Tuesday, 29 March 2011

End of term for lectures….exam time….!

It’s a wonderful feeling coming to the end of my first year of law. Looking back, I have to say it has been one of my most interesting years! I remember the excitement of that first letter of acceptance, sitting in my first law lecture, soaking it all in. Now I’m sitting at the other side of my first year, and so glad to still be here, although at the same time, amazed that time has flown by so quickly!

That being said, although lectures and seminars are finished, there is one final HUGE hurdle to pass. EXAMS….! I have several rather large essays to write as well as a couple of exams to sit. The nerves have already set in. I found myself lying awake last night thinking about what I need to do to prepare. I am already having nightmares about the exams, and they are only happening in the last two weeks of May!

Luckily I have made some great friends this year, and I am sure we will all be meeting up to share our nervousness together!

Till next time…

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Budget day...what it means for students.

So I just spent the last couple of hours watching the UK Budget being announced and debated. I thought there were some good points in there, like more help for first time home buyers, and a new incentive to increase charitable legacies. For example, if you leave 10% of your legacy to a charity, you will get 10% off your inheritance tax bill. This won’t make any difference to the individuals, but will make a huge difference to the charities receiving that 10% of your wealth/estate. There was also some great ideas for forcing companies to be more green (although I fear this will just end up filtering its way down to us consumers).

When it came to us students though, I was very disappointed. In their announcement, their very own words, they stated that education is key to a sustainable future for the nation. That higher education in particular is not available widely enough… “Evidence shows that the better skills a person has, the more likely they are to be employed, to earn more, and to be more productive. Better skilled people are also better able to adapt to new technologies, and the better use of technologies throughout the economy offers huge potential for growth.” So why then, are they insisting on reducing the funding to this absolutely fundamental element of our society?

I understand the theory, but practically, it is just going to be more daunting for anyone to take on the kind of debt they are asking students to take on. They are trying to reduce the burden on the taxpayer, but at the end of the day, there will be less higher earning tax payers in the future, if they cannot afford to get a higher education. “Following the review by Lord Browne, the Government announced a fundamental reform of higher education funding, to be introduced from autumn 2012. This will sustain the viability of the UK’s world-class university sector, while reducing the burden on the taxpayer, by requiring graduates who can afford it to pay more in return for the benefits they gain.” Like I say, it’s a nice idea, but in reality, it just going to scare potential students off because of financial restraints, and the burden of the debt they will be getting into.

After all the protests and clear indications that this is the wrong thing to be doing in terms of the nation’s future, for the students, our future tax payers, they have gone ahead with it.

This, I believe will be the “Achilles heel” of the Tory-Libdem Coalition Government.

As always, thoughts and comment welcome below.

Till next time….

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Criminal Evidence – Does it really paint a clear picture?

At the lecture last night Dr. Piyel Haldar gave a really interesting talk about criminal evidence, and what is involved. I have often thought about whether there is actually an accurate representation of what happened when so much evidence is actually held back. This, I thought, fed back into the who issue of the Paradox of the Criminal Court.

Criminal Evidence, as defined in the lecture is primarily concerned with the manner in which the court can establish either the guilt or non-guilt of the defendant, which brings about a slight problem as the purpose of the trial is not to establish the innocence of the defendant, but rather what part the defendant actually played in the event. Which is not to find out exactly what happened, but rather just to establish its relevance to this particular defendant.

This made me think about whether this is actually going to paint a clear picture of the event. How does judgement actually come about when there is not a clear picture of what happened? The lecturer referred to the Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges who wrote a short story on a King who sent one of his subjects to draw a map of his kingdom. The subject came back with a map with all the main roads and landmarks, this was not good enough for the king, and so he went out again, returning with another fuller version including all the hills and valleys. Again this was not accurate enough for the king, so the subject went away again, this continued, until the subject covered the whole land in paper to draw an exact map of his kingdom. To which the king said, well, it’s still not an exact replica of my kingdom, as it is still just a map. This is what is said of evidence, it is used to illustrate the probable version of events.

Ideas of proof in medieval times were determined by divine forces i.e. to know whether a witch was truly a witch, she would have lead/bricks tied to her feet and thrown into a body of water, if she sunk, she was not a witch in the first place, if she floated, she was a witch and was to be burned at the stake. There is a definitive voice that determines judgement. Now we have a judgement of matter. Man isn’t God, so there is only a probabilistic version of events.

Exclusionary rules means that the evidence that is admitted, has to be deemed relevant. Some items of evidence will be left out or considered irrelevant, so there will not be an exact picture of what happened Often relevant material may be excluded because of reasons such as public policy etc. Which brings me back to my original quandary, with all this evidence left out, how can a true judgement be brought on the defendant? I don’t mean to go to the extreme of the story told by Jorge Luis Borges, but surely if the evidence was there, it is evidence, irrelevant or not, should they not be included to gain a better picture of what happened?

