Criminal barrister v Delicate Oxford flower: Round Two
A very public squabble between a leading criminal barrister and an Oxford law student over trigger warnings in lectures has intensified this afternoon, after a strong worded opinion piece by blogging barrister Matthew Scott hit national press.
Writing for The Telegraph, Scott, a crime specialist at Pump Court Chambers, has claimed that warning students about sensitive lecture content threatens academic freedom and will “infantilise our future judges”.
The latest twist in this brief yet controversial tale comes one day after Legal Cheek reported that second year Oxford law student Giorgia Litwin had publicly slammed the criminal lawyer for suggesting — via his Twitter account — that aspiring lawyers at the elite university were “delicate little flowers”. She argued that trigger warnings before sensitive criminal law lectures should be celebrated as institutional recognition of the mental health needs of students, and referred to Scott’s comments as a “Twitter hate campaign”. She signed off her sassy article with “lots of love, a delicate flower x”.
Not taking the sassiness lying down, Scott has written a response piece in which he urges law schools to “resist” these warnings. In his long article, Scott suggests that the introduction of trigger warnings at the beginning of sexual offence lectures would lead us down a slippery slope. He writes:
It is not just rape: if you have been traumatised by a burglary, hearing the details of legally significant burglaries may be intensely upsetting.
But it would be — he says — “absurd” to suggest that trigger warnings should be commonplace for burglary lectures, like those on the seminal case of Collins (the one about a naked man climbing up a ladder).
His primary concern is that law lecturers are not psychologists, and they shouldn’t be expected to anticipate what topics may or may not cause trauma to their students — this would, he argues, compromise academic freedom. He is also concerned that shying away from difficult questions about sex offences and consent in the law “will produce a generation of infantilised milquetoasts”, and that means naff future lawyers.
The leading lawyer also makes the questionable statement that:
most law students find it a great relief to read about the robbers, murderers and even rapists who populate the racier pages of the Criminal Appeal Reports.
We’re not sure “relief” is the right word, but one thing we are sure about is that Scott’s article is bound to prompt even more debate and controversy about the utility of trigger warnings in law lectures.
One person that’s already responded to the piece is Litwin herself. Minutes after his article was published, the student took to Twitter to rinse Scott for his “patronising attitude” and for spelling her name wrong. No kisses this time.