Tag Archives: legal methodology

The Rape Trial and the Limits of Liberal Reform. And Why Legal Scholars need to do Theory Better

By Dr Yvette Russell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

Orestes Pursued by the Furies (1922-25) by John Singer Sargent

In recently published work I engage in a philosophical and psychoanalytic excavation of legal discourse on (and in) the rape trial.[1]  In this post I briefly summarise my key claims arguing, while I do, that legal scholars must diversify the theoretical tools they draw on in confronting issues of social justice.

Much feminist scholarship on rape asserts that the law has reached a best practice plateau and justice for victims is now being held back primarily by the aberrant ‘attitudes’ of criminal justice actors charged with implementing the law. Those attitudes, it is argued, militate against the best intentions of law makers charged with stemming burgeoning attrition rates. Attrition refers to the phenomena – not anomalous in the criminal justice system, but particularly marked in cases of sex crime – whereby alleged instances of sexual violence drop out of the criminal justice system.  This occurs at multiple points, the most notable of which is the first point where a victim makes the decision to report to police.  Continue reading

Dicta… Dictators and Law

By Prof Judith Masson, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies (University of Bristol Law School).

One key piece of knowledge all law students are expected to grasp early on in their legal career is the difference between what a judge says – dicta or obiter dicta and what a case means – the ratio or ratio decidendi. Even when they know the difference, students and practising barristers often prefer to reach for a quotation from a case. It can be comforting to use a well-rounded phrase from Smith J or Jones LJ and it may at first glance suggest wisdom when it really is just about memory. However, reliance on dicta is a really bad habit, does not make better lawyers and can seriously undermine what the law means.

In the hands of some judges dicta are powerful ways of communicating ideas – judicial soundbites – which make the case and the judge memorable. Lord Denning was a past master at this, making it easy to remember the facts of cases, but not always the law. Indeed Lord Denning’s skill with language enabled him to make or even make up law. Of course he was largely dealing with Common Law, developing contract and tort law rather than interpreting statute. Continue reading