The Critical Lawyers' Handbook Volume 1
4: Critical Lawyers' Groups
achieve major changes in legal education and practice, critical students,
academics and practitioners must, in our view, work closely together.
Until recently, the critical legal studies movement had failed to pursue
this objective. In the last few years, however, Critical Lawyers' Groups
have successfully been formed in a number of polytechnic and university
law departments. They have received wide support not only from students
and academics but also from many practitioners. Our hope is that this
handbook will contribute to the formation of many more of these groups.
our experience student-run CLG's have shown the greatest energy and commitment
and have been the most successful in drawing in academics and practitioners.
In a way, therefore, this chapter is addressed principally to the new
generation of law students whom we would like to encourage to establish
CLGs in their own institutions. The following points may be helpful to
students organising CLGs.
Local critical practitioners should be invited to attend meetings (see Chapter 5) and to sit on your committee. You should approach your law department for assistance. This is useful as it will encourage staff to become actively involved in the CLG. Student Union rules allow staff to be members of student societies but not to hold office. To launch the group you might, perhaps, hold an open meeting on legal education. The editors can supply speakers for this or you might ask contributors to visit you. Further regular open meetings should be organised. This last point is crucial for it is the basis for meeting and working with people from all over the country.
recent years CLGs have welcomed a wide range of persons and many of these
have become active supporters. They include Michael Mansfield QC, who
has spoken on the Irish cases, the miners' strike, and Suspect Confessions';
Ed Rees (barrister) on the Tottenham Three and the Orgreave 'riot' trial;
Tanoo Mylvaganam (barrister) on 'Racism and Sexism at the Bar'; Maggie
Monteith, the Director of the Women's Legal Defence Fund; John Fitzpatrick
(solicitor) on 'Law Centres and Critical Practice' and 'Imperialism, Palestine
and the Gulf War'; Stephen Sedley QC on 'Judicial Review - A Weapon for
Socialists?'; Rate Markus, the Secretary of the Law Centres Federation,
on 'The Politics of Legal Aid'; Geoffrey Bindman (solicitor) on 'South
Africa and the Rule of Legal Terror'; John Hendy QC on 'Anti-Union Laws
- How They Work'; Tony Jennings (barrister) on 'The Abuse of Civil Liberties
in Northern Ireland'; Andrew Puddefat, General Secretary of Liberty (formerly
NCCL), on 'Rushdie - To Ban or Not to Ban'; Terry Munyard (barrister)
on 'The Legal Oppression of Gays and Lesbians'; Mike Anderson (lecturer)
on 'The Bhopal Litigation - How Lawyers Ensure Clients Don't Have To Pay';
Nick Blake (barrister) on 'Irish prisoners and British judges'; Tim Gopsill,
editor of the Journalist, on 'Censorship and the Gulf War'; Paul Rawlinson
(solicitor) on 'City Lawyers - Acting in Whose Interest?'; Sinn Fein on
'Legal and Illegal Repression in Northern Ireland'; Richard Schwartz (researcher)
on'Human Rights and Palestine', and Bill Bowring, Chair of the PIaldane
Society, on 'International Law and the Gulf War'.
a number of educational institutions (for example, at Coventry and Kent)
the CLG committees have established free legal advice centres on local
housing estates. Not only do these provide much-needed assistance to local
communities, they are also a very useful way of bringing together practitioners,
academics and law students and of encouraging co-operation, discussion
and the development of a critical approach to law and legal practice.
For students in particular the experience of the legal problems of the
poor and disadvantaged has been a Powerful antidote to the orientation
of many law courses as currently taught.
centre has not only been involved in individual casework, but has also
participated in a number of political campaigns, notably that against
the Poll Tax, becoming one of the Kent Anti-Poll-Tax Union's legal advisers.
The centre published leaflets on legal resistance to the Poll Tax and
took part in many media presentations. In Poll Tax cases student advisers
were initially allowed by magistrates' courts to represent persons as
'McKenzie friends'. However, the success of their efforts in raising procedural
and substantive issues led the court to remove this 'right' and to refuse
all further applications. This became the policy of magistrates across
the country as they sought to process the huge number of Poll Tax resistors.
