Law research and ethics clearance

Thanks to one of my colleagues for sharing this interesting discussion from Inside Story about ethics clearance (by Gillian Cowlishaw).

The discussion in the article concerns the difficulties social science researchers (which includes law) face in complying with ethics clearance rules and ethics committees that may not be well suited to the research methodologies typically undertaken by law researchers.  While the story focuses on ethics clearance in Australia, it is likely that law researchers (including PhD students) in other parts of the world face similar demands, many of which may also be irrelevant or inapposite to their research.

The article certainly accords with my own experience – even as I recognise the good intentions and hard work of those serving on ethics committees. I am, however, quite pessimistic that the present ethics clearance system will improve. Rather, I expect that it will continue to be ever more burdensome and far removed from the world of legal research.

Any thoughts/responses?

By Colin Picker

GAJE conference and the India Supreme Court case re-criminalizing gay sex

The 7th Global Alliance for Justice Education (GAJE) conference currently occurring in Delhi India was inspiring on many levels.  It raised questions about the role of law schools in preparing lawyers who are responsible to their communities, and are ethical and caring people.   It also challenged participants to takehome learnings about how they could personally change the way they teach to create lawyers who care about justice on all its levels.

It was a shame that at the same time as the Indian Supreme court delivered a very conservative judgment re-criminalising gay sex (on Section 377 of the Indian Penal code), that the conference did not take the opportunity to discuss this.  The mainstream newspapers and media outlets were full of discussion about the decision and various commentators explaining what is likely to happen next and the impact on the Lesbian, gay,  bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.  With such a land mark decision at the same time as the conference, it’s disappointing that a group of justice educators did not discuss the decision in a plenary session.  Perhaps it’s indicative of the still challenging nature of discussing any questions relating to gender identity or sexuality in many countries, including in India.  It’s also partially explained because the conference was at Jindal University, about 2 hours out of Delhi with no access for delegates to radio, television or local papers.  It did have excellent Wifi and I’m sure Indian delegates would have been aware of the decision but didn’t raise it for discussion. The opportunity was lost to discuss these issues in an international conference as no doubt there would have been many perspectives and experiences which would have been shared, with the potential for combined action.  It’s encouraging that so many in the mainstream media in India recognized the decision’s significance and saw it as a breach of human rights.

By Anna Cody

Global Alliance for Justice Education Conference – “women’s courts” and clinical legal education

The 7th Global Alliance for Justice Education (GAJE) conference is currently taking place in Delhi India.  GAJE includes teachers in law schools and professional practice teachers from around the world.

One of the most interesting workshops I attended at the conference focused on ‘women’s courts’.  These are a form of dispute resolution system where groups of ‘Dalit’ women sit in groups of 12-14 and decide the disputes which community women bring to them.  The non government organization (NGO) which has promoted this development is called, Vikalp and works in Gujarat state as well as in some of the other states in India.  The women who use the courts bring disputes about family break up, domestic violence, work issues and neighbour disputes to the court.

Clinical legal education students from various law schools in India and the USA have supported the NGO do its work through projects such as developing resources for the NGO. The students then have the amazing opportunity to observe the women’s courts in action, sitting under a tree in the open air, in local communities.   The community women are trained in and practice some basic legal principles and processes, including summoning the person, frequently a husband, to the court.  While the system is outside the formal legal system, both parties attend and the final decisions of the women’s courts carry weight in the local community.

What a great way to teach law and how an informal legal system can be adequate for resolving disputes the way women want them resolved.

By Anna Cody

Pressure to publish in select journals results in distortions

Randy Schekman, Nobel prize winner, says his lab will no longer send papers to top scientific journals Nature, Cell and Science because of his belief that the pressure to publish in such journals distorts science. More and more, legal academics are coming under the same kids of pressure to publish in particular “prestigious” journals. As is the case in science, such pressure distorts the kinds of legal scholarship that academics choose to pursue. Since prestigious journals only rarely overlap with practitioner journals, for example, there is a risk that engagement between academia and the profession will decline. Is this simply a game we all accept we have to play for career progression, do we believe that it is ultimately of benefit to the legal academy to go along with this, or is it something on which we should, like Schekman, take a stand?

By Lyria Bennet Moses

Exam marking/grading break

Its that time of year – whether Northern or Southern hemisphere, the West or the East – most legal academics are either about to face, just finished or in the throes of assessing assessments (marking or grading depending which English you use).

Given the high level of boredom that goes with it, consider browsing through what may be the most intelligent on-line comic strip, the aptly named “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal”.  The basic website is at http://www.smbc-comics.com/  with a new comic each day, covering everything from philosophy (http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2673) to political economy (http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=3190#comic) to academic publishing (http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=1624).

Enjoy.

Colin Picker