[This post also appears on Ed Lines, my blog about learning in law, and beyond.]
I am looking forward to participating in the workshop ‘Re-imagining the Teaching of Criminal Law’ at the University of Birmingham in September. The event is being hosted by CEPLER, the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research, and big thanks go to Dr Imogen Jones for organising.
I am presenting in one of the sessions; the title of my presentation is ‘The place of criminal law in contemporary legal education’. Here’s my abstract:
I would like to test out a few ideas in this session. I will suggest that identifying the essential and distinctive features of ‘criminal law’ is difficult; the boundaries between what counts as criminal law and what does not are elusive. As a consequence, any claim for the place of criminal law in legal education has to be hedged with the caveat that ‘criminal law’ is a contestable term. I will argue that this contestability should be viewed positively. It can lead us to an intellectually rich and practically relevant account of criminal law, in which the relationships among, for example, substantive doctrine; rules of procedure and evidence; philosophy; ethics; criminal justice policy; and other areas of law, can be made clear and can be valued as part of the ‘mainstream’ study of the subject.
The Legal Education and Training Review, and current issues regarding access to justice and the contemporary provision of legal services, provide an interesting context for reflection on these issues. I will consider whether criminal law is, despite the difficulties in identifying with certainty what it actually comprises, an aspect of the irreducible core of what it means to be a ‘lawyer’, and is an indispensable component of legal education more broadly. I will work through some possible implications for curriculum and learning design which flow from the positions one might take on these issues, and will reflect on whether my arguments in relation to criminal law might have resonance in relation to other areas of legal education.