The centre worked with the NCCL on a judicial review of one of the McKenzie
refusals which was heard by the High Court in November 1990. The High
Court declared that the McKenzie friend had never been a 'right', merely
a privilege which might be allowed by magistrates using their 'discretionary
'powers. This flew in the face of authorities dating back 150 years and,
for blatant political manipulation, must stand on a par with the courts'
judgements during the miners' strike! Comment on this case and other breaches
was published in the Legal Action Bulletin. The case is now on appeal.
February 1989 there has been a National CLG Committee to co-ordinate the
activities of the local CLGs. This committee organised the first CLG Annual
Conference at Coventry Polytechnic in November 1990 under the title, 'What's
Left in the Law?'. It also jointly published with the editors of the journal
Law and Critique, an article on the concerns and objectives of CLGs (vol
1, spring 1990, pp. 121-6). Readers may be interested in some further
details of both the conference and the article.
The article in Law and Citique took the form of an interview with the student members of the NCLG. We reproduce extracts here as it reflects some of the continuing concerns and objectives of the CLGs.
Editors - One of the themes which has emerged as pivotal for this issue is the very question of the relationship between students and teachers in the (legal) academic enterprise. To the extent that the editors of this issue are all poachers turned gamekeepers, ex-students left simply with memories of student life, it seemed to us important to try to elicit Student views and to record what students, today, might understand by the 'critique of law'. If the questions which follow seem at times forced or contrived, this is probably the result of the distance between the academic and the student. But it seems to us that law and critique can provide a forum for students as well as academics to engage in the development of the critique of law.
- Before attempting this questionnaire on, as you say, a broad assessment
of the relationship between students and teachers, we feel it is important
to comment on your attitude to this relationship as illustrated by your
use of the poacher-turned-gamekeeper analogy.
Editors - How would you place yourselves? Who are you? Where would you say you are 'coming from'? You have taken the trouble of setting up groups not only on individual campuses but at national level. How uniform or consistent would you say the goals are that fuel what you are doing?
- The CLGs have been formed as a response to the failure of the
law to tackle a profoundly oppressive and unequal society. There are structural
relations of exploitation and domination which the legal system reflects
both externally and internally. The eradication of these relationships
internally can only be a positive step towards change. The law, like other
bourgeois ideologies, is taught as if it is just another set of facts,
a manifestation of a 'natural' form of order emanating from a free society
of individuals interacting as they choose. As critical lawyers we view
this concept as inherently fallacious, For us, law must be viewed historically
as it has developed to legitimise capitalism. We reject the 'autonomy
of the law' ideology, and its implicit premise of a world consisting of
competitive individuals engaged in isolated and intricate power games.
Editors - How would you describe the relationship of your movement to politics, at either the national or student level? To what extent are you concerned with the politics of vocationalism, professionalism, with especial regard to the politics of legal professionalism and vocationalism?
- Our relationship to politics is not an interesting appendage to
the movement but is central to all our analyses and activities. Obviously
law students tend to look towards the legal profession. In order to build
a critical perspective we must develop an understanding of the nature
of that profession and its potential relationship to the struggle for
social change. To this extent the issue of legal professionalism and vocationalism
is a focus of debate. This has centred on the possibilities of a legal
practice that may be a force for social change and in finding political
rather than legal solutions to the problems that the legal profession
Editors - How do you see yourselves in relation to the legal profession, to the extent that this is the dominant relationship with which and against which law students tend to define themselves?
NCLG - The legal profession is clearly hierarchical. There is both the obvious stratification within the professional hierarchy and the underlying stratification along class, gender and racial lines. The former category pertains to the alienated roles which we are invited to adopt. These roles are defined by relationships of dominance and subordination. The latter category uses these personal characteristics to provide a so-called rational basis for social subordination. We do not define ourselves negatively in these terms but turn the definitions outwards to understand and clarify the dynamics of the world we live in.
