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Top barrister slams ‘delicate Oxford flowers’ as uni’s law faculty gives ‘trigger warnings’ before lectures about violent cases

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Students can leave if content is too distressing

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A leading criminal barrister has taken aim at Oxford University law students after it emerged that they were being officially notified ahead of potentially distressing lectures about rape and sexual assault.

The “trigger warnings” have been suggested by the law faculty’s director of studies, with lecturers told to “bear in mind” bracing students for upsetting cases they might be about to study — and give them the option to leave if necessary.

Today an unnamed Oxford student was quoted in the Mail on Sunday as confirming that the warnings are being implemented, commenting:

Before the lectures on sexual offences — which included issues such as rape and sexual assault — we were warned that the content could be distressing, and were then given the opportunity to leave if we needed to.

This riled Pump Court Chambers’ Matthew Scott (pictured) as he took to social media this afternoon to label the students as “Delicate Oxford flowers”.

Matthew-scott

The barrister — who is one of the most followed UK lawyers on Twitter thanks to his regular blogging and media appearances — continued:

Being high-fliers, perhaps they thought that law was just about the Leasehold Enfranchisement Reform Act 1967.

Scott, whose chambers website describes him as “a specialist criminal advocate with considerable expertise in defending allegations of rape and child cruelty”, clearly believes that cosseted millennials need to toughen up.

It seems that that the Pump Court man has an ally in Oxford law lecturer Professor Laura Hoyano. Last week The Tab reported that Hoyano delivered her own tongue-in-cheek trigger warning, as she warned students “from a farming family” that she intended to discuss a case about foot and mouth.

And today she told the Mail on Sunday:

We can’t remove sexual offences from the criminal law syllabus — obviously. If you’re going to study law, you have to deal with things that are difficult.

Oxford University has issued this statement:

The university aims to encourage independent and critical thinking and does not, as a rule, seek to protect students from ideas or material they may find uncomfortable. However, there may be occasions when a lecturer feels it is appropriate to advise students of potentially distressing subject matter.

69 Comments

#firstworldproblems

You may do so in most of the Scottish law schools, and I imagine the same is true of most law schools in the UK and internationally. With that said, if you don’t learn material and don’t sit the exams you don’t get the course and subsequently can’t qualify. Lawyers necessarily need to be able to deal with such difficult issues both for the sake of being knowledgeable of the law as well as to be a strong advocate for clients whom may be in a vulnerable position.

(11)(0)

A

At the end of the day, a significant proportion of female students are raped/sexually assaulted in Uni. This can have a variety of psychological consequences, most seriously PTSD.

Only those who have experienced it know how dreadful it is. Seeing anyone or anything that reminds you of the rape causes great anxiety and panic.

While I’m not saying that they ought to perpetually avoid issues which cause distress (like lectures), there is a ‘recovery’ time. During this period, it’s unpleasant to have panic attacks in the middle of a lecture theatre.

It’s simply an one sentence email which informs the class that the lecture will contain such material. No great inconvenience is placed on anybody.

(5)(11)

Danger Mouse Rides Again

Maybe if their universities addressed the issue of rape on their campuses – which I assume is what you’re implying as you qualify they’ve been assaulted post taking up a degree in law – then they might take more succour in the fact that both the institution and its classes are not dangerous places to start with.

One line is fine but you’re not doing female victims any help by suggesting the only relief available to them that the university takes their experiences seriously is pretty much left at that.

(2)(3)

Anonymous

Except a significant proportion AREN’T raped. The statistics for the general public are 1 in 100 to 1 in 200, and every reliable study shows that students at universities are LESS likely to experience it.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Alison Gurden, another barrister from 1 Gray’s Inn Square, on Twitter just now: “If u can’t cope with distressing..Don’t become a criminal lawyer.. clients don’t need ‘delicate’ they need fighters.”

(44)(3)

Anonymous

Doesn’t really resolve the issue, does it. It’s a core subject, whether you intend to practice criminal law or become an overqualified flower arranger.

(8)(1)

Anonymous

I guess a more appropriate way to phrase it is ‘don’t be a delicate pussy’ if you want to study law.

