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Retired judge calls for political subjects to be removed from law degrees

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Politicised topics like criminology and diversity law should be reserved for postgraduate study

A retired judge has recommended that political subjects be removed from undergraduate law degrees.

“A law degree should cover only core subjects such as criminal and contract law,” writes His Honour Judge Nicholas Webb in a letter to The Telegraph. “Other politicised topics — for example, criminology and diversity law — should only be studied as part of a graduate degree or for the professional qualification.”

Webb’s comment stems from the increasingly common fear that the judiciary, and the Supreme Court, in particular, is becoming politicised in the wake of landmark constitutional law rulings such as the parliament prorogation case. “It is probably no longer possible to avoid greater scrutiny of the make-up of the Supreme Court, especially since it reached a unanimous decision on a matter that another court, which included the Lord Chief Justice and Master of the Rolls, held to be non-justiciable,” he explained.

The 70-year-old judge, who retired from the Midlands Circuit Bench in October after serving for 16 years, suspects this problem has “deep roots” and, in some cases, goes back to “politically motivated teaching at universities”.

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Elsewhere in his letter, Webb, a former barrister who was called to the bar in 1972, offers two further suggestions to uphold the independence of the judiciary. Firstly, he asserts that the “Judicial Appointments Commission should be overhauled and both its membership and the criteria for judicial appointments should be reviewed”. Secondly, “every judicial appointee should have been in full-time practice as a barrister or solicitor for a significant and set number of years before being appointed to any office”.

Webb’s argument, that our judiciary needs to remain independent, has some merit — as demonstrated by the backlash to Lady Hale’s recent ‘girly swots’ remark — but is doing away with what are supposedly ‘political’ subjects on the LLB the right way to go about it? What about those that choose to study non-law degrees (such as politics *gasp*) and later convert to law via the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) route? And does any law course in the country even offer a module on diversity law for that matter?!

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35 Comments

Diane Abbott

What a condescending solution. So removing the only interesting law subjects from an undergraduate curriculum is somehow going to stop the public from criticizing judges or make Judges more independent?

Politics and law are inseparable, and policy issues exists EVERYWHERE the government must balance public interest, welfare and principles. An undergraduate law student should be educated on such issues. The darn Magna Carta is political for petes sake, do we remove public law as well??

Legal Genius

The only condescending thing here is your assumption that your standard for what is ‘interesting’ is universally shared. Diversity law and criminology sounds like utter drivel. The push for this ban is to prevent politically-biased lecturers from spreading their agenda under pretext of a lecture and influencing young undergrads who haven’t got their minds made up about the world around them (I’ve had a lecturer who advocated for radical marxism). All the politics necessary for a law undergrad are covered in the mandatory constitutional law modules. If I want politically-charged drivel, I’d read the tabloids.

Anon

Do you think that it is right for disabled people to be excluded from public transport? If you do then that exposes your political bias, if you don’t then you can see the case for what you call ‘diversity law’.

Diane Abbott

The only law that is interesting to study is those that involve fundamental policy considerations which is in fact a great majority of what’s taught on the LLB.

Now, I myself would not register for that diversity law class but it sounds like a socio-legal topic that draws together constitutional, employment and discrimination law and may interest some.

If there is such a problem with politically motivated lecturers pushing drivel, that is incumbent on the University to filter them out through HR, rather than taking some kind of totalitarian shear to the curriculum. Teaching law without the the politics that goes with it is rank brainwashing.

Diane Abbott

If you think constitutional law is the only legal subject with political elements then I’m afraid you’re beyond saving

Wake Up

It is actually the compulsory modules of Public Law and EU Law which push politics into the degree.

Lecturers of the above subject drool over the EU, despite the clear bias and retardation of many CJEU judgments.

Anonymous

Your problem with the CJEU is probably your inability to appreciate how civil system judgments work.

Anonymous

I taught both. That’s why I voted Leave.

William

Hard to compare the Magna Carta with whether vegans are protected in their employment or whether men who decided to become women are allowed to turn their birth certificate into a work of fiction.

Bill Ablehour

From this comment I’m guessing you’re so ancient you were actually there when he Magna Carta was signed.

An Old Banter Hack

Has LC disabled certain banterous IP addresses from posting here?

Law and Politics

The idea that criminal law and even contract law do not also involve “political” questions (whatever distinction that is meant to draw with properly legal questions) is laughable.

This is just another example of labelling as “political” legal rules that put into effect ideas and values with which the labeller does not agree, and then asserting that activist judges are venturing into politics. Ask a Marxist whether they think property law is a political question.

Anonymous

The calls for the non-academic study of law (distinguishing with continental jurisprudential courses, lasting generally 5 years before being able to undertake national bar exams) is a very English solution to a problem that notionally does not exist in continental countries—that of political interference in the law.

Remember that before the mid 19th Century, law was not taught at either of the two universities in England, as the path to the profession was either through articling or through the Inns of Court.

There is therefore little tradition of law-making from an academic point of view, and it makes sense that the rapid changes that we have witnessed (including the appointment of an academic to the presidency of the Supreme Court) is unusual. It is therefore a thinly veiled criticism of Baroness Hale’s position, and that Her Ladyship doesn’t have a full understanding of her constitutional role.

My opinion is that many who study English law because they want to effect change in the world do not realise that it is beholden to hierarchical structures that are not consistent with the modern, horizontal ones where everyone is entitled to their opinion. This judge was only reinforcing that the hierarchy exists, and that it should be respected.

Anonymous

That there even is such a course as “diversity law” is a damning indictment on how we have let liberals and leftists have too much influence over education and legislation for the last decade.

