Critical Legal Thinking
13 February 2015
Following campaigns against pro-democracy and Occupy Central sympathisers at the University of Hong Kong, we must ask the old question: what are legal academics for?
The heady days of Occupy Central have passed. The 79 day occupation of the centre of Hong Kong — alongside other sites in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay — dominated life and work for many in the city and became a focus of attention for international media. The movement is now in a period of reflection and consolidation, searching both for new strategies of engagement and, perhaps even, a sense of its soul or animating force. These are more quotidian times, far removed from those exceptional days in August last year. The future of Hong Kong, its path to democracy, its relationship with China, its legal and political institutions, all remain, for now, open questions. But for how long? And who will determine the moment when such questions are closed? Where and to whom might one address such questions? Who will answer?
It is, as such questions circulate, that the question of the university itself is being asked. The university — an institution undoubtedly of and for the question — has become the site of political intrigue in recent weeks... Nonetheless, these events prompt old questions that require renewed thought. In the current predicament it is legal academics, in particular, that must repose these questions. What — we must ask — are legal academics for?
In the common law tradition, legal study has a particularly vexed relationship with the academy. In England, the traditional home of legal training was the hallowed Inns of Court. Coke, Plowden and Hale, the early- modern champions of the common law’s unique form of reasoning and judgment, were deeply suspicious of “university men” who came to the law with a range of dangerous European influences: Aristotelian logic, rhetoric, dialectics and Roman law. Seeking to preserve the purity of English law, with a heritage that supposedly stretched to antiquity, legal education and training in the common law world has always been anxious of the university, unsure of its own position in relation to scholarship. Anyone working in a university law school will be familiar with the ubiquitous question, asked when one’s profession is revealed, of “why didn’t you go into practice?” The very idea of legal scholarship itself remains somewhat puzzling for many. Are legal academics servants of the law or servants of knowledge? Do they answer to the profession or the university? ... Click here to read the full article.