Month: September 2006

Blogs, context and contract

Why bother blogging?

Barely a day goes by without an entry being posted on one of the blogs I read (see side bar right) about a new blog, the impact of blogging, a controversial blog or something to do with legal blogging. So it’s clearly something that is being done more and more. Just look at all the blogs in this directory.

Back in the old days, just having a blog was good enough to get readers, but that is no longer the case. Anyone can set up a blog and post about random stuff each day. In order to get readers and to keep them coming back you need to offer good content that is well written, covers topical issues or analyses well known ideas in a different way and is kept up to date. Often people will set up a blog with a great idea for their first post and then not have any idea as to what to write from then on. That is a danger and despite what people might think, it is quite difficult to think of fresh and engaging content continually.

Luckily, like quite a few subject areas, the law is a great topic to blog about because there is a lot of content available for inspiration. There are court cases going on all the time and the news is a great source for that. Equally, as a law student I am learning new things each day I have a lecture or seminar and I can have fun analysing that new knowledge in the context of what I knew (or didn’t know) already. I have yet to do that because I have yet to encounter something that is worth commenting on, but I do expect to reach that pretty soon (lectures so far this week have been more introductory and seminars start next week).

For qualified lawyers, blogs can be a good PR tool to promote your services and your law firm. For students like myself they can be a good way to just write up what is going on and see if anyone else has experienced something similar, or just to post a controversial comment in the hope of generating discussion. For me, it is more a case of exploring a different style of writing and subject matter than I have been used to in the past. I’m pleased to see that people are linking to this blog but it is not the primary reason I’m writing.

Yesterday, I listened to a lecture about how law is taught here – that the approach of the law school is quite different from many law schools around the country in that it takes a critical approach to the law. Whilst learning “black letter law” is very important, the teaching here supposedly gives you additional skills which can be applied even if the law you have learnt changes, as it inevitibly will. This will be the focus of the “Critical Introduction to Law” module – providing key skills for analysing law and not just learning the written facts. This is, of course, a very good idea and something I’m surprised is not the focus of all law schools.

Provided within this lecture was a good example about a law in the USA which states that any convicted criminal (or felon, if you’re using that crazy (perhaps even an oxymoron?) language that is American English) loses their right to vote in any presidential election. I was surprised that this law exists as I’m of the opinion that every citizen should have the right to vote, but that aside, it transpired that this rule was key to George Bush winning the election. Many black/hispanic Americans in Florida would have voted for Al Gore but by some co-incidence many of them were also convicted criminals. As a result, votes which could have (and probably would have) meant a victory by Al Gore were not cast and so the actual implications of this law were to provide a victory for Bush. On it’s own, the law is not racist, but when considered within this context, it really is.

So I can conclude by saying that what I knew in a general sense but did not have any specific examples for – the law exists as written fact but is rarely considered without some kind of context; that blogs are an increasingly important aspect of law; and that after reading through “Overview of Contract” in my “Obligations I” booklet, in actual fact, contract law is incredibly complicated!

Knowledge

The point of a degree course is to learn more about a specific subject – in great detail. If it’s a subject, like Law, that you may not necessarily have studied already, then it is quite acceptable if you know nothing about the subject. That’s what you’re at university for, right?

Maybe. I think it depends on the subject. Take Medicine for example. This is an extremely complicated and intense course and there really isn’t that much you could do before starting the course. Apart from study Biology and Chemistry. But even then I imagine there’s still not much you could do to get a “general overview” of the subject, so to speak. Indeed, how do you get a general overview of Medicine? Is it even possible? With Law, on the other hand, I would suggest that it is possible to find out a good amount even before you start the subject. At least find out about how the system works in general.

The lecture I had today was an introduction to the legal system, more focusing on what we’re going to be doing as part of the “Legal Process” module – visiting court, learning about the UK legal system and exactly how it works. I’m sure this module is going to go into great detail on this (as with anything at university) but there’s basic knowledge that you could have obtained even before studying the module. Particularly if you knew you were going to be learning about it e.g. before the lecture or even before coming to uni to do law in the first place. I’m talking specifically about how the UK courts system is structured, the difference between the criminal and civil courts and various other small bits if information. It only takes half an hour or so to read a few pages from a book, do some research, visit wikipedia and build up a foundation that the lecture will build upon.

Obviously, I’m not saying here that it is a requirement to have detailed knowledge about these kinds of things – that’s what the course is there for – but even so, the number of people in the lecture who didn’t have a good idea of what happens in the courts was surprising. Or maybe they just weren’t confident enough to say when asked. At least I hope that’s that case.

Over a week

So far I have implied that I am actually a current Law student and since this blog was started during the summer it could be assumed that I was in my 2nd or maybe 3rd year. However, I am actually just this week starting my first week of proper study in my 1st year.

A week yesterday I arrived on campus to begin studying the law at an undisclosed university in the UK. Last week was Fresher’s Week which involved a lot of drinking, parties and meeting new people. But amongst all that fun we also had some introductory lectures. These included receiving the module outline booklets for the 5 modules that I shall be studying this year:

  • A Critical Introduction to Law
  • Constitutional and Administrative Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Legal Process
  • Obligations I

One of the lectures in Fresher’s Week included writing a 45 minute essay titled “What is law?”. This was strange because I was intending to write a post here with that exact title, but ended up deciding not to. I enjoy writing on topics like this and after a little bit of preparation the night before, I had some good ideas that I was able to put into a structured essay for the lecture.

