Cameras in the court

This post was contributed by Ruth Saunders, who attended the LSE Law and Birkbeck School of Law Judicial Images Project public lecture on Wednesday 13 April

‘From Oscar Pistorius to Reality TV: the implications of using the courtroom as a television studio’ was the title of last Wednesday’s well-attended lecture from the Judicial Images Network Project, a joint project of Birkbeck School of Law and LSE Law which brings together scholars across disciplines and continents to explore issues surrounding the production, regulation and consumption of judicial images.

The lecture featured speakers with extensive experience in the issues that arise from the use of cameras in courtrooms. Justice Dikgang Moseneke, Deputy Chief Justics of Constitutional Court of South Africa, took to the stage first to discuss the experience of, and issues arising from, televising the trial of Oscar Pistorius.

Describing the concept of open justice as a key and now well-established principle in post apartheid South Africa, Justice Moseneke discussed how the trial of Oscar Pistorius created new ways in which people could access and assess justice.

Dr Jur Ruth Herz

Dr Jur Ruth Herz

Emphasising that ‘democracy dies behind closed doors’, Justice Moseneke also acknowledged that televising the courtroom could foster a dynamic of intimidation for defendants and witnesses – but it would, he said, be more reliable than a journalist’s perception of events.

But ultimately, he finished, ‘we, the media and courts, share a common goal. We want the public to know and to assess what we do’.

Next, Visiting Professor at Birkbeck School of Law Ruth Herz, formally a Judge in Cologne and the star of popular German courtroom based reality TV show Das Jugendgericht (Youth Court), reflected on her four year experience in television.

Giving a frank recollection of her experiences, Ruth described her motivations for participating in the TV show to tackle the veil of secrecy that surrounds the court system in Germany. What she found, however, was that the presence of the camera with the focus on lighting, position and angle, did not create transparency.

Media, she says, speaks a different language, and is motivated first and foremost by money which informed casting choices and the types of cases heard.

These factors all worked against her attempts to use the reality TV court show as a useful educational tool to show viewers how justice in the courtroom works. She echoed the concerns raised by Justice Moseneke that Courts have a primary responsibility to pursue justice.

Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls and Head of Civil Justice in England and Wales, closed the discussion commenting on his own experience of cameras in the courtroom. In the Supreme Court, Lord Dyson said, he was unaware and unaffected by the discreet cameras.

Professor Leslie Moran

Professor Leslie Moran

The Crown court pilot to introduce cameras in the court is proceeding carefully, he said, to minimise risks to the fairness of the trial and, he also described, a ‘duty of care to protect the vulnerable’.

Birkbeck’s Professor Leslie Moran brought together questions from the audience which resulted in a lively discussion.

brought together questions from the audience which resulted in a lively discussion.

In closing the event he encouraged all to become avid viewers not only of the UK Supreme Court summary judgment videos but also the UK’s first reality TV court show, ‘Judge Rinder’.

He explained, ‘the future of cameras in courts is already taking shape on our TV screen. We need to take it seriously and debate it further if it is to best serve the needs of open justice.’

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Camberwell man reaches milestone in legal dream

A Camberwell resident celebrated an important step in his legal education this week when he graduated from Birkbeck.

Chukwunwikezarramu (Zarra) Okumephuna on his graduation day

Chukwunwikezarramu (Zarra) Okumephuna on his graduation day

On Wednesday (20 April), Chukwunwikezarramu (Zarra) Okumephuna received his Master of Law degree at the college’s formal ceremony in Senate House, Bloomsbury.

The 39-year-old Bethwin Road

resident enrolled at Birkbeck following his completion of a Bachelor’s Law degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), however he had concerns about the expense of a further degree.

“Getting a Master’s degree in Law was very important to me as I want to progress on to a PhD, but the cost nearly deterred me,” Zarra said.

“Fortunately, Birkbeck’s payment flexibility and study pattern ensured that I finished within one year. I successfully finished the programme via payment by installment without getting in any debt.”

Since moving to London 10 years ago from his home town of Nteje, Nigeria, Zarra has held a strong in interest in Law.

He said: “The reason I chose to concentrate on Constitutional Law – focusing on Islamisation of the Political Process in Pakistan – and Criminology during my LLM is because of my ambition to eventually work in either the educational, charity or political sector, as an academic, policy adviser or a parliamentary aide.

“It is this all-encompassing and ecumenical nature of Law as a discipline that attracted me towards it and I have no regret in doing that, even though it might take a while to fulfill my ambition.”

Chukwunwikezarramu (Zarra) Okumephuna

Chukwunwikezarramu (Zarra) Okumephuna

During his studies at Birkbeck, Zarra volunteered with the British Refugee Council on the Development Desk, which involved engaging with refugees and other stakeholders in the sector including donors. At the college, he also served as the student representative for his course, and held down a job in retail. Juggling these numerous commitments was hard, but worthwhile, he explained.

He said: “The fact that I balanced both my work and study is the reason I succeeded in the programme. I was able to translate my work experiences into my studies and that was very rewarding.”

