A gavel and a Marilyn Monroe wig — one university’s idea of the legal system

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By Judge John Hack on

Marketing gurus at Bedford University claim implanting US iconography in promotional materials is simply “light-hearted” fun — while creating a barrister straight out of fright night


In the “They-really-should-know-better competition 2014” so far, this bit of marketing genius from the University of Bedford ranks pretty high.

Legal Cheek readers will be aware of our occasional campaign to highlight egregious misuses of US court iconography as a short-hand for the English justice system. The most frequent lazy trick is to reach for the royalty-free internet picture library and type the word “gavel”.

This is perhaps understandable — if not excusable — when perpetrated by marketers of schlock television dramas, and indeed, even the makers of ITV’s daytime hit, Judge Rinder, have fallen into this negligence trap (despite Robert Rinder being an experienced practising barrister, who appears regularly in English courts).

But university law academics? Surely these caretakers of knowledge should be the last bastion against creeping inaccuracies and slovenly misinformation …

Well not at the University of Bedford. Its law courses are promoted by several entertaining images that appear in its law faculty-specific marketing as well as on the university’s website home page. Among them is … wait for it … a gavel.

For the avoidance of doubt – and for the education of overseas readers and the law faculty at Bedford — gavels are not used in English courtrooms, or indeed in any British courtroom. They are used by auction houses (or at least used to be; if we’ve got that wrong we welcome correction from any website called Auction Cheek).

We’d assumed that this was a case of a university marketing department not really having a clue about English court procedures and reckoning that because they’d seen gavels on the telly and in the movies, they must be regularly banged in courts up and down this green and pleasant land.

Nonetheless, a Bedford University spokeswoman told Legal Cheek that invoking the image was in fact intentional.

“The use of the gavel in the university’s marketing material is intended as a light-hearted representation of the legal profession to promote the university’s law courses,” she said.

But instead of coming across as light-hearted, there’s a strong chance it will simply make the university and its law lecturers look slapdash if not outright stupid.

All of which brings us on to the wig. Bedford does not offer either of the legal profession vocational courses, but it still promotes its LLBs with the image of a woman in a black gown and a wig.

Unfortunately, rather than picking up a second-hand authentic horsehair, the photo-shoot team has plumped for some sort of blonde fright variety of the type more associated with 1970s-themed fancy dress parties.

Boasts the university on its website: “Our law degree is renowned for its originality and innovative quality.” Indeed.

To top all of this, the University of Bedford has created a comedy catchphrase and Twitter hashtag — #PathToBeds.

As existing and potential students have pointed out on the Twitter, while everyone knows that getting laid is the prime endeavour of many during freshers week, the UofB seems to be taking that principle to the extreme.

h/t @maxbarrister for the spot


Let’s break free from the cultural imperialism of US legal dramas and stop imagining that English judges use gavels [Legal Cheek]