Shock and Law

The Red Tops are blowing the law exam way out of proportion, says CHRIS ROWLANDS. He’s seen things you can’t even imagine.

drinking socieity law Mahal shock warning

Shock: Cambridge criminal law exam sets question about law. Daily Mail doesn’t understand.

Last Saturday’s criminal law exam paper for part IA and IB students has made national news for its depiction of debauched drinking society antics. Including blindfolded blow jobs, anal penetration with drinking vessels and, that old favourite, fatal pubic waxing, the national press have widely quoted how it was found ‘a bit funny’, and at least one student found it ‘horrific’.

THAT Tweet

THAT Tweet

Except that quote actually came from a third year English student, who hadn’t sat the paper, and was actually referring to the reflection the question would have on drinking societies. It turns out Daily Mail readers really do think that the University would try and tackle such real and pressing issues by putting them in an exam paper: OxfordGal wrote in the comments section, “So in social clubs or drinking clubs in universities, people are being sexually assaulted and the university turns a blind eye? That is sick.” Indeed it is.

Unfortunately, it seems the backlash has now turned away from the University and, somewhat inevitably, towards the students themselves. Comments ranged from “How will these idiots function as lