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Decolonisation, Legal Scholarship, and the Society of Legal Scholars

Universities and the academy were a critical part of the colonial enterprise. Alongside other instruments of state, they played an important role in justifying and maintaining the British Empire (Doku, 2019). Many universities were founded on wealth generated through slavery, exploitation, and colonialism, and continue to benefit from that wealth today.

Law schools played a particular role in this, including through the training of colonial lawyers, exoticisation and devaluing of indigenous and customary legal systems, epistemicide, and valorisation of certain kinds of knowledge. Law schools and legal knowledge production, as well as the institutional structures in which they are located, continue to benefit from the legacies of colonialism, while People of Colour are underrepresented in the academy, under-promoted, and experience an award-gap in degree outcomes.

As a Society we recognise these histories and their effects on how we understand, teach, and study law. We recognise, value, and support the work of scholars engaged in decolonising the curriculum and the law school. We understand and welcome decolonisation as a process that “forces us to confront the history and effects of imperialism upon our academic practices in law” (Adebisi, 2019). As well as encouraging subject sections to reflect on colonial and decolonising perspectives in their events and work, we confirm that proposals to our funding competitions that seek to explore these questions, including questions relating to the history of the Society, are welcome and encouraged.

Drawing on the practice of acknowledging country practiced by many universities and scholars in, for example, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, we suggest below a formula of words that might be helpful to members who wish to acknowledge colonial legacies at speaking and teaching engagements.

Suggested acknowledgment of colonialism:

I/We acknowledge the colonial legacies that inform our understanding of the law and from which universities and I continue to benefit. [I acknowledge that the land on which we stand is part of a University that was founded on wealth generated through colonialism, slavery, and exploitation.] I/we pay my/our respects to those whose lives, land, laws, cultures, and traditions were subjected to colonial oppression enabled in part through the complicity of law, lawyers, and legal scholars.

Applications for funding are welcome from Ordinary Members of the Society who wish to organise specific events for the purposes of decolonisation.  To find out more please visit the Small Projects and Events Fund page: https://www.legalscholars.ac.uk/small-projects-events-fund/ .

Towards Anti-racist Legal Pedagogy: A Resource’  is now also available free to download. It has been designed by Dr Suhraiya Jivraj (Reader in Law & Social Justice) to help law school teachers develop anti-racist curricula and classrooms, particularly embracing and reflecting the diversity of students of colour. More information including how to feed into the resource and join a network of law school teachers to share good practice is available here.