(6)(4)

Anonymous

Mediocre barrister dies for 11 minutes of legal cheek fame

(5)(31)

Anonymous

Surely, this isn’t necessarily about people being “delicate”? I would have thought the warning was more for people who had suffered rape, sexual assault or abuse that the lectures could trigger flashbacks and memories that can be distressing, saying they are “delicate” gives the wrong impression about what some people have experienced.
I personally think this is a good idea across ALL universities, not just Oxford. Of course, if you don’t like sensitive subject matters, then law may not be for you as in practice, nearly every area of law contains upsetting content (crime, family, even property).
Usually, a student would know what subject is likely to be discussed in a lecture before attending, and so would already know whether it is likely to be upsetting.
I think this does show some sensitivity and I would have liked trigger warnings, not necessarily for cases like Brown, but especially the child rape cases etc when you had to read the whole case and all of the details, especially if you or your family had been through something that was similar to the facts.
Of course, I don’t think it would justify missing all of your sexual offences lectures as you could come unstuck in your exams, but surely a little warning couldn’t hurt could it? Just so they are prepared? Either way, most give an informal warning anyway saying some of the facts may be a bit disconcerting, or that’s what they did at mine anyway.

(39)(40)

Anonymous

Bang on

(16)(15)

Anonymous

In practice do you expect your clients to give you trigger warnings? How about the other side? Even if you go down the corporate law route, you can still encounter unpleasant things with no real warning (some of the things I’ve encountered on pro bono projects have been absolutely awful). You’ve got to be able to deal with that. Indulging in this obsession with trying to avoid offending or upsetting people is just leaving students woefully equipped for the real world.

(35)(6)

Anonymous

True, but at 18, if you haven’t had to deal with it before, it can be a bit uncomfortable and just a small warning may add even a little support.
Also, in practice, if on pupillage etc, you follow your supervisor and have experience through their cases of how it can be, or as you say, through pro bono.
It’s only likely to be a one liner before lectures anyway, it’s hardly likely to make a difference.

(5)(14)

Sidewinder

Absolute rubbish. Don’t read law if you cannot tolerate learning about the unpleasant things in life. If you have had a dreadful experience be prepared to speak to the lecturer and explain that you may have to leave at some point. Encountering these distressing topics as a student is better than first encountering them as a practitioner .

(24)(5)

Danger Mouse Rides Again

Nonsense. What are you going to do if you have to prosecute for a victim? Or defend even an actual offender on the day? Tell the judge “oh mah triggers!” and run out in tears? You will last exactly 35 seconds in any position or chambers of repute.

If the courts and judges wouldn’t put up with it, they shouldn’t be training for it. End of. You may as well send out a giant fuck you to the law and tell it that odious crimes earn much more respect and attention.

(7)(2)

Anonymous

Sophistic bollocks. I genuinely despair for our generation when i read comments like the above; the real world does not function like this. Take your cosseted views with those who share them and go and occupy a ‘safe space’ for the rest of eternity.

(6)(1)

TrigglyPuff

Problems are not dealt with by sweeping them under the carpet and avoiding them, ask any PTSD specialist. You can’t change the world to suit your own fragile state of mind, you have to adapt to the way the world is. Anyone who needs a trigger warning clearly needs mental health assistance as they are must dealing with something traumatic. Rather than seeking to change the world around them they should not attempt a law degree until they are mentally capable.
Are you really saying that on Oxbridge student going into a law degree has no earthly idea they might hear about rape, murder, child abuse? Should they even be doing a degree if they’ve not done the most basic of research into the content covered?

(11)(1)

Anonymous

No, I’m not saying they would have no idea about things like this, especially if they were a victim, nor am I condoning people walking out of lectures because of it. I’m just saying they are not a bad idea. No, you won’t get it in practice of course!! But education is not the same as practice.
It’s not that people can’t handle it, it’s just a heads up. People aren’t suddenly going to go aaaah, trigger warning and run out in tears as some people here are suggesting. It may even be so they can trigger their own personal mechanism to distance themselves to avoid connecting the emotions they may feel towards it so they are able to deal with it.

(0)(5)

Anonymous

University is the time to mature into a young adult. You won’t be prepared for the real world if you live in a safe space for three years. Once you graduate, no one will have time for your bull. Either adapt or stay home the rest of your life.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

All psychological evidence shows that small exposures to cases of rape, such as learning about it in a lecture, followed by a lack of a negative experience, helps to reverse conditioning and improve PTSD in genuine victims.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

“top barrister” lel

(5)(7)

Anonymous

It’s criminal law. It is inconceivable that someone going in to study might not realise the cases might be graphic. Trigger warnings can have a place, but not in a criminal law class room where it is reasonable to assume someone will have been impacted by at least one of every kind of offence they are likely to cover.