And today I shall be attending my first lecture that is not just an introduction to the subject/course/university as a whole. In fact this week I am not on full timetable but instead will have several lectures to introduce various key skills required to study the subject:

  • Going to Court
  • Introduction to Statutory Interpretation
  • Introduction to Reading Legal Cases

Although Fresher’s Week was good, I have been really looking forward to actually starting the subject – I got quite excited last week when the modules were introduced. I can’t wait to actually start!

I have all my books that I need for the first year on my shelf:

  • Gary Slapper & David Kelly, The English Legal System (8th ed), Cavendish, 2006
  • Herring, J., Criminal Law: Text, Cases and Materials (2nd ed), Oxford University Press, 2006
  • Ashworth, A., Principals of Criminal Law (5th ed), Oxford University Press, 2006
  • Ewan McKendrick, Contract Law: Text, Cases and Materials (2nd ed), Oxford
  • Mindy Chen-Wishart, Contract Law, Oxford University Press, 2005
  • Blackstone’s Statutes on Contract, Tort and Restitution 2006/7

These are very heavy and very thick, but do look quite interesting. So I am also looking forward to being able to use them properly to do legal research, especially since the total cost from Amazon.co.uk was £170!

So far university has been very relaxed, although expensive. Accomodation for the first year is £4036.36 self catered. Added to that £3000.00 for the year for the topup fees and you’re looking at about £7000.00 just to go and have somewhere to stay. My timetable has yet to be finalised with my full quota of lectures and seminars but I will now be able to pick up the rate of posting since I will actually have some content to comment on. I’m hoping to post again this evening after the first lecture.

I also have a strange urge to do some of my own research into my topic of particular interest – intellectual property and technology law – since these are not covered as separate modules in the first year, or even at all in the case of technology law. But what do I look into? What can I research?

 

Laws are meant to be broken

Laws are meant to be broken

You hear it quite often (in various forms), usually when some TV or film character is about to defy some rule or regulation that will save them or cause massive explosions. But it has a serious side that involves less fire too. Are laws actually meant to be broken?

First, we need to consider why laws are written. For the most part, they are there to provide some kind of protection to the general population. A speed restriction is designed to protect pedestrians in a built up area or the passengers if there is a lower limit due to fog, for example. In these cases, the laws are there to tell people what they should not be doing. They’re not supposed to be broken because doing so would endanger someone. But the key thing is that if they weren’t there, most people would probably exceed the “safe” speed limit, not because they want to kill or injure someone but because they don’t know what the safe limit should be. We’re not all scientists.

What about murder then? That it is illegal to murder someone does not really exist to provide a “guideline” like speed limits do – I’d suggest that most people won’t ever murder someone because they know it is wrong. In this case, the law only really has any effect if it is broken.

Digression: Although perhaps you could argue that we only perceive it as wrong because it is illegal and has been for a long time.

When laws are written, for most cases (I have yet to reach the part of the course where I can say “for all cases”) there will be some form of punishment defined should the law be broken. This means that the law is expected to be broken and so there must be some form of action that can be taken against those who do so.

Of course that doesn’t mean it was “meant” to be broken, just that there are actions ready to be put into place if it does happen.

It is in this way that we can say that yet again, there is no clear answer to this legal question and a different answer will apply depending on the situation. Just like the law itself.

 

The British Way

A great example of how we British deal with those pesky American courts was announced yesterday when a US court ruled against the British anti-spam company, Spamhaus, who lost by default after refusing to accept the US jurisdiction and subsequently not defending the case.

The invalid default judgement awards compensatory damages totaling $11,715,000.00, orders Spamhaus to permanently remove Linhardt’s ROKSO record, orders Spamhaus to lie by posting a notice stating that Linhardt is “not a spammer” and orders Spamhaus to cease blocking spam sent by Linhardt.

The full statement from Spamhaus can be found on their website.

Learner Speeders

Is it wrong to break the law?

There’s a simple answer and a more complex answer to this. The simple answer is that yes, it is always wrong to break the law because the laws are there to protect and ensure fairness, security and freedom. However, you also have to consider the context of the question – the answer would certainly differ depending on the situation.

For example, if you had to break a load of traffic laws to get someone to a hospital, would that be acceptable? Yes, I would suggest that it would be. At least in most cases – if you caused a mass pileup then perhaps it would be different.

For example, if you had to smash a door down to gain entry to a house that wasn’t yours to rescue someone who had collapsed, or was trapped, then I would suggest that would also be acceptable.

But, you might argue, these are only small crimes. What about something bigger, like, I don’t know…murder? In what circumstances would it be acceptable to kill someone? Perhaps in defence of someone else. But then we get into what the press are always going on about – reasonable force, a topic I could write a whole separate post on. What if the person you killed would have killed you? Perhaps he was going to detonate a bomb and you had to shoot him to stop that.

The point here is that in law, questions, events, legislation, punishments and actions can rarely be considered in isolation. Yes, in most circumstances it is wrong to kill someone and yes in most circumstances you should stick to the speed limit, but there will always be some kind of situation where that would change. And that’s why the law is interpreted and applied on a case by case basis.

And how did I arrive at the topic for this blog post? Remember when you were learning to drive? Remember how you had to keep the speed limit and it seemed that you were the only one driving at/under it? Remember the tailbacks caused by your keeping to the speed limit? The speed limit seems to be the law most commonly broken without any thought.