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Wellbeing When Studying Criminal Law

Exeter St Davids - Reading (14:14)

Often when attending lectures for criminal law they are often titled “murder”, “manslaughter”, “rape” or other subjects where their titles double as a trigger warning allowing for student to prepare for the troubling topics soon to be covered in the lecture. Whilst the content covered and the cases are the same, I find it easier to learn when I am more prepared for the content that is to be covered.

Last week, however, our lecture was titled “defences”. We were covering a range of crimes and defences available to defendants, and as one defence is sometimes available to a range of crimes, we covered a concentrated version of the most horrific cases we have studied in first year.

After the lecture, I reflected on the weight of the content presented to us and ended up wondering if the content is this heavy now, what it will be like to work in the field and actually have to deal with events in the immediate aftermath of crimes. I approached my lecturer who had delivered the lecture, my seminar leader for criminal law, and a friend who is an environmental lawyer. These are their responses, paraphrased:

Seminar Leader:

Criminal law is the area of law with the most horrific facts and inhuman acts committed by humans. When studying it is easiest to focus on the rule of law underpinning the cases rather than the facts, and when working in the field it becomes easier once you are paid to do it.


I do appreciate the subject matter in criminal law can be very difficult for students (and for teaching staff). For this reason when teaching criminal law we focus on the law as is rather than the law it could or should be or any wider discussions about the more distressing topics. For the purposes of assessments student should focus on the legal principles arising from cases rather than the facts of cases themselves. Students are not expected to recall facts, but we do have to teach the facts of cases to put the legal principles into context.

Environmental lawyer:

The fact that you find learning about those cases upsetting is a good indication that you are a well balanced and decent human being. That is a good thing. I imagine some lawyers manage by being clinical about the facts. Personally, my way of dealing with the horrific is that

a) evil things do and always will happen and it is important to face up to that and

b) as a lawyer you are in the privileged position of using your skills and knowledge to try to bring justice when evil things do happen.

Often in truly unimaginable cases one of the things that can bring some comfort to a victim's family is to know that justice has been done. The rule of law is so fundamental to a properly ordered society as without it evil goes unchecked.

Three different pieces of advice from three different perspectives and areas of law, highlighting priorities and focus of studying cases.

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