This week, Zarra joined nearly 200 fellow postgraduate students from the college’s School of Law at a morning graduation ceremony held in Senate House’s Beveridge Hall.

He said: “I’m delighted to have made this achievement. It was my dream as a young man to do this and I am pleased that today my dream is a reality.”

Looking ahead, Zarra plans to undertake an MPhil/PhD researching the relationship between law and religion in Pakistan.

Hear Zarra talk about his experience at Birkbeck:

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Law on Trial: The End(s) of the Legal Academy

This post was contributed by Andrew Youngson, media and publicity officer for Birkbeck, University of London

Law on TrialThe School of Law’s Law on Trial 2015 came to a close on Friday 19 June with an exploration of the Legal Academy – or rather what its role is at a time when its ends and purport are increasingly being put under the microscope.

Organised by Prof Peter Fitzpatrick, the workshop featured presentations from a trio of legal academics – and each responded to by thoughts from a further three discussants.

From the high pressured environments of the legal professional, to the complexities of ‘legitimised’ violence, to an examination of the pre- and post-war structures of the university, the afternoon event offered plenty food for thought for the gathered audience of legal academics, professionals and students.

Wellbeing in the Legal Profession

The trio of presentations was begun by Prof Richard Collier of Newcastle University who discussed his recent paper – and ongoing research – in the area of Wellbeing in the Legal Profession. During the course of his talk, Prof Collier argued that not only is there considerable evidence that interest in wellbeing in the legal profession is growing; there are multiple strands to it, including:

  • The study of wellbeing in the profession – recent articles in this area have looked at the hyper-competitive environment and the implications on social connectedness and subjective wellbeing of the lawyer
  • The impact of legal training and education programmes on wellbeing – with ever-growing pressures being put on students being reflected in an increasing uptake of on-campus wellbeing and counselling services
  • The proliferation of wellbeing programmes being run in law firms, which underlines a growing recognition of poor wellbeing in the legal profession, and the desire to tackle it

Prof Collier then critiqued these emergent areas of study, and highlighted the discourses arising from them. Among them, he noted an ‘individualised discourse’, in which attention is directed away from wider structural, political and economic forces i.e. wellbeing as a personal, not a political issue.

A further over-arching theme was the commodification of wellbeing, and how it is considered by many to be another artefact of the neoliberalist world – where ‘wellness’ is considered important primarily because it is a vital part of the profitability of the law firm.

Future research, he concluded, could examine how normalised the hyper-competitiveness/wellbeing situation is, and to what extent the legal profession is now a field only survivable by an elite class who can successfully self-manage its pressures.

In her response to Prof Collier’s presentation, Prof Fiona Macmillan questioned a university’s complicity in laying the ground work for, and perpetuating, the high-pressured environments of the legal profession.

The Law School and the Force of Law

Next up was a presentation by Birkbeck’s Prof Patricia Tuitt, executive dean of the School of Law. The relationship between law and violence, she explained, has underpinned much of her work.

Reflecting this field of interest, Prof Tuitt presented her thoughts and findings as outlined in her recent paper, which explores:

  • Walter Benjamin’s 1921 essay, Critique of Violence, in which the German philosopher contemplates the seeming paradox of an exercise of a legal right being construed as an act of violence – subject, potentially, to the emergency jurisdiction of the state.

And its applicability to a 21st Century incident:

  • In which an American law school dean recently wrote to her students, urging them to take part in protests in Baltimore – even offering to defer an exam for those who help people on the street with legal advice (read the Washington Post article)

Examining this incident within the boundaries of Benjamin’s proposition on sanctioned vs unsanctioned violence, Prof Tuitt noted that the dean’s actions could have been construed as an extortionate use of legal rights. However, she also noted that Benjamin’s Critique doesn’t adequately address the 21st Century legal system, such as the impact of human rights principles.

In his response to Prof Tuitt’s presentation, Dr Eddie Bruce-Jones, continued the conversation on the matters of the distinction between the academy and the legal system; what this might mean for the end of the legal academy; and asked whether – given the topics under analysis – the State needs the University to stay alive, or whether it merely keeps the University barely alive for its own legitimacy.

The Structure of a University

Closing the presentations for the afternoon, Birkbeck’s Soo Tian Lee examined the historical structure of a university from the perspectives of:

  • Instrumentalism
  • Idealism
  • The University-in-itself
  • Forms of life

In discussing each structure, Soo Tian examined the contexts of the university during the post-war consensus era, and the rise of the neoliberalist university in which it has become “subordinated to narrow economic goals”.

Instrumentalism and idealism are often seen as opposed, Soo Tian explained. However, he finds this to be “a false dichotomy”, and instead proposed “a relational structure” in which both instrumentalist and idealist principles co-exist. Also within this relational structure are what he described as ‘Forms of life’ – i.e. the individual habits of an institution which, though not always easy to identity, exist nontheless.

In summation, Soo Tian offered what he considered “an uncomfortable conclusion”, in that the objective of such a study such as his, can only be to lay out the proposed structure of the post-war educational institution and let it be discussed.

