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Oration for Professor Dame Hazel Genn by Professor Gordon Campbell

On the occasion of being awarded Doctor of Laws summer 2007

Dame Hazel Genn is Professor of Socio-Legal Studies at University College London. That phrase ‘socio-legal studies’ embraces a variety of disciplines concerned with the social effects of the law and its institutions, processes and services. In Dame Hazel’s case, the social dimension that lies at the centre of her academic and professional work is the access of ordinary people to civil justice. The perspective that interests her is not that of the judge or legislator viewing the citizen through the clarifying prism of the law, but rather that of the victim of injustice unable to bring the fog of the law into clear focus and so to understand the protection afforded by the law and the process of legal remedy. Her work focuses on civil justice issues, on people who need the law to obtain compensation for civil wrongs, to enforce their rights or to obtain legal entitlements: these are people who have lost their homes or their jobs, or have been unable to work because of injury or unable to secure benefits to which they are entitled; they may have suffered discrimination or found themselves in dispute with landlords or neighbours or providers of services. In such instances the law provides protection or a remedy, if only it can be accessed. The understanding that informs such a perspective can only be secured by recourse to a broad range of academic disciplines, including but not restricted to law. The intellectual origins of Dame Hazel’s distinctive perspective may be discerned in the years before she became a lawyer.

Hazel grew up in North London, and was educated at Minchenden Grammar School in Southgate. Her classmates included Peter Soulsby (now Sir Peter and our MP) and Peter’s future wife and Hazel’s future husband; there is clearly a tale to be told about what went on in that sixth form. The film-maker Lord Puttnam, who is also an honorary graduate of this university, attended the same school; he left with only three O-levels, and Hazel looked set to do likewise. The principal difficulty was that she didn’t deport herself like a serious student: she wore mascara, and had a reprehensible taste in hipster skirts. These sumptuary misdemeanours masked a girl who was rather more serious about the world around her than her appearance would suggest. In the event she passed her examinations and went to the University of Hull, not to read Law, but rather to study for a joint degree in Sociology, Social Anthropology and Social Administration. Her intellectual trajectory as a social science undergraduate was typical of the period: after a few weeks as a Marxist she moved through the piecemeal socialism that we associate with Karl Popper and emerged as someone relatively unencumbered with ideology but nonetheless determined to contribute to the creation of a just and open society. Her aspiration was to work in a field related to social policy, and in a sense she has done just that. The journey, however, has been circuitous. She started on an MA in Sociology, and then dropped out because she was offered a job; her tutor informed her that any prospect of an academic career was extinguished by this act.

The job was in Cambridge, at the Institute of Criminology, where Hazel was employed as a research assistant on a victim survey. Like social science students now, she had studied statistics and quantitative methods, but the year was 1972, so the elephant in the laboratory was the computer. Her mentor in the mysteries of punch-cards, Fortran and an early version of SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) was Richard Sparks, the Sparks of ‘Hood and Sparks’, the authors of Key Issues in Criminology, a seminal book that was to shape the discipline. This was a period in which Hazel began to gain first-hand experience of the effects of crime. She interviewed victims of crime, and even moved to a deprived council estate in Hackney in order to develop a more informed sense of the experience of multiple victimisation. The next move was to the Socio-Legal Centre in Oxford, where she again worked as a researcher; here her focus shifted from criminal justice to civil justice. For years she commuted from Ealing, where she juggled husband, children and hamsters. Just down the road from her home lay Ealing College of Higher Education, which is now part of Thames Valley University. She enrolled for a part-time LLB, so complementing the social science expertise with some legal knowledge. Her research profile was attractive to employers, and she soon secured a lectureship in Law at Queen Mary College in London. In the fullness of time she became a professor and head of her department, and in 1994 she was poached by University College London, where she has worked ever since. The principal reason for that poaching was her research in the field of civil justice, which by then included studies of out-of-court settlements in personal injury actions, the effectiveness of representation at tribunals, informal justice and personal injury compensation. At UCL she has gone on to contribute to the Woolf Inquiry into Access to Justice, to write textbooks on civil justice and to write a series of analytical and evaluative reports for the then Department for Constitutional Affairs (now the Ministry of Justice) on topics such as court mediation schemes, non-family civil disputes and the experience of ethnic minority users of tribunals.

Dame Hazel has served on public bodies such as the Civil Justice Council, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Economic and Social Research Council (where she chaired the Research Grants Board), the Judicial Studies Board, and the Higher Education Funding Council (where she is chair of the panel that evaluates research in Law, Politics and International Studies, Social Work and Social Policy & Administration, Sociology, Anthropology and Development Studies). As if that were not enough, she is one of the inaugural Commissioners of the new Judicial Appointments Commission, and is leading a Public Legal Education Strategy Task Force established by the Department for Constitutional Affairs. The high profile of public life, however, obscures a low-profile life at the front line. As she wrote recently, ‘I have spent 35 years flogging around the country sitting in the backs of courts and tribunals, sitting in the listing offices and basements of courts picking through files, sitting in the homes of people struggling with civil justice problems – and have loved (almost) every minute of it. I remain endlessly fascinated by the legal system as it operates and as it is experienced by ordinary people’.

Hazel Genn’s achievements have been widely honoured. Her university has awarded her an LLD and elected her to fellowships of two colleges; the legal community has awarded her an honorary QC; the wider learned community has honoured her with election to the British Academy, where she soon became a member of council and vice-president; the nation honoured her with a CBE, and last year she was advanced to DBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. It is now our turn.

Mr Chancellor, on the recommendation of the Senate and of the Council, I present to you Hazel Genn that you may confer upon her the degree of Doctor of Laws.

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