ‘stop, start, continue’ evaluation forms toward the end of the module – and these are just some of the positive responses I received from the students in the ‘continue’ section:

The moots are a good way of going over the material and are enjoyable. It gives us an opportunity to practice legal skills.

Mooting – a good way to put into practice what we have been taught.

The use of the moot style set-up is extremely beneficial to students.

Having mooting in our tutorials – it allows us to put theory into practice.

The structure of the tutorials (mooting) has given us all a good experience.

Tutorial structure – this is more enjoyable than to just answer a few questions. It is easy to copy a textbook or lecture notes to give an answer, the mooting requires the student to have an understanding of the module material and allows them to develop their practical skills in relation to the material.

The mooting is the best way of learning. I have learned so much from researching and applying areas of law learned within tutorials.

Mooting in tutorials. It is a better learning experience for the student and gives the student a better understanding of the law.

Continue the mooting in tutorials as I’ve never done this before and it is a good experience.

From this feedback as well as how smoothly the mooting sessions all ran, I have taken the decision to progress the mooting to form part of the summative assessment in 2011 / 2012, as it was clear that on the basis of my own trial, the students not only felt that they were developing their practical skills, but that they also appeared to be more engaged with both the module material, and also wider areas of the law and education as a result. Of course I could not yet draw any conclusions on the success or failure of the assessment method yet, as this would involve my having to adopt Amsterdam’s position as being in a fictional future in order to do that, however I cannot foresee at this stage any real barriers or problems that don’t also exist with other more generic forms of assessment such as general group work or oral presentations, and can only see the positives to both the student experience and also the development of both skills and engagement.

Engagement

Of course until this point, the coverage has been mainly focussed on skills issues with only really a fleeting mention of engagement until the anecdote about my own teaching experiences. So I would now like to discuss engagement in a more detail.

It may not be the case in all Higher Education Institutions, however I have discussed with acquaintances in other institutions certainly the issue of engagement, or rather disengagement. This can either be lack of engagement with the individual subject, or indeed lack of engagement with the law in a wider context. As such, I think that this is something that should be addressed in a bit of detail.

The main question I would have is: Why is there this disengagement and how can we engage students better?

What I would say is this: Get them engaged earlier!

When pupils move on from high school to become students in FE and HE, in many cases they have some degree of contextual background to base their choice of course and subject area on. Degrees in natural sciences and engineering all have a background in sciences and technical subjects taught in schools. Degrees in English, Mathematics, History, Geography and Languages can all be chosen based on subjects pupils have covered in schools. Even for degrees in management there are a range of both standard grade and higher grade subjects that can be taken at a number of schools in Scotland.

But what about law, criminology and criminal justice? Where is the contextual background for students who decide to go on and study any of these areas once they leave school? I would assert that the majority of law, criminology or criminal justice issues that students will have encountered before attending university will have been more relating to law enforcement and courtroom dramas such as Taggart, CSI, Law and Order etc. rather than them basing their decision to study their chosen area on real life relevant and accurate representations of the varied aspects of the world around us in these areas. Once many students actually then begin their undergraduate studies, it is not uncommon to see many visibly detach and disengage as they realise that law, criminology and criminal justice are not all about murders, solving crimes at a fast pace, and shouting in a courtroom, but that there are many more intricate, though perhaps in the mind of a young law student not ‘exciting’ aspects to these areas.

This disengagement is simply wrong, and is something that must be addressed.

There are two initiatives that spring to mind that have taken steps to alleviate this problem in some way, one in England and Wales, and one in Scotland.

In England and Wales there is the ‘Lawyers in Schools’ initiative, which has been running now for twenty years. The policy statement relating to this initiative is:

Lawyers in Schools places legal professionals in the classroom to work with young people to develop their awareness and understanding of the law.[4]

In short, there is a formal structure in place at this organisation whereby specific law firms are paired with specific schools whereby the activities are:

We train the lawyer volunteers, who in turn visit the school that we partner them with. In teams, the volunteers lead small groups in six hour-long, interactive sessions on various aspects of the law.

