Conclusion

The label 'socio-legal' does not denote a particular disciplinary approach or ideological position. It is an umbrella term which embraces a multiplicity of disciplinary and theoretical approaches. Indeed, given the breadth and inclusivity of the label, and given the broader developments within UK legal education, there does not seem to be all that much left to separate the 'legal' from the 'socio-legal'. Perhaps it is time to recognize law as an academic field that invites a broad range of disciplinary perspectives and so treat it as a focus of study rather than as a discipline in its own right, or, as David Downes once said of criminology,[1] to see it as a 'rendezvous subject'. The methodological challenge for public law - and indeed for law more generally - is to take account of, and take part in, long-standing debates about the nature of the social world (including law and governance), about how we might adequately investigate it, about the validity of empirical data and about the cogency of normative critique. Such is the staple diet of the social sciences and the humanities and, of course, produces a very wide variety of views, approaches and ideological positions.

Within the study of public law, there is plenty of scope for debate about the underlying methods used by public law scholars of various hues to advance particular positive and normative arguments about our constitution. Further, there is considerable room for a greater variety of textbooks, both in terms of methodological approach and subject matter. And, of course, as a body of scholars we should continue to draw on the methods and insights of history, philosophy, sociology, political science, and so forth, to challenge constantly the assumptions and propositions that we find in public law scholarship and to deepen our knowledge of governance and the role of law within it.[2] This chapter has set out how empirical legal research contributes to this endeavour and can enrich the teaching of public law to our students. On the basis of the review of research set out in this chapter, a course in Public Law which enthusiastically embraces the contribution of empirical legal research should be underpinned by three basic convictions:

  • 1 When describing the UK's constitutional map - setting out the range of constitutional actors or institutions about which students need to learn - the focus should be broad. The implications of this are, first, that our focus on accountability mechanisms needs to move beyond discussions only of Parliament and the courts, and, second, that the image of the branches of government should be abandoned in favour of a constitutional network.
  • 2 The approach to constitutional principles or values should recognize that, at one level, this is an empirical question about how public power is exercised and constrained. This means that we need to think about constitutional values from the bottom up, as well as from the top down. In others words, a sole focus on constitutional doctrine and political theory is likely to give a skewed image of what our constitutional values are, as opposed to what they should be.
  • 3 Discussions of accountability mechanisms need to take account - so far as empirical data are available - of their significance for the routine business of government. Equally, discussions of citizen redress against government action should take account of how such mechanisms are used and the barriers to use experienced by citizens.

Nonetheless, it seems clear from the scholarship reviewed in this chapter that, so far as embedding socio-legal studies into the LLB curriculum, public law scholarship is in a reasonably healthy state. Indeed, much of the empirical work referred to in this chapter has been published in Public Law, the main UK journal in the field. Ultimately, the breadth of the socio-legal studies movement encourages considerable variation in the ways in which teachers of public law may approach the subject. The main argument made here is that public law scholarship has for some time displayed many of the fine qualities that socio-legal studies brings to the study and teaching of law. It begs an interesting question of whether the socio-legal studies movement has been successful in integrating the socio-legal into the study of public law, or whether public law scholarship has been successful in demonstrating how law might be studied from various socio-legal perspectives.

  • [1] Attributed to Downes by Paul Rock in Rock (1994, p. xii).
  • [2] Empirical work influenced by a law and economics approach is not yet present within theUK canon of public law scholarship, though such is generally the case with UK socio-legalresearch.
 
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