As always, comments welcome.. till next time.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Is the law degree fit for purpose?

Recently the question was asked, is the law degree fit for purpose? My first question was who’s law degree, or from which institution? All law institutions vary in their methods of teaching. Yes, they all teach relatively similar content, but the manner in which it is taught varies wildly. So to address this question, we must first explore several other questions, which will hopefully bring us to draw similar conclusions. Being a student, the answers that are given here are from a student’s perspective, rather than a graduate’s or practising professional’s perspective

The first question to ask is; does the institution encourage you to think pro-actively rather than just looking at past case law? As much as past cases are relevant, which they of course are very relevant, but when asked a legal question, is your first reaction going to be to look up past case history, or to think critically about the case and question everything yourself and then refer to past cases? At Birkbeck, they encourage us to constantly think critically about everything we are taught. We are encouraged to challenge and discuss what we are being taught, which will ultimately produce well-rounded graduates. To take a quote from the Open University’s website illustrating this point that not all institutions are the same, the problems they have encountered have been of this very nature, “The problem with lawyers is that when they are confronted with a problem, their training and instincts are to look for a precedent from the past rather than to confront and embrace new ideas and thinking.”

How prepared or equipped has the university made you? Graduates today, having finished their Qualifying Law Degree (QLD), feel quite nervous about the next step. There is probably a fair bit more that can be done by the universities in terms of preparing the student for the next step. There are of course advisers available to go to for guidance on what to do next, but universities are missing a trick here, questions like which career path to follow, billing trends, client expectations and other law-related issues, these sorts of questions could be worked into the syllabus, possibly towards the end of the degree. These would address all the different options available to a student, and the reality of it all.

In terms of legal knowledge, I believe the degree is very comprehensive, in terms of real life experience, or teaching, it is lacking. Larry Kramer of Stanford University is spearheading a change in this area of study, and in fact the legal profession as a whole, as he can see the changes that have happened just in the last twenty years, and what needs to be done to address those changes, “Twenty years ago, most lawyers would have scoffed at the idea that profitability—much less profits-per-partner—should be the measure of success for firms, but that’s where we are: to be bigger, to pay higher salaries, to bill more hours, to open more offices, to be more profitable,”.

Back in 2009 the Law Society was seeking the legal profession’s views on the quality of the existing QLDs. The consultation came after a number of doubts were voiced regarding the quality of incoming trainees and newly qualified solicitors.  The Law Society Gazette reports Baroness Deech as saying that  many aspiring lawyers taking the BPTC are “wasting their money” and are not up to it and that “There are too many people on the course who shouldn’t be there. We need to give a signal to those who aren’t up to it that they’re wasting their money.” There are concerns both for qualifying barristers as well as solicitors. With the looming university charges being raised, these are real, hard, honest questions that need to be addressed. If there are such strong feelings as to the quality of the students coming out of universities, then there must be something that is being missed.

It is at this point, that the answer becomes clear. The law colleges producing the students with their QLD’s here in the UK need to look at what is being done in Stanford in the US, and follow their lead. Investigate what is lacking, what is causing people like Baroness Deech to be so appalled at the quality of students being produced, and address those issues. Yes, it will cost money, but ultimately it will also save money, in terms of fees being wasted by students with no prospects in the industry. All the hard work and finances that are being poured into these QLD’s need to be for something that will ultimately benefit the student, if they are not up to the mark, for whatever reason, these reasons need to be addressed.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Paradox of Criminal Court

The lecture I went to last night I found particularly interesting, so I thought I would share some of what was said that really peeked my interest. One of the things that was talked about was the paradox of Criminal Court. As the crimes of the defence become more heinous, the more protection he/she is provided by the courts. That being said, the courts are actually more on the side of the defence than on the side of the prosecution. The reason being that, the courts would rather set a guilty man free, then send an innocent man to jail.

Now I know that the courts are supposed to be impartial, and that they are not on the side of either, but rather and unbiased judge of the case, but when you look at due process, and all that is involved in a criminal case in order to get a conviction, all the “hoops” the prosecution have to jump through, per se, it becomes clear where the courts protection lies. I understand this, and appreciate these barriers that have been put up to ensure that an innocent man is not sent to prison. But it does raise questions about who is protecting or standing up for the victims of the crimes? We had some interesting debate, and it left me feeling like I need to find out more. As I am still in first year law, we will not be going into great detail about criminal courts and the burden of evidence, this will be later on in my degree, but it has left me wanting more. Which is exactly why I signed up for this degree, I absolutely love having these debates, and thinking about things outside of everyday life, and looking forward to the next lecture!

As always, comments welcome. Till next time.