Our education experts write the resources that the volunteers use. These are designed to foster debate and discussion, as well as to encourage critical thinking from the young people.

The sessions cover a range of legal topics and draw on the volunteers’ legal expertise. We support the volunteers throughout the programme, monitor and evaluate throughout the year and provide a full brokerage service between the business and the school.[5]

In addition to these activities, the Lawyers in Schools initiative also run two annual mock trial competitions for school children, the first is the Bar National Mock Trial competition, always based in a criminal law context, and the second is a Magistrates’ court mock trial competition.

So this initiative is in effect carrying out what I would propose all HE institutions ought to be doing in legal education i.e. teaching the theory, but crucially also encouraging the practice of the specific legal skills relating to that theory.

However in England and Wales this is not enough, as there is currently only coverage of about twenty law firms and eight hundred school pupils involved at this stage, a drop in the ocean comparative to the number of children in School up and down the country.

In Scotland, we have the Mini Trial initiative, which was founded by the Hon. Lord Kinclaven, and is described by the Faculty of Advocates as:

…an enjoyable way to learn about the Scottish legal system. They are mock court cases which secondary and primary school pupils act out, using materials devised by one of Scotland’s senior judges, the Hon. Lord Kinclaven.[6]

The structure is somewhat similar to that of the Lawyers in Schools initiative and is described in this way:

A single class or school can put on a MiniTrial.

There are also inter-school events. These take place regularly in real court-rooms at Airdrie, Ayr, Dundee, Edinburgh, Kilmarnock & Paisley through co-operation with the local Education Departments, Sheriffs, Sheriff Clerks, Procurators Fiscal, solicitors and advocates. It is hoped to extend them to other areas.

The Faculty of Advocates helps schools to put on MiniTrials, by providing advocates who volunteer to visit schools, offer guidance, and sometimes play the part of the judge.[7]

In addition to the actual Mini Trial courtroom exercises, there is a regular blog maintained that discusses many areas relevant to Scots law, criminal justice, legal education, and school education issues in general.

The success of these initiatives in England and Wales, and also Scotland, appears to be very high as the feedback from all concerned (pupils, teachers, lawyers and criminal justice professionals) has been very positive, however it has to be stressed that these initiatives are still only reaching a small proportion of schools and school pupils.

The reality though, is that all of these great efforts are still not enough, and I would assert the idea that to put law, criminology and criminal justice on an even footing with the various examples of subjects that link from school to further and higher education such as mathematics, English and sciences; education similar to what is currently being done on a small scale with initiatives such as the MiniTrial project should in the future be provided for within the national curriculum. Only by providing the correct context of law, criminology and criminal justice to the next generation and those that follow will we ensure that all (or at least a healthy majority) of our students will be capable of fully engaging from day one of their undergraduate studies. And combining this early education with uniform, skills based approaches to teaching, learning and assessment as I have suggested with the use of mooting and mock court exercises would in my opinion be the ideal way of tackling both the skills and engagement deficit that can be found in law schools up and down the country. Although in conclusion, perhaps I am being a little bit ‘Amsterdam’ in my optimism that this may happen in the near future.

[1] Amsterdam, Anthony G.; Clinical Legal Education – A 21st Century Perspective, 34 J. Legal Educ. 612 (1984)

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] Lawyers in Schools Website, Citizenship Foundation – Individuals Engaging in Society, September 2011, http://www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk/main/page.php?377

[5] ibid

[6] Mini Trials and the Faculty of Advocates, The Faculty of Advocates website; http://www.advocates.org.uk/minitrials.html

[7] ibid

 

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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January 2014 Update

It has been a while since I’ve had a chance to update the blog. The main reason for this has been the little gent in the picture here. Dylan William Moore was born on the 8th November 2013, and as I am sure you can all imagine, things have been a bit hectic since!

