Laypersons in Law – Social Science Perspectives on Legal Practices of Non-professionals, Berlin 09-10 May 2019
The Centre Marc Bloch and the Otto-von-GuerickeUniversity Magdeburg organize an international conference on legal practices of laypersons to be held in Berlin from 09 to 10 May 2019.
Lay judges and jury members in criminal trials; activists establishing so-called “people’s” or “citizen’s” tribunals, or proponents of alternative law – most of them are not legal experts with state-sanctioned competences. And yet, they all practice law, contribute to its production and development. In contrast, socio-legal research on law conceptualizes norms and acts mostly in the context of legal experts and legal institutions, including parliament, courts, tribunals and international organizations. Persons who are not part of these legal institutions – such as civil society organizations, activists, individuals, researchers or businesses – are often considered to be irrelevant for legal processes and laypersons are understood as mere consumers of law in traditional literature. Non-professionals as subjects of studies come almost exclusively in implementation research to the fore – and therefore in research on the effectiveness of law.
Studies on lay persons stemming from different disciplines and theoretical backgrounds indicate, however, that non-professionals can play a significant role in legal systems. They can indirectly contribute to law-making and legal practices when they use and refer to legal concepts in their professional or private life, or when they oppose them. For instance, regulation of complex challenges such as climate change and sustainable development involve diverse stakeholders and institutions. These findings and importance of laypersons in law raise questions regarding the current and historical nature, role and function of law.
Today, we know very little about the role of laypersons for practices in legal systems. This international conference addresses this knowledge gap. It looks systematically into the role of non-professionals in law from a socio-legal perspective. The aim of the conference is to question existing assumptions about the social character of law both theoretically and empirically, and contribute to new thoughts on the issue.