Anon

Ah, you probably mean that diversity law shouldn’t exist? If it exists then presumably lawyers need to study it? How much influence should leftists and liberals have over legislation – if the public elects them to Parliament perhaps you think they should have been limited from voting on the tricky stuff? PS for the last decade liberals and leftists haven’t exactly been dictating the rules have they.

BluCollar

Liberals and leftists have been running the agenda at policy levels through their control of education, regulators, the media and the civil service. The morals and sensibilities of good honest ordinary people have been ignored and trampled over by these people. Let’s hope there will be change with this new administration. Things have gone too far. “Diversity law” ought to be one session of an employment law course.

Anon

Pesky un-ordinary liberals and leftists, infesting everywhere with their care for others. Grrr, they make you mad don’t they? Oh well, that’s progress I suppose.

Lol

So what you’re saying is that the right are so utterly pathetic that despite being in power for ten years everything is actually controlled by a shadowy cabal of communists. Ok mate.

Anon

Law is inherently political and you’re wasting time trying to change that. The question of how long a man should be imprisoned for rape and what factors can result in a contract being rendered voidable are political to at least some extent. It should also be remembered that judges are required to take into account public policy when making decisions. How is that not political?

anon

His Honourable Judgeness is clearly correct. Any political content ought to be stripped out of undergraduate law courses – only postgraduates have the planet brains to deal with questions that ordinary voters have to deal with come election time.

Definitely no more property, contract, human rights, criminal law, anything controversial.. it should all go incase retired old snowflake judges might have to deal with terrifyingly opinionated younger counsel. The only things unpolitical enough to be allowed are (i) land registration, (i) *some* of the rule of precedent, (iii) the bits of the CPR which deal with deemed date of service, (iv) R v Brown.

Why

The judge sounds like an idiot.

What about those who study PPE and then GDL?

Anon

Leftists and liberals appaz.

Anonymous

Couldn’t hack the BA Juris? Of to Simmons/Herbies you go.

Anonymous

I believe he has only provided half a solution. Only two thirds of the current LLB (an entire year) is made up of modules necessary for access to professional qualification and practice.

Therefore, two versions of the LLB should be offered.

One academic version should be offered to those who do not wish to become practitioners, or otherwise wish to pair their legal studies with a non-legal subject like politics, criminology or a language.

The other should be a practical course, consisting only of modules compulsory in order to be a qualifying law degree. No optional modules are offered. Crucially however, all of the necessary modules required to qualify as a solicitor or barrister are also included. Therefore, after three years, one would effectively be ready for Call/to be added to the Roll.

The BPTC and LPC would be preserved for those who completed the former course, so as to not exclude them should they then wish to enter practice.

A A

If this happened, the legal profession would risk becoming *even more exciting* than it currently is.

Stijn Smismans

Anybody who argues that ‘politics’ should be removed from law degrees or law takes an extremely political stance on law degrees and the role of law. This retired judge is doing politics in the first degree and hates it that law students would be able to point that out.

Forrin type

Of course, as “Why” (Jan 7 2020 11:30am) reminds us, the majority of you British practitioners don’t hold LLB degrees anyway ….

Then there’s the separate but related debate as to whether Law should be taught as an undergraduate degree anyway or, like in the USA, only as a post-graduate option (like Medicine).

Oh my

What a load of nonsense from a seemingly right wing fossil.

What does he say about people who do non-law degrees? Should we also police them in order to exclude all those who studied dangerous subjects like “diversity”?

What about law students who take option modules from outside the law school, as many do?

Absurd.

Dozey Derek

Judgey Webb, Judgey Webb,
Does whatever a Judgey Webb does
Sends you down, any time
Uses well, the council guidelines
Look out! here comes the Judgey Webb

Is he strong?
Listen bud
He’s got jurisprudential blood
Studied hard the law of the sea
Not for him a modern degree
Hey there
There goes the Judgey Webb

In the chill of the night
He reads up on the crime
Gives the villains a fright
When he gives them more time!

Judgey Webb, Judgey Webb
Regulates the common pleb
Criminology he’s ignored
Diversity law just makes him snore

To him, villains will just get banged up
When there’s a legal hang up
You’ll find the Judgey Webb!

New Grad

The messed up thing is unis that allow law undergrads to do multiple options across their degrees in other subjects: eg. History of Art, Drama or something else ridiculous. Pad out their degree and get a first to take out into the market.

Give me one of those doggone easy modules

Sound like smart people to me, padding out their degree in order to gain an advantage.

Ok boomer

I think an undergraduate education should teach critical thought processes, not just subject material in the abstract. That goes for any undergraduate degree choice, not just law.

However, this is especially important in law as it introduces wannabe barristers and solicitors to some very difficult subjects that can become part of daily practice. What relatively recent undergraduate law student did not start Criminal law with R v Brown and a discussion on what would be held by today’s courts?

I can take the point where a focus on “political” academic discourse cuts into the teaching the fundamentals of black letter law. More of an argument of quality control rather than a call for stifling critical thought. In my current daily practice I know I could of used more background knowledge of case law on implied terms rather than all those lecture hours spent on feminist perspectives on contract law.

Anonymous

Teaching the political context of law isn’t the problem, but its important to teach lawyers, especially those who go on to become judges, to keep their political views out of their decision making. The ability to judge impartially is a difficult skill to master, and it could be that the current way of training lawyers doesn’t help to produce impartial judges.

RD

“What a load of nonsense from a seemingly right wing fossil.”

Only someone who has never appeared in front of Judge Webb would write that.

Anyone who had appeared before him would have omitted the word “seemingly”.

Bill Ablehour

From this comment I’m guessing you’re so ancient you were actually there when he Magna Carta was signed.

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