Born 8th November 2013

Born 8th November 2013

So it is all change as today (6th January 2014) was my first day in my new post as a lecturer in criminology and criminal justice at UWS, having now made the jump to the Criminal Justice group within the School of Social Sciences. Obviously having just started, I will be busy for a few weeks, however of course I will continue to post here as frequently as possible. One thing of note is that I am taking over coordinator responsibilities for the Victimology module in the honours year of the BA (Hons) Criminal Justice programme. Additionally, I am still writing up the research stemming from the HEA project, and anticipate a couple of publications between now and summer 2014.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Moving Employment (sort of) in January 2014

This is just a short update with some major news. I will be leaving the law group at the University of the West of Scotland in January 2014. I will not, however, be leaving the University, rather I am taking a sideways move away from the Business School within the Faculty of Business and Creative Industries, and moving into the School of Social Sciences within the Faculty of Health, Education and Social Sciences. There, my post will be specifically as a Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice within the Centre for Criminal Justice and Police Studies.

By 2014, I will have had a near sixteen year association with the Business School (and the same subject grouping prior to it being known as the Business School) of UWS (formerly University of Paisley), having initially been a student there as far back as 1998, then taking evening classes in the early – mid 2000s, full time postgraduate study after that, and then working within the School from 2007 to date. As such, it will of course be very sad and somewhat of a wrench to leave them. That said, I am immensely looking forward to taking on the fresh challenges that a move to another School and Faculty will bring. There are a number of exciting areas that the Criminal Justice and Police Studies group are involved in, which no doubt I will update within this blog as time goes on, and once settled into the new role after commencing it on Monday 6th January 2014.

Of course, any of you who have read my blog will know that Criminal Justice is not a new area for me to be involved in, having recently spent over a year working on an HEA project which involved familiarising two cohorts of students with the Scottish Criminal Justice process and observing a number of live court cases, albeit within the field of the laws of evidence. This is in addition to the fact that I have previously reviewed criminology and youth justice textbooks for the Scottish Legal Action Journal, and of course the area of my own PhD research is in common law contempt of court.

Although I will be finishing my current post and commencing my new one in eary January, I will still have a transition period, and will still have some responsibility and ties to my old group until the end of the 2013 / 2014 academic year as I will be setting and marking assessments for the current modules I am coordinator for, and will be continuing to supervise all of my dissertation students through to completion in summer 2014.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Contempt of court – Thesis coming soon

Many of you may or may not be aware that the Law Commission in England and Wales has been carrying out a review of the laws of contempt of court, a project / theme for them that is currently ongoing. Of course I will be very interested to read their findings in the future, however for the time being I am more concerned with my own review of the law in this area, a review I have been carrying out for nearly six years. I am now in the home straight, completing the final drafts in the final chapters of my Phd thesis, and wanted to provide a Foreword to it here, a summary or an abstract if you like.

As a starting point there is the title of the offence itself: Contempt of court… what images does this conjure up in your mind? What does the offence make you think of? Common themes might be an unruly witness or member of the public being dragged from the courtroom after shouting abuse at some other individual in the court or the judge himself. They meet with the wrath of the judge, who being annoyed at their conduct holds them in his contempt. The problem here, is that this commonly dramatised scenario simply serves to perpetuate the myth, the misonception of what exactly contempt of court is.

This is not even a contemporary issue alone, the issues over the term ‘contempt of court’ itself, and the attached misconceptions were recognised exactly 90 years ago, in 1923 in the case of Johnson v Grant (1923 SLT 501) by Lord President James Avon Clyde when he stated;

“The currency of the phrase…” (the name itself)”… is particularly regrettable…. It is not the dignity of the court which is offended – a petty and misleading view of the issue involved – it is the fundamental supremacy of the law which is challenged”

Clyde in the same case then provided a working definition of the offence, and it is still this definition after looking at hundreds of texts and cases that I deem to be most appropriate. This definition reads:

“The offence consists in interfering with the administration of the law; in impeding and perverting the course of justice.”

So as can be seen, the dignity of the court or judge himself is not relevant in the offence, it is the process of law, the process of justice being seriously impeded in some way that is the fundamental issue that forms the foundation of the offence. And yet…. and yet….

