Tort Law: How Should Tort be Taught? Utilizing Expertise and Telling Tales in an Innovative Law Curriculum

Karen Devine

Introduction

The effects of widened participation in Higher Education (HE) in the UK are plain to see. The governmental response to a need for greater social justice and economic competitiveness has led to an influx of students from nontraditional backgrounds and under-represented social and cultural groups, with a growing trend of students entering universities from state schools, low participation neighbourhoods and lower socio-economic backgrounds (DFEE, 1998). Indeed, facilitation of the widening participation (WP) initiative (see Public Accounts Committee, 2008-2009) by law schools in the UK has witnessed increased access to law degree programmes by a much wider crosssection of the population with the removal of barriers to HE overcoming the elitism and exclusion of the past. With such radical changes to the make-up of the student body, law schools must re-assess who their students are, what academic skills they are likely to possess on commencement of their studies, how best to equip them with the requisite academic and legal skills to successfully navigate a law degree, and in what ways delivery of the curriculum can best serve a cohort of students who enter law schools from a wide variety of educational and intellectual vantage points.

This chapter takes Kent Law School's (KLS) approach to the teaching of tort law as an exemplar model that combines innovative modes of delivery with responsiveness to the learning needs of its diverse range of students. The law degree programme within KLS, which includes tort law as a core module for a qualifying law degree (QLD), has been revamped via a curriculum review with the prioritization of research-led teaching (Carr and Horsey, 2010, p. 8) embedding student learning, even in the 'traditional' or core modules. The need for such an overhaul of the curriculum was acknowledged and developed by the KLS learning and teaching team as a direct response to the changing face of the modern-day law student. Rather than focusing totally upon teaching techniques as the main tool with which to impart knowledge and to inspire and develop student understanding, emphasis has been placed upon new forms of legal education. In the delivery of tort law, legal content has been re-evaluated with the disparity of students in mind - this, in addition to capitalizing upon the rich, intellectual expertise of KLS tort law academics - has engendered a tort programme that incorporates three new innovative forms of teaching, namely; presenting case law as 'stories'; the delivery of case classes; and the introduction of 'special studies'.

Students are first introduced to tort law in the Introduction to Obligations module in one term of their first year. During this module, students engage with rudiments of tortious legal harm, debate issues of a so-called compensation culture, and study in detail the legal principles and concepts that define trespass to the person torts before also exploring two elements of contract law - breach of contract and potential remedies. Core texts include Horsey and Rackley's (2011) Tort Law and Chen-Wishart's (2010) Contract Law, which are supplemented by selected readings made available to students in the form of a readings pack. The module is charged via the curriculum review with teaching aspects of common law development, the historical foundations of legal obligations, the doctrine of precedent and the skill of reading cases, and thus initially explores the key differences between private and public law, civil and criminal law, and tort and contract law. In the second year, students study the Law of Obligations module, which is taught over two terms and similarly encompasses elements of both tort and contract. The tort law section of the Law of Obligations course examines the intricate and complex issues involved in the tort of negligence, occupiers' liability and the land torts before individual students select a tort or contract-based special study. The special study pedagogy was adopted by KLS in its revised curriculum in order to inject research-led teaching into intensive, specialized subject areas and to allow academic experts scope to introduce students to aspects of socio-legal studies associated with their field of expertise.

 
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