(6)(2)

Russell G. Roup esq

“Warning: Sexual Offences Lecture may contain case law involving Sexual Offences.”

It can probably be left to students own powers of deduction can it not?

(27)(3)

8Ace

Actually, you have to study Brown in the context of ordinary Offences Against the Person, not as sexual offences.

But warnings to students is a ludicrous idea.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

Aren’t the sexual cases the only ones anyone ever remembers (especially us CPE fly-by-nights)?

(8)(0)

Anonymous

Criminal was my favourite precisely because the gore made it so much more memorable than cases about importing bananas or moving land boundaries.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

I remember the bananas one tho, everyone remembers that one!

(1)(0)

Anonymous

This has been going on for a while across universities. And why all of a sudden does everyone think all law students want to become a criminal lawyers in these comments? It’s a compulsory module in a qualifying law degree even for someone aspiring to be a property lawyer… Squeamish, blood shy or previously affected students may very well be smart enough not to aspire to practice such an area, that doesn’t unfortunately mean they can dodge the topic.

Law Student – I can’t stand blood.
Top Barrister – how dare you study law.

(9)(10)

NoPC

*Law Student – I can’t stand blood, so I expect others to accommodate for me instead of adapting to the real world.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

Law degree courses aren’t exclusively academic, whatever lecturers who bang on about “critical thinking” might like to believe. They are also vocational. Students need to learn whether they can cope – intellectually and emotionally – with the discipline as a whole and the various subjects within it.

An important part of training in law is learning to deal with the unexpected, the startling and the unpleasant. Law is about people, after all, who are sometimes some or all of these things.

By the way, Alex, it’s FOOT and mouth.

(9)(2)

Bantersaurus Lex

I have no banter to account for this silliness.

(4)(1)

Alex Aldridge

Thanks boss.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Back in my day it wasn’t uncommon for certain lecturers to discuss these particular cases with a certain scarcely concealed sense of relish as if they were discussing something particularly entertaining or, at the least, mildly amusing. Such attitudes are certainly undesirable.

(11)(3)

Danger mouse rides again

On the contrary. Despicable crimes deserve nothing but contempt and disdain whilst recounting how the law smashed them smack bang between the eyes. I’d relish in the telling of that, too.

(6)(0)

Jonathan

I gather the ‘trigger warnings’ business can be pretty nonsensical, but some of these criminal cases are truly shocking. I mean the judges have to regularly warn the jurors and people in the court that what they’re going to hear described is truly shocking and distressing. Nobody’s calling them special flowers.

(4)(4)

Dave

There is a world of difference between reading a judgment in an abuse case, where the facts are almost invariably recited in an anodyne summary sufficient to explain a point of law or the reasoning behind a sentence – and the prospect of sitting in court close enough to a perpetrator to smell them while they explain how they ‘accidentally’ abused a victim.

Trigger warnings for students are simply the means by which today’s children have discovered a way of annoying their elders – an integral part of growing up. In the good old days one simply had to have long hair or wear a kaftan. Now that university staff are themselves children of the 70s and 80s it requires a bit more cunning to upset them.

The danger in students’ demands for trigger warnings and no-platforming any possible source of offence is that they will get what they are asking for and the younger generation following behind will simply overtake them when it comes to making it in real life.

(13)(2)

Proudboobs

“Top barrister.” MegaLOL.

(7)(7)

Danger Mouse Rides Again

Oh boy. From inciting waitress-hatred to preparing them for being utterly useless for their intended career. So much madness, so much hilarity, so much contradiction and irony. “Abuse the women!… No, wait!!… Don’t upset the women! We’ll get you a pupillage in a crèche!”

Everyone get on the Oxford lol train.

(9)(2)

Anonymous

Were you turned down before or after interview?

(7)(3)

Danger mouse rides again

On the contrary. Despicable crimes deserve nothing but contempt and disdain whilst recounting how the law smashed them smack bang between the eyes. I’d relish in the telling of that, too.

(0)(0)

Danger Mouse Rides Again

iphones lol

(1)(0)

Danger Mouse Rides Again

I never applied to Oxford but thanks for asking. Confirmation from the feeble minded that getting into Oxford is way more important than the law itself is always something I like to see.

(9)(3)

Anon

And to think it is these same ‘delicate flowers’ that are preferred for pupillage precisely because of this Oxford education.