As mentioned, I have reviewed hundreds of texts and cases over a number of years in preparing my thesis and conclusions, and it is clear to see that in spite of the clear, concise and logical dicta from Lord President Clyde 90 years ago, that a great many legal professionals are still getting it wrong. I have discovered textbooks giving incorrect definitions and inappropriate examples, Judges incorrectly applying the law, and in general a lack of coherence and consistency across the board within the legal sphere whether in academia or in practice. This is something that must stop.

I have witnessed first hand the criminal justice system in Scotland when visiting multiple courts and observing many cases ranging from simple custody cases, to pre-trial hearings, all the way to High Court cases. It seems from these observations that on the whole contempt of court is being used as a threat rather than an offence in its own right. So even when individuals engage in a course of action that would match the necessary criteria to be classed as contempt of court, the offence is mooted, yet not actually followed through. In the age of budgetary constrictions and resource issues, when cases are constantly being deserted due to not reaching court in time and extensions to the time bar being exhausted and subsequent applications for extension refused, surely contempt of court should be treated more seriously to nip offences of this nature in the bud? We are talking about offences such as witness prevarication, witnesses not appearing when cited, disrupting the court etc.

On the other hand, what about those individuals who do find themselves in the situation where they may be held in contempt? Have they fully understood the potential consequences of their actions? Did they have any awareness that what they did (whatever it was) might have constituted an offence? One of the reasons that children below the age of 12 are not prosecuted in Scotland is that they cannot have mens rea – i.e. they cannot have a guilty mind, for various reasons, one of which is the lack of ability to foresee consequences. Another is the lack of capacity to understand the proceedings before them. But does this just apply to children? What about individuals with low general intelligence? Can they truly be said to be understanding the full intricacies of courtroom procedure and the justice process? Even with explanation from their legal counsel this could be problematic.

Going a step further, foreign nationals in court is an issue that has recently been discussed in the media with the two young ladies accused of being drug mules in Peru. Of course Peru’s justice system and court procedure is different to our own, will the girls know what is going on? Will this be taken into account? Many will bring out the old phrase ‘ignorantia juris neminem excusat’ – ignorance of the law is no excuse. But is this phrase even appropriate any more? In an age where there are literally thousands of statutes, combined with common law, not to mentione EU and other international obligations, how can any individual be truly certain that whatever they do in their daily life, whether civil or criminal might or might not constitute an offence? We already readily admit this within our courts, although coming from a different angle. Whereas our judges apply the law as they deem it appropriate, there are certain areas that our courts stray away from – foreign law when it is raised as an issue. Judicial knowledge held by the judge is deemed to include Scottish law, English law and EU law. Anything beyond that, it is deemed that our judges cannot apply as they cannot be expected to know every law from every jurisdiction. Taking this down a level, how can any ordinary individual be expected to know every law from our own land? It is an excellent ideal, but not a realistic one. So foreign nationals in our own courts, should there be any special dispensation? This is examined in detail.

And then there is general courtroom environment and behaviour. If the product of the court procedure is that an individual potentially finds themself in contempt, is this truly fair? To illustrate, Gerard O’Donovan summarised these issues in his article ‘Courtroom Appearance’ in 2005 where he stated:

“The courtroom environment is adversarial, and it is therefore highly charged…. It can be intimidating and potentially sabotaging.” O’Donovan goes on to say that “Courtroom behaviour… seeks to inflame emotions”.

So when the artificially created environment itself creates the atmosphere, and the professionals within it engage in behaviour that has the potential to lead to outbursts and the like, many of which could be regarded as contempt of court depending on the nature of the outburst, thus potentially making those legal professionals at least partly responsible and certainly morally culpable, is it tuly fair to then bring out the contempt ‘stick’ to beat the offender with?

I am not giving all of the answers here, merely posing the questions. The answers will be contained within my forthcoming thesis, along with many other linked isses not raised in this short introduction to my topic. Hopefully for anyone reading, this has been of some interest, and perhaps made you think about the offence in a different light.

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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