“There’s no such thing as ‘can’t’”

Former television presenter and journalist Gavin Campbell grew up in a house full of books, jazz, and intellectual discussion, and credits his parents for instilling his love of learning. His successful TV career brought him into contact with various aspects of the law, sparking an interest in human rights, criminal law, and in particular the uses and abuses of custody. He chose to pursue this further by undertaking an LLB at Birkbeck, which he graduated from this week aged 73, and in a new career as a paralegal.

He follows in his mother’s footsteps, who, despite leaving school at 14, was able to pursue her own scholarly interests later in life, gaining a BA from the Open University in her eighties. His father, having been seriously wounded at Dunkirk, spent much time in military hospitals studying, with a particular interest in the early Greek and Roman periods.

He says: “I think it was my parents’ attitudes to learning – to never be afraid to question that to think that one might be able to achieve something – that made me believe I could.”

He left Drama School to pursue acting work, before training as a journalist and joining the BBC’s current affairs unit, working on That’s Life, and other features and current affairs programmes. However it was his work as an investigative reporter which brought him into frequent contact with various aspects of the law and accelerated his interest in the subject.

“A short documentary that I reported on following the suicide of a young teenager at a Young Offender’s Institution, gave me an insight into and a further interest in the use of custody in the UK,” he remembers,  “an interest which has deepened and led to an undergraduate dissertation on Restorative Justice for my LLB at Birkbeck.”

“Although a tough regime in terms of the reading and essay writing, preparing for and attending lectures and seminars, I loved the subject and was hugely encouraged by some remarkable teachers.”

His advice for an older person who may be worried about starting university and whether they can make a go of it, he says, is simple and straightforward: “everyone has talent, and talent will out; it’s just a question of finding the right outlet for it. Ask yourself why you want to study. Finding the right subject  – something that fascinates you and you really have a need to find out about and explore  – is essential if you are going to be able to enjoy it and sustain the effort required over three or four years.”

“Everyone finds some aspects of study difficult, so don’t expect that there won’t be times when you think ‘I can’t get this’ – there will be. But don’t ever be afraid to ask for help – your Personal Tutor, the academic teaching the subject, your fellow students. There are always solutions; it’s just a question of getting help and advice to find them.”

“Lastly, and really importantly, make sure that you have the support of your family in undertaking a degree. Discuss it with them first, explaining what it is, why it’s so important to you to undertake it and what the likely and possible demands it may make on the family life are. Honesty is the very best policy here. A united, agreed start is the best start to studying.”

He is doubtful about whether he could have finished the degree without “the kindness, encouragement, help and support from the Birkbeck teaching and administrative staff,” who he says were central to his studies. “The inclusive and open atmosphere of Birkbeck and the sense of ‘you can’ is, I believe, perhaps the most important aspect of studying here. Never once was I told that I couldn’t, or that it would be too difficult. On the contrary, at every turn I was encouraged to continue, to work hard, to feel able to approach staff with a difficulty and seek a solution – and never to lose sight of the fact that there is no such thing as ‘can’t’”.

He is now working for a firm of solicitors with a practice focused on immigration, personal injury, public law and human rights, which he combined with his studies at Birkbeck. He is currently working on the Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry, where his firm represents many of the bereaved survivors and relatives of the 72 victims of the tragic fire.

Share
. Reply . Category: Law . Tags:

Retinal Justice: Rats, Maps, and Masks

On Thursday 2 May, the Department of Law welcomed Professor Peter Goodrich to give the department’s annual lecture on Retinal Justice: Rats, Maps, and Masks. Professor Goodrich is one of the co-founders of the School of Law at Birkbeck and in 2018 was elected an honorary fellow of the College.

Reader in Law and Political Theory, Dr Elena Loizidou and Professor of Law, Professor Adam Gearey reflected on the evening.

Dr Elena Loizidou: Images in the US are more and more an integral part of judicial judgement and moreover they produce what Professor Peter Goodrich calls an imago decidendi. In his lecture ‘Retinal Justice: Rats, Maps, and Mask’, Professor Peter Goodrich did not only guide us through ways of reading images in judgements, and called for the necessity of having an in court curator of images but gave us a lot to dream for. His powerful, enjoyable and humorous delivery facilitated even more the opening of the imagination.

