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II Socio-Legal Studies in the Foundation Subjects

Land Law and Equity and Trusts

Rosemary Auchmuty

It is a curious paradox that, while both equity and land law[1] would seem at first glance to be natural objects of socio-legal study, concerned as both are with values and power relations, the black-letter approach tends to dominate our syllabuses and textbooks, with only the barest nod in the direction of historical context and a smattering of policy. The focus of these courses is the legal rules, and most of us are content if, by the end of the module, our students can apply the correct law to the facts of a problem question and give competent advice. This is hardly surprising. Both equity and land law are regarded as 'difficult', technical subjects which students find alien and inaccessible. In the face of rising failure rates, teachers face the challenge of making them as straightforward as possible, while yet covering sufficient content to satisfy the professional requirements laid down by the Joint Academic Standards Board. If there is one skill above all that the law degree offers students, it is the skill of 'thinking like a lawyer' - of being able to identify the relevant legal issues in a given problem and apply the correct law to solve it. Many of us conclude that if we send our students out into the world with this skill in the area of property law, where it is so often lacking, this is a significant achievement. And so it is. But it is not enough.

Our aim should be to turn out graduates who know the law but who also take a view on its appropriateness and effectiveness - on its very justice. That view should be based not on the mechanical application of rules, nor on gut feeling and 'opinion', but on rational and informed arguments supported by evidence. This is the rationale for socio-legal perspectives on property law, without which any useful evaluation of the law is impossible.

  • [1] This chapter covers both land law and equity and trusts because, first, the subjects overlap,and, second, some teachers cover certain topics in property law (such as trusts of the familyhome) in equity while some include them in land law. Even those programmes in whichland law precedes the study of equity and trusts must introduce students to the history ofequity and the trusts at the start of land law, so the subjects are complementary and oftenindivisible.
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