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#international: "Grundgesetz and Ewigkeitsklausel"

Robin Lister

Robin Lister is a Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Bradford’s Faculty of Management, Law & Social Sciences. He visited Pforzheim University as a guest lecturer in May 2019 and lectured in the Bachelor’s program Business Law (LL.B.) on the English legal system and aspects of company law. Mr. Lister spoke to student reporter Lia Sophie Wilmes about the characteristics of English law and Bradford University’s “Law Clinic”, which gives his Bradford students the chance to practice law and make a contribution to the local community at the same time.

Mr. Lister, welcome back to Pforzheim! What is the one thing you like most about the Northern Black Forest?
The surroundings of Pforzheim are spectacularly beautiful. I remember one day, during my first visit to Pforzheim, we went on the treetop  walk in Bad Wildbad with the students, which was pretty glorious.
And I do quite like Pforzheim itself, even though everyone who asks me seems to be a little bit negative about it. But I think the center is lovely, and that is where I spend most of my time, there and at the university. And I really like the atmosphere in the university, it is very friendly and everybody is really engaged.

You lecture in our Bachelor’s program Business Law. From your point of view, what is the distinctiveness of this program?
I think it is very practical. My students have been here for the best part of three years, so they are nearly at the end of their course. Most of them speak excellent English, which is very impressive. I have been lecturing about what is distinctive about the English legal system and common law. We had some really good conversations comparing how different legal situations would be dealt with in Germany and in the United Kingdom. Our system has evolved over centuries and we do not have a formal constitution equivalent to the Grundgesetz.
We also talked about recent political developments as they have an impact not only on society in general, but also on universities. The spectre of Brexit, whether or not we leave the EU and whether or not there is some sensible agreement if we do, has a significant impact on cooperation between universities, in particular on student exchange programs like the Erasmus scheme. But there are also effects on research collaborations, which have developed so much over the recent years. In my faculty in Bradford, I have colleagues from Greece, Finland, Germany, France, … from all parts of Europe and the rest of the world. So we hope that whatever happens the outcome is sensible and all our partnerships and collaborations continue.

At your home university the law students have the chance to train in “The Law Clinic”. Tell us something about this concept.
The Law Clinic is one of the most exciting innovations we have had in our law school. I am a trustee at Citizens Advice Bradford & Airedale (CAB) and Bradford Law Centre. Law Centres are charities initially established in the late 1960s and 1970s to provide free legal advice to people who could not afford it. To help cope with the funding cuts experienced by so many charities and third sector organizations in recent years the Law Centre amalgamated with the much larger Citizens Advice Bureau in 2015. We agreed with them that it would be a good idea to run a university law clinic, based at the CAB and Law Centre, offering free legal advice to everyone in the local community on matters that the CAB and Law Centre do not cover. So it is a good collaboration, which is excellent for our students. They can develop their practical legal skills with real clients and, at the same time, make a valuable contribution to our community. One of my colleagues, who is a barrister, is primarily responsible for running the clinic. It has been going for four years now and it really has been a great success.
It is not mandatory for our students to work there, but roughly a third of final year students take advantage of the opportunity. At the moment we are expanding it, so that second year students can start to get involved, too. It is one of those areas where we have got big ambitions. I think it is good for universities to be involved with the local community on a personal level.

My research revealed that you worked as a children’s book author before your career in law. How did that come about?
That is right, I have written a number of versions of the classics for children. But let me start at the very beginning of my career. My first degree was in English language and literature. After graduating in Oxford I worked in France for a year and a half teaching English as a foreign language. I then went back to Oxford and did some research and some undergraduate teaching. I then got involved in publishing and writing and in my early thirties I enrolled in the postgraduate conversion course for law.

You might have learned some German during your visits. Which is your favorite German word?
There are two: Grundgesetz and Ewigkeitsklausel. The eternity clause is of huge significance, because it means that certain articles of the Grundgesetz are permanent principles, which cannot be amended, not even by a super majority in parliament. Even though we do not have a formal, written constitution in the United Kingdom, there is a core rule of law value, which means that our constitutional democratic values must be observed. So if a government attempted to do something contrary to that the judges would have to break with the idea that the government is sovereign. However, this is rather vague and I think my students here in Pforzheim are right when they say that it is better to have something written down.

Thank you for the interview, Mr. Lister.

The University of Bradford is a public university located in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England. At the moment there are more than 10 000 students enrolled, 22 % of them are foreign and come from more than 100 different countries. The University of Bradford’s School of Management has the Triple Crown Accreditation and a lot of international collaborations. The School of Law offers an extensive range of law programs and gives students the opportunity to tailor their studies in a particular aspect of law.