(8)(4)

Anonymous

Hehehehehehe

(0)(1)

Ellipsis

ISWYDT

(0)(0)

Just Anonymous

We should see trigger warnings for what they are: an insidious form of censorship and control, which in America have blatantly been used to interfere with the academic content of courses. They should not be tolerated in our institutions, and I am very sorry to see Oxford pandering to this nonsense.

People calling for trigger warnings never cite any medical evidence to suggest that such warnings are objectively necessary. Rather, the evidence actually shows that such warnings are not necessary and may even breed more hysteria and an inability to cope with the world.

A nice summary of said medical evidence is provided by Pacific Standard:

https://psmag.com/hazards-ahead-the-problem-with-trigger-warnings-according-to-the-research-4f220f7e6c7e#.rbr50sekt

Pacific Standard itself isn’t peer reviewed, so their analysis must be taken with a healthy dollop of scepticism. Nevertheless, they provide handy links to the scientific publications on which they base their analysis, which you can of course read for yourself.

(9)(0)

Danger Mouse Rides Again

Now, now. Just because screaming “you’re triggering me!” at the slightest disagreement is par for the course in internet spats nowadays doesn’t mean that it isn’t, regardless, psychological treatment terminology. It’s entirely reasonable for people to have complex psychological issues and that accommodations can reasonably be made for them – but only within reason. I should imagine the treatment protocols are to assist actual sufferers to manage their reactions to this instances and not other people’s choice of speech or, indeed, even behaviour; so in that respect, I agree with you.

When it comes to something in class that upsets you, the right response is always to maintain a stiff upper lip, and wait for the next fag break to have a jolly good cry about it round the corner near the hippies.

(3)(0)

Lord Lyle of Triggering Neuroses in the most spectacular fashion possible

Bring the flowers on. I’ve lost count of the number of break downs I have triggered in court. Witnesses, barristers, guardians, solicitors , opponents, my own clients and Judge Krikler sitting at Willesden County Court. The breakdowns have varied, from bursting into tears, hysteria , squeaking noises whilst hopping up and down like a rabbit and full on assaults with flying fists and a head butts.

(3)(2)

Shirkey

I’ve taught criminal law to a couple of students who had been victims of serious sexual assault in the past. Should they “man up” or forget about being a lawyer, even a corporate lawyer, at all?

These students only told me after they failed to submit essays on the topic.

Maybe if it was soldiers blown up by IEDs and suffering from PTSD, you’d be more sympathetic?

(4)(6)

Danger Mouse Rides Again

I hope you failed them. Missing deadlines is unforgiveable. Would you be cool with them not turning up to defend an innocent party because they were upset by evidence about to be presented? I somehow doubt it.

(6)(1)

Shirkey

idiot.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

But that has nothing to do with ‘trigger warnings’. Your students should have made clear (privately, obviously) what the problem was and been given suitable support.

Nobody’s unsympathetic. It’s about expectations of adult learning that don’t infantilise the experience and, for those unfortunately affected, making sensible choices and taking responsibility for themselves. They weren’t compelled to study law.

(8)(0)

Not Amused

It’s really very controlling behaviour all of this.

I think we need to recognise that the first thing a bully does (before he starts bullying) is declare himself a victim.

(7)(0)

Lord Lyle of Mumbling Flowers.

Then there were the mumbling flowers. Asked by the judge to respond, they just mumbled inaudibly. I had to sack several mumbling flower barristers , some in court on their feet and take over.
I particularly liked one Nigerian barrister in Bow County Court in Bengalistan , when asked by the judge what his application was, he replied “I throw myself at the mercy of the court”.

It wasn’t his fault though. His instructing solicitor told him to be at court and he would send his brief, via a clerk, but the clerk made a no show and the poor barrister was left stood before the court with no idea what his application was.

(3)(1)

Danger Mouse Rides Again

Haha! Ah, the chuckles. I can’t wait. What a glorious load of endless shenanigans to look forward to.

(1)(0)

Scouser of Counsel

Is it April 1st? No? Unbelievable.

So glad I went to a redbrick without nonsense like this!

(1)(1)

Lord Lyle of Dál Riada.

Some shenanigans are difficult. Eg: cross jurisdictional cases. It is easier to do Iran v England cases than N. Ireland v England cases.

There was a very good female barrister, who was head of chambers. Her name was Guy. I remember this because it is an unsusual forename for a woman.

