What the human rights act will mean for legal education

September 29, 2000

Traditionally, the discipline of law in England, as reflected in the practice of judges, advocates, scholars or teachers, has been sceptical, pragmatic, and inductive and it is hard see why the Human Rights Act need have a greater impact upon legal education than any other new act of parliament.

In fact, legal education is already seeing some consequences. Witness the proliferation of specialist human rights modules in undergraduate degrees; of specialist human rights post-graduate degrees; of continuing education focussed on the Human Rights Act, aimed at practising lawyers and delivered either conventionally (like the courses offered by Liberty), or electronically (like the Human Rights Act site produced by the College of Law as part of its Lawbytes series); the Human Rights Act's inclusion in the list of core or pervasive areas on both the legal practice and bar vocational courses; and the range of texts now devoted to the act either generally or as applied to specific areas of government.

Nor is it only Charter 88 activists or members of Matrix Chambers who believe that the impact of the act on the work of lawyers and judges, on their perceived role - and the role of law itself - in politics and society, on the range and methods of legal research, and upon legal education could well prove radical and even, dare one say it, paradigmatic In each of these spheres practitioners will now have to engage explicitly with what until now has almost been the law that dare not speak its name. They will have to make and justify hard choices between competing claims entailing often highly sensitive social, political or ethical issues; and in doing so to adopt the more principled and deductive approach to the conceptualisation and resolution of legal problems, which has so long characterised the discipline of law in the United States. The act could therefore necessitate a significant level of intellectual re-tooling, and in large measure it will be up to legal education to provide it.

Richard de Friend is director of the College of Law, London.

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