Marianne Wade

On this week of Behind the Scenes at BLS, Marianne Wade, Reader in Criminal Justice, talks about her initial ambivalence in studying law and ultimately why she is still hopeful law can be a tool for social justice.

My first encounter with the law was devastating. I was 6 years old, safely sat on our pristine living room carpet in Southern Norway, watching tv about a far-away land. South Africa. And one word: Apartheid. I had noticed I was different: dark hair, dark eyes, darker skin; my mother’s daughter. But welcome amongst Vikings. Yet here it was. Other. My family described as a crime, everything I knew and was: against a law. Law as a force of annihilation. 

And yet I studied it. Why? Because it kept my options open; a good degree. And because every time I thought of anything else, my mother pushed. No one else minded. The side of my family that includes lawyers seemed nonchalant. So much privilege the law is just something you take for granted? Funny because those ancestors truly knew its power. In one history lesson their names had me wondering whether we are related to Guy Fawkes’ torturer. But my mother – she who has no hope of tracing her ancestors even part of the way, to anything other than evil law and some despicable vessels moored in Caribbean ports: African, Chinese, Indian… gone – she pushed. My mother whom the law did not secure an education, did nothing to protect as she learnt how unwelcome she was in the country her father had chosen to fly to defend in WW2, she pressed me to study law.

So I did. Unenthusiastically, unhappily, lost. But then a critical lawyers conference, before an ERASMUS year (criminology, juvenile criminal law, criminal procedure but also beer and the scars of the Iron Curtain) and the final year: human rights, criminal law and “Holocaust Literature” in the German department … this could be me? 

Well, here I am, 20 years later, an enthusiastic criminal justice scholar. I work where the law in the books is forced to confront the law in the streets. Socio-legal approaches and critical criminology enrich my days. But words also matter. Guantanamo, Yemen, Grenfell, Lawrence (a name, but tragically also a legal concept) all remind us that the absence of law is far from a desirable destination. I deeply respect doctrinal scholarship and mourn its fall from fashion. Precision in the law is important because interpretation is everything. I now understand that easements and trusts are an important part of the journey. They teach you how the members of the club make law. Sometimes to oppress, sometimes to other. Mostly blindly, but sometimes with malice aforethought. Normally to make real how those who write it want conflicts amongst themselves to be resolved. How they wish to be treated. But the words also apply to those they do not see. And therein lies the tool, actually available to all who manage to learn the law. The statute books contain the seeds of revolution. Less bloody perhaps and endless Sisyphean toil to hold them to their phrases. But those dry words also contain hope. So you have to love the law. Just.