She told me of a case she did in Nrn Irn. It was her first case there. She was nervous because it was during the troubles, but she was legally confident in dealing with this provincial back water. She was pleasantly surprised at the hospitality of the Nrn Irn bar and how courteous and deferential they were to her. When she attended the trial , in her own words “They cut the legs from under me”. But they were equally courteous and deferential as she packed her bags.

A lesson for flowers. Never under estimate the enemy.

(2)(0)

Danger Mouse Rides Again

More hilarity. I demand a book.

Nice to see too that the orange legislature has a tendency to go for the knees, too, like the rest of the population. Being truly representative and all that.

(1)(0)

James Kirby

Having had a fine criminal defence practice in London, I now teach criminal law at the University of Portsmouth (itself once a quite rough town…). I illustrate my lectures on murder and causation with a couple of war stories from practice (both reported cases) featuring axes in heads, further injuries to unprotected craniotomy sites, a brain haemorrhage caused by kicking, which was later infected with MRSA, which caused death… they love it! It’s graphic, real-world, and memorable! And one case I won, and one I lost, on appeal, also illustrative.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

“…*once* quite a rough town…”? That’s very diplomatic of you Mr Kirby.

(0)(0)

James Kirby

Er… yes it was, wasn’t it. Though
(a) it has toned down, just a bit…
(b) I’ve hardened up a bit in the years I’ve been back, after spending 30 years away in soft old London…

(0)(0)

Motherhen lawyer

you can be a lawyer and avoid ever having to deal with any of the sexual offences crimes , so those saying it is required to be a good lawyer are speaking nonsense – commercial lawyers would never have to deal with anything like that in their day to day jobs. A warning is fine and is considerate of those who may have been through similar experiences or are sensitive to those experiences who I am sure would appreciate the heads up or the opportunity to miss a lecture if need be. If they are intelligent individuals they will still be fantastic lawyers and I hope nobody who is in this category is put off by a career in law by reading these comments.

(4)(3)

Recent Oxford Grad

News flash, all lectures have titles. A sexual offences lecture will contain material on….sexual offences. A warning is hardly needed. I disapprove because warnings are redundant, but given the graphic nature of the cases, and the frankly light hearted way in which many treat them (once you’ve dealt with a certain number of cases you do tend to dehumanise them) , I think the warnings aren’t too bad. It’s inly for a few lectures out of hundreds that a student will go to during their time at Oxford.

(3)(0)

Oxford student

A couple of things:
– Obviously a sexual offences lecture will contain sexual offences, but there’s running after someone grabbing their leg and then there’s inviting a group of men back to your house to rape your wife who will definitely like it even if she’s crying. There are different degrees, and just saying “the details of this case are especially violent” takes no time, but might actually help people.
– When you go to a lecture on vicarious liability, you don’t necessarily expect to hear about sexual abuse at boarding schools – if you’ve not done the subject before why would you expect that? Same for negligence – wouldn’t think the Hillsborough disaster was an obvious case to come up there.
– Before traumatic episodes of Eastenders, they give warnings. They give a loose warning before certain films. Why does no one care then?

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Are you really an Oxford student? And you can’t immediately see the difference between warnings about what’s shown in mass media and warnings about the content of law lectures?

Maybe Oxford law students do need special hand-holding then.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Oxford University proving once again that having a few nice old buildings does not make you a “top” institution (outside the gushing pixels of LC). Oxford University’s absurd indulgence towards its delicate flowers being exposed to “potentially distressing subject matter” is difficult to reconcile with its insouciance about the unscholarly Rhodes Scholar, whose free speech must come first. Will they seek to square the circle by ensuring that a Proctor precedes him wherever he goes, bearing a banner, “Trigger Warning “?

When I was at University, the relevant volume of the WLR (about 1971 I think) fell open automatically at the first page of the seminal case of R v Collins. Happy days; it’s probably on restricted loan now.

(1)(1)

Lady Decidendi

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but it seems of pivotal importance to point out that the students don’t write or conduct the presentations for lectures.. Therefore the ‘trigger warning’ was something cooked up by a lecturer and so referring to Oxford University students as ‘delicate flowers’ because of something out of their control seems, somewhat overreaching.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

why are you getting in the way of internet outrage!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(0)(0)

Pop Poopo, PhD

Telling students what they’ll be doing in class!? What’s next, issuing little booklets with the full contents of what the class will cover? Preposterous.

(0)(0)

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