We are often told that young people have no interest in the world around them; that they are apathetic to current affairs, politics and law. For the second year running, a group of sixth form students from London have proven this wrong by participating in the UK’s only Model Law Commission, in which they voice their opinions on what the law in this country should be. The Model Law Commission is a simulated law reform project, whereby students are split into four groups to explore different areas of law, which mirrors the areas looked at by the Law Commission itself. The project culminates in the students offering their own recommendations for the reformation of the law in each area.
On the 27 November 2014, in Parliament’s Portcullis House, the young people presented their reform ideas to guests in the political and legal professions. In addition, we were joined by guest speakers Mrs Justice Asplin and Elaine Lorimer, CEO of the Law Commission. The students spoke with clarity and confidence on the issues of cohabitation, revenge porn, extradition and genetic confidentiality; in turn dealing with problems that can even confound professionals with many years experience.
During her keynote speech, Mrs Justice Asplin spoke of the students being the future of the legal profession and congratulated them on proposing such well-considered law reforms in such a short space of time. Such praise is well deserved and judging by the maturity and enthusiasm with which the students approached the process of writing and presenting their report, this is without a doubt the beginning of many successful careers in law and legal policy.
The new “proposals”
The group reviewing the law on cohabitation proposed a new law enabling cohabiting couples to claim rights to property upon separation or death, similar to those enjoyed by married couples. They felt that whilst some relationships might not warrant such legal treatment, those who have been cohabiting for over two years should be protected under the law.
The students who looked at the issue of revenge porn concluded that there should be a law specifically criminalising what they would call “involuntary porn”. After serious consideration of all of the complications, the young people felt that whilst some parts of the offence were already criminalized, it was not sufficient for the punishment or protection from acts in modern society.
The young people that looked at genetic confidentiality tackled a particularly difficult subject, as they were faced with analysing both law and science. They concluded that in the interest of individual health, confidentiality should be sacrificed so as to allow people to have the best possible picture of their genetic make up. Limitations were however imposed by the students in the form of restrictions on the sharing of genetic information with employers and insurance companies.
The public law group, who dealt with extradition, proposed that the current law in this country provides an unfair system for UK citizens, allowing other countries too much control, the US in particular. The proposed reforms included closing loopholes that allow for citizens to be detained for excessive periods of time, in addition to the need for more financial support to be extended to UK citizens facing trial abroad.
Their conclusions were a result of a two month process of research, consultation, drafting and reporting, during which they were given the opportunity to speak with some of the experts in their respective fields, including academics and barristers.
Law Commission involvement
In early November, the students were also provided with the opportunity to discuss their reforms and the process of reform itself with individuals from the Law Commission, an experience which many of the young people described as being invaluable. Finally, the students were tasked with writing up a report of their reform proposals, which were then published by Lexis Nexis (see http://bigvoicelondon.com/big-voicelondon-publications).
Maria Sarwar, Nower Hill High School:
“I don’t think I would have been able to gain such a thorough understanding of a generally unpublicised area of the law without the Model Law Commission. The people I met through this opportunity were invaluable, especially the Law Commission, as I would probably not have been able to meet them or gain that level of insight otherwise.”
Sahil Sheth, Nower Hill High School:
“I absolutely enjoyed this experience over the past few months. It has made me even more certain that I want to have a future in law.”
The Model Law Commission is one of a range of activities run by Big Voice London, a legal youth outreach organisation which seeks to give a voice in law and legal policy to young people from state schools in London who would otherwise be unrepresented. Especially at a time when the legal profession takes seriously the questions of social mobility and access, programmes like the Model Law Commission provide disadvantaged students, who may not have considered a career in law, the opportunity to engage with law and legal policy in a unique environment. l
Big Voice London is entirely volunteer-led, with many of the volunteer team being post-graduate students who are united in their dedication to increase youth empowerment within the legal system. Big Voice London has also been fortunate in attracting the generous support of a number of organisations, including Middle Temple, City Law School, Landmark Chambers, Cohen Davis Solicitors, Lanham and Company and Lexis Nexis amongst others. With this assistance it is the ambition of Big Voice London to continue to run an engaging programme of activities in 2015, in addition to achieving full charitable status within the next few months. This will hopefully enable the organisation to continue to empower even more students in the future, allowing them to prove once and for all that young people are not only interested in, but are also passionate about, the law that governs this country.
Big Voice London is currently looking for barristers to get involved as judges in our mooting competition. For more information on Big Voice London and the Model Law Commission go to www.bigvoicelondon.com or follow on Twitter @bigvoicelondon.