Editors - How do you see your position in relation to that of other law students, critical or otherwise, and in relation to other student bodies?
NCLG - Our relationship to other student bodies depends on common political ground. For example, we have little contact with groups such as the Young Conservatives. The structure of the CLGs is genuinely democratic. Communication between members on a local and national basis is of primary importance. Students, practitioners and lecturers are incorporated on this basis. We do not act with the confines of state requirements and as such we have often found ourselves in confrontations with other student bodies. This was clearly illustrated byKent's experience with the Student Union when providing a platform for a Sinn Fein speaker last February. Under the guise of bureaucratic requirements the University sought to censor the title of the talk, 'Legal and Illegal Repression in Northern Ireland', to restrict the numbers of persons attending, to supervise publicity and stewarding and to inhibit the use of the student radio station to broadcast the talk. The SU was prepared to accept these rules and was less than sympathetic in challenging the University's authority. Most of these 'requirements' were fought off and served to clarify the non-compromising position of the CLGs.
Editors - What do you think of the current attempts at critical legal education? Do you think it is possible, or desirable, or important to get away from the sorts of hierarchical relations and effects Duncan Kennedy talks about?
NCLG - We accept much of Duncan Kennedy's analysis of how traditional legal education is both a training in subordination and a training for subordination. We must, as critical lawyers, seek in every possible way to 'subvert' this dominant tradition - to 'subvert' the law school if you like and to put at the centre of legal education (as with legal practice) the questions of Whose law? Whose values? Whose hierarchy?
Editors - Do you think 'academic freedom' is important or 'meaningful' in faculties of law? Does it matter to students?
NCLG - Obviously the quality of our education is an important issue for students. When academic freedom is directly restricted by right- or left-wing state control, critical education has been forced backwards. However, we are aware that academic teaching is dominated by bourgeois ideology and that academic freedom may serve as a guise for promoting reactionary ideologies and so called liberal or even radical educators may in reality act as 'soldiers with typewriters',
Editors - How far do students take account of the internal politics of law departments? Are students pawns in others' games?
NCLG - If by internal politics you are referring to the formulation of academic courses, we strongly believe that students and teachers should involve themselves in a constructive dialogue, exploring the possibilities that each course may offer. As to students being 'pawns in others' games', again you have assumed a strict division between student and teacher. If you believe this to be the case, is this questionnaire an example of such a game?
Editors - How can issues of race, gender and class be tackled within law departments?
- If legislation is conveyed to students on a neutral basis as just
another approachable fact then issues of race, gender and class are not
tackled. However, if placed in socio-political context, the purpose of
such legislation is clarified. The law has failed to prevent racism. Anti-discrimination
laws have been imposed on a structurally racist society. The law plays
a dual and a contradictory role in legitimating this. The law's formal
rejection of racism stands in stark contrast to the increasingly tighter
immigration laws it institutes. In 1981 the Nationality Act restricted
the residential rights of 'new' Commonwealth citizens in Britain. In 1988
the right to appeal against deportation for residents of less than seven
years was abolished. In 1985 Winston Silcott was convicted of PC Blakelock's
death without the usual prerequisite of evidence and without reference
to the intense police harassment and murder of Mrs Cynthia Jarratt that
preceded the Tottenham riots. By isolating the case from its social context
the state was able to flame its victims.
Editors - How should and how can students take issue with doctrinal teaching?
- Doctrinal teaching may be tackled firstly by our political approach
which must by now be clear. Secondly, students must attempt to bridge
the gap between doctrinal teaching, critical discourse and legal practice.
They must link 'education, agitation and organisation', a marriage of
theory and practice, in order to be a potent force for social change.
The 'truth' about the law cannot emerge from an inward looking analysis
of legal discourse and the contradictions therein. (With thanks to Law
and Critique for their permission to Publish this extract.)
The need for more CLGs
hope that this account will convince our readers of the need to expand
the CLG network and encourage them to do so.