I could not help, as somebody that is interested in seeing a social, legal and political transformation that at least undoes hierarchies, to imagine a time when judicial ‘pronouncements’ would be made of an assemblage of images that would be specific to the case that the court is handling. I could not stop myself of imagining that this has the potential of undermining the concept of the precedent and how this in turn may see the emergence of a system of adjudicating disagreements without the restrains of law, but emerging out of some other guidelines agreed by parties in dispute from case to case. One always lives in hope.

Professor Adam Gearey: Professor Peter Goodrich gave the Annual Law Lecture, ‘Retinal Justice: Rats, Maps, and Mask’. Professor Goodrich was one of the founders of the law school- and is presently an honorary fellow. There was certainly a sense of occasion, as alumni, students, staff and friends crowded into the basement lecture theatre. Peter Goodrich always gives a good show, and tonight was no different. One of the most interesting and important of contemporary legal philosophers, Professor Goodrich is also a fine performer. Sporting rainbow shoes, he paced the stage and banged on the projector screen for emphasis—a scholar and a dandy whose thinking exemplifies the rigour, intensity and playfulness that characterises thinking that is worth one’s attention.

Such a strange title! Professor Goodrich has long been interested in masks—his legal theory (hardly surprisingly) draws on ideas of drama and performance: the mask allows the actor to speak. It is an artifice or a convention that allows an audience to experience the drama as something ‘natural’. If masks allow actors to speak, then law allows subjects to speak by giving them a kind of structure or affiliation: man/woman/child – property owner; legatee, beneficiary, father, mother, citizen, criminal, holder of rights or duties etc. These features of law are ancient- and so- is the court’s concern with images. These are not just the images of law with which we are all familiar- but the way in which the law must adjudicate images. Professor Goodrich’s lecture primarily concerned images given in evidence; increasingly a central part of the court’s business. What conventions must the court invent to allow images to make sense forensically?

Hence ‘rats and maps’. The rat in question refers to an American case in which an image of a giant plastic rodent figured in the court’s reasoning. The maps evoked in the title are representations of title  to land — evidence often lead in property disputes. Retinal justice- then- describes how the court seeks to do justice using images.

Professor Goodrich’s point is that the courts are incredibly bad at reading images– often using them to merely illustrate words- or- misreading them altogether. It may be that the modern technologies of images have outpaced law’s imaginary (the rhetorical and semantic techniques law uses to encode the world in its own terms). But there is something stranger at stake. Images point elsewhere- compromising techniques that set out to control them. Certainly, in some religious traditions, the image threatens the understanding of divine truth. Other traditions carefully guard licenced images and rituals. What if the disturbing effects of images were also at work in law; disturbing the ways in which it judges the world? Professor Goodrich’s point is that this most ancient of problems haunts modern law. To engage with law and images is to think critically about the ways in which law makes claims about its authority and validates its operations. The disturbances wrought by images provoke us to think about different kinds of adjudication, and perhaps to see different kinds of affiliation: different ways of being and living. Professor Goodrich is challenging students of the law to become more productive, more creative and playful—and, perhaps, as well as dressing better—to see things differently: retinal justice.

Watch a video recording of the lecture.

Listen to an audio recording of the lecture.

Share
. Reply . Category: Law

“Age is just a number – but studying keeps the mind active”

Ghana born Anthony Mensah is graduating with an LLM Human Rights aged 78, and plans to devote his time and energy to fighting Female Genital Mutiliation (FGM) in sub-Saharan Africa.

Anthony with Professor Bill Bowring

I am originally from Ghana but came to the UK in 1966 as a trainee accountant, and am now a British citizen.

Sometime in 2011, I saw a newspaper advert for Birkbeck for a two year diploma course in Law. I applied, and was sent a problem question in the post to answer. I answered it to the best of my ability, and was invited to interview at the School of Law by the Dean at the time, Professor Patricia Tuitt. She was impressed with my performance, and I was thrilled when she invited me to enrol on the LLB course instead of the diploma.

My first and second years were a bit of a struggle, and a stark contrast between my professional accountancy course. Patricia Costall, an Academic Support Tutor, helped me understand how to write an academic essay and properly reference my work – I am very grateful for her help during my course and I know a lot of other students will agree with me that she was very helpful. I really enjoyed the lectures from most of my tutors; Fred Cowell, Piyel Halder, Adam Gearey, Leslie Moran and Patricia Tuitt, to name a few; and I had good relationships with my classmates.

My wife, Emma, was very excited for me throughout my studies. She gave me lots of good advice and encouragement.  I owe her an immeasurable debt of gratitude for the support and encouragement she has given me. Without her, I don’t think I would have got the marks in my LLB that I needed to proceed onto my LLM in Human Rights.

I decided to enrol on the LLM because I am passionate about tackling the complex Human Rights issues in Sub-Saharan Africa, where I am from. In particular, in the future I intend to lead a crusade against Female Genital Mutilation which is common practice in almost all countries on the continent.

I didn’t think about my age when I was applying. Age is just a number. However studying later in life is good for exercising the brain. So I would advise anyone thinking about starting a degree to start looking into it and making enquiries. You will feel so confident in yourself when you complete it.

Share
. Read all 4 comments . Category: Law . Tags: , , ,

“The more I learn, the more I want to learn” – from ‘left behind’ to law degree

Firhana wasn’t sent to school as a child and only learnt to read and write at 15. With years of hard work, persistence and dedication, she’s achieved the extraordinary feat of gaining a master’s degree in Law – and now has plans for a PhD.

Growing up, the idea of studying for a degree wasn’t even on Firhana’s radar. She was raised in Oxford with her parents and five siblings but was never enrolled in school – something that only came to light when a doctor made a home visit and found that at 12 years old, Firhana wasn’t able to write a simple sentence. When asked why they didn’t send their daughter to school, her parents said, “in our culture, the daughters get married, have children, and run the household.”

She strongly believes her parents did their best for her within the cultural context that they knew, but going to school for the first time was very difficult. “I was quite severely bullied because I didn’t know how to read and write,” Firhana remembers. “A lot of the children at school obviously thought that if I was born in England, why couldn’t I read or write? Eventually I had a one-to-one tutor who went through letters and phonics with me. I mastered my alphabet at the age of 15, and slowly learnt how to read and write.”

“To be honest with you, I didn’t really understand what I was reading at first. I used to look at the pictures and try to make out the story as I was going along. I didn’t really try to help myself because I had missed so much so I thought there was no point. Eventually, when I was about 19, I finished the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. That was my favourite book.”

After she had her own daughters in her twenties, she knew she wanted to get a proper education to help her children get ahead in life. Today, after years of hard work and close, careful guidance from dedicated teachers, she is graduating with a master’s degree in Law from Birkbeck, University of London with merit, after gaining a 2.1 in her bachelor’s degree in 2012. Next, she plans to apply for a PhD looking into sexual violence in Asian communities. “Who would have thought there was going to be degree after degree for a typical Pakistani housewife who missed out on most of her primary and secondary education?!” she laughed.

Firhana is a passionate advocate for women and girls in Asian communities, and wrote her master’s dissertation on the grooming gangs in Cowley, Oxford where she grew up. “If I had any power,” she says, “I would ask the government to look at legislation which deals with violence towards women, especially women of colour. I feel like there’s not enough said or done because people are culture sensitive. I think the government should also aim to get women over 30 or 40 back into education. I think a lot of women in my era missed out and they feel like they don’t have the opportunities.”

Birkbeck’s evening study model suited Firhana, who was able to combine her studies with working and family life. Her daughter, Aisha, was starting her A levels at the same time as Firhana started university – “we were study buddies!” she said. “Today my daughter is an A level teacher in a really good school, and she’s also doing her master’s at Birkbeck. My other daughter is studying English Literature and Creative Writing, and my son’s at grammar school preparing for his GCSEs. He plans to go on and study Medicine.”

“Birkbeck has changed my life and my family’s life for the better. It has just had such a massive impact. What we show our children is what they will follow. I showed mine love for books and education because my teachers showed me their love for books. Now I feel like I have been empowered with the gift of knowledge. I am on a journey of learning more and more every day, because the more I learn the more I want to learn.”

Share
. Reply . Category: Law . Tags: , ,