By Judith Townend, Director of the Centre for Law and Information Policy at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
Judith answers our questions about her experiences engaging the public.
Could you tell us a little bit about who you are and the research that you do/your role in SAS?
I am director of the recently launched Centre for Law and Information Policy at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS), part of the School of Advanced Study (SAS). Our area of interest is ‘information law and policy’, or put another way, law and policy as it relates to the control and flow of information and data in society.
The Centre has quite a broad title, but we plan to specialise in certain areas that affect the wider public’s, as much as academics’ and lawyers’, everyday activity: data protection, misuse of private information and freedom of information, for example. Also, and this has a particular relevance to public engagement, we are interested in the way that specifically legal information is communicated to the public: through the courts and parliament, in private practice, by media and legal information organisations. The way that information about law reaches the public is quite haphazard: through a piecemeal system of communication that is heavily reliant on a number of third parties, many commercial. There are lots of things that could be done to improve public understanding and awareness about law.
What public engagement activities have you been involved with in the School?
The new Centre has only just officially launched, but it’s already been quite busy. In November 2014, shortly after I joined the School, I organised the Humanity of Judging event at the Supreme Court, part of the Being Human festival. The idea was to give the public an insight into the courts process with a free guided tour of the court (normally there is a small fee), and hear about the human side of judging from an expert panel of three legal academics and a Deputy High Court Judge, chaired by a Justice of the Supreme Court. I also took part in the Human Library during the festival in which we discussed our specialist interests with members of the public in the wonderful Senate House Library, although I think I learned as much from them as they learned from me about their experiences and views of social media and the law. Most recently we launched the Centre with two public events in February.