If an overly neat or definitive conclusion is found, he explained, “it should be killed immediately”. “Unflinching rightness is to be approached with caution”, he concluded.

Soo tian’s presentation was responded to by discussant Dr Matthew Charles, of the University of Westminster. Dr Charles spoke of the university as a special kind of community, and examined it within the context – and limitations – of Kantian theory on antinomy.

The workshop’s final half hour comprised an open Q&A opportunity between the panellists and audience members.

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Buying, Selling and Impact – ‘In the Market for Academic Research’

This post was contributed by Habibatou Gani, senior editor at the Birkbeck Law Review, Birkbeck University, University of London. The Birkbeck Law Review Conference will take place in November 2015.

Law on TrialThe fourth day of Law on Trial 2015 saw Professor Fiona Macmillan chair a panel of leading academics on the issue of ‘Scholars, Intellectuals and Research Evaluation Exercises’. The panel considered the research function carried out by universities.

It reflected on the opportunities and criteria for research funding within academic research. It ended its discussion with an engaging debate on the challenges and hopes for the future of academic research.

Prof Macmillan, of Birkbeck’s School of Law, opened the panel discussion by posing a series of questions to the panellists and the audience. She asked those present to consider how universities think about themselves as scholars and what role academics play. She introduced the panellists:

From intellectual enquiry to a tool for economic growth

Prof Ashiagbor started by saying that she wanted people to consider how universities think about scholarship. A look at Lord Robbins’ report on higher education, published in October 1963, reveals the then prevailing attitudes toward universities as intellectual incubators, within which, according to Robbins, students were exposed to intellectual inquiry.

Ashiagbor contrasts that position with the demonstrable shift in attitudes, wherein higher education and the institutions which dispense them, are seen as existing in an open market for education and competition for students. Education is seen, by the state, primarily as a tool for economic growth. Ashiagbor notes that presently, the government agency responsible for allocating the education budget falls within the auspices of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Ashiagbor also wanted to introduce the idea of what she has quite interestingly coined as the ‘entrepreneurial scholar’. She says that this shift in focusing on the monetisation of academic scholarship has compelled some scholars to convert their academic research into easily digestible material.

The Research Excellence Framework (‘REF’) and the ‘impact’ criterion

Both Ashiagbor and Norrie discussed the REF and reflected on its impact on research scholarship. REF 2014 was a culmination of an assessment of research undertaken from 2008 to 2013. Ashiagbor explained that REF sought to assess the impact of research outside of academia.

Impact, in the context of REF, is defined as “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia”. Ashiagbor expressed her reservation regarding the inclusion and centrality of ‘impact’ in the task of assessing the power of research. She recalled that many, now household legal and social, concepts such as sexual harassment and transitional justice did not exist before research. She asked, how would and could one go about quantifying the impact of such research. In this vein, Ashiagbor noted that ‘REF impact’ has shifted the focus from narrowing research to mechanical and measurable output.

Norrie, spoke about his participation in REF. His approach was far more pragmatic. He noted that today the neo liberal university is what he eloquently coined, a ‘leaner enterprise’ in so far as competition for academic scholarship and funding means that universities are increasingly selective in the academic pursuits they choose to support. Equally, Norrie noted that despite the REF initiative, ‘we must remain academic communities within and outside academia’.

Alan Norrie talking on the REF panel

End of a Certain Type of Academic Work?

At the outset of his address, Motha explained that he wanted to talk about what he considered to be the end of a certain type of academic work. He said that when thinking about the impact of impact on academic research, we should remember why one enters academia in the first place. In doing so, he compared the achievements of the Feminist Judgement Project at Kent University and the MacBride judgement in South Africa.

Emerging Marketization of Education

As Motha spoke to the death of certain species of academic work, in the Q&A that followed, Prof Adam Gearey of Birkbeck Law School, sitting in the audience, intervened with a comment and question. He opined that through its discussions, intentionally or unintentionally, the panel had raised questions of work and value of work at play within education.

Prof Gearey questioned whether the REF was in fact asserting education as a market in of itself. Reshaping the discussion, Prof Gearey asked that if an ‘education market’ was being asserted, it was seemingly unregulated. He invited the panel to consider the existence of the education market and the dangers of its seemingly unregulated existence. In response, Ashiagbor saw the merits in the argument for the emerging marketization of education, owing to the discerning shift in focus within academic scholarship to competition, rather than intellectual collaboration.

The final intervention came from Dr Nadine El-Enanay, lecturer at law at Birkbeck Law School. She asked the panel, whether in furtherance of creating an education market, REF intended to bread competitive rivalry within academia. The panellists noted that REF might well have resulted in a kind of competitive rivalry within academia.

In closing, Motha expressed renewed hope that academic institutions and individual scholars, would continue to operate collaboratively, insulating themselves against commercial influences and staying true to what brought them to academia. In doing so, Motha hoped to preserve what he considered the core purpose of academic scholarship, to engage in critical thinking and research.

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