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Archive for May, 2014|Monthly archive page

At Tale of Two Citadels travels to SLSA Aberdeen

In 2014, Gratuitous self-promotion, Testing project on May 8, 2014 at 11:33 am

In April 2014 I travelled up to Aberdeen for the annual SLSA conference, hosted by the Law School, Robert Gordon University, to deliver our paper on ‘Two Citadels’ in the Medical Law stream. Aberdeen is a great, albeit expensive city to visit (well, mid-week anyway – that’s oil money for you). There was a huge array of papers in parallel streams, with the inevitable difficult choices that this invokes for attendees – there are always papers you would have liked to hear but – in the absence of Potter-eqsue ‘Time Turners’ – the timing did not permit. The full programme can be found here ParallelSessionSummarySLSA2014.

Glenys Williams, convenor of the Medical Law & Ethics stream, put together an excellent programme. The first session focused on various and fascinating aspects of abortion, space, community, history and conscientious objection (and more), featuring Joanna Erdman (Dalhousie), Ruth Fletcher (QMU) and Michael Thomson (Leeds). It was a lively and engaging session, and a superb start to the conference.

After coffee, Claire Lougarre (UCL) and I shared the next session, giving plenty of time for questions and discussion for both papers, which was a real gift. Claire gave a thought-provoking and engaging account of her PhD research on the scope of the ‘right’ to health, something that she and Jonathan have already and I’m sure will continue to enjoy discussing ‘up’ at UCL. With Jonathan in Warsaw on NCOB business, and in the absence of a cardboard cutout of him (to direct any awkward question to …) it was left to me to present the latest iteration of our work in progress: ‘A Tale of Two Citadels: Competing Narratives in a Case Biography’, drawn from our British Academy/The Leverhulme Trust funded project ‘Test case biographies as a method for studying hidden law-making’.

The case study in this paper, focusing on the decision in AC v Berkshire West PCT [2010] EWHC 1162 (Admin) and on appeal [2011] EWCA Civ 247, starts from the position that legal cases are complex social phenomena. They have histories – and they link past and future events in a present encounter. There are established doctrinal approaches to ‘understanding’ cases, and situating their significance within a legal context according to institutional rules (ratio decidendi, obiter dicta, stare decisis, and per incuriam, for example). However, it seems valuable to us to seek to understand alternative ways of mapping cases in the Health Care Law context; exploring, for example, the parties’ understanding of the dispute (a specific dispute, or part of a campaign? Possibly a legal campaign, but alternaively one of a different character again?); also the lawyers and judges involvd have careers in which a specific case will play a part.

Our desk based research, for this case conducted largely by Alex Chrysanthou, has sought to explore the chain of case law leading into and(less significantly, currently) leading out of the AC case, and the network of legal personnel directly involved in this case (which will need further reflection). Our third line of enquiry, undertaken by me, has been to examine the interpretation of this case by legal reports and commentators. This research indicates that the choice of competing narratives began to take shape long before the issue is argued before a judge – i.e., is this about NHS resource allocation, or about transgender legal rights?

The questions, comments and responses from those at the Medical Law and Ethics stream were thought-provoking and will be invaluable in moving the project forward (not least in terms of encouragement as people said how interesting they thought the project was). Also, we look forward to presenting this work again at Southampton next week, at a dedicated event on Hidden Law-Making and Case Biographies – and for the opportunity for further reflection on the next phase of the project – but more on that event to follow in a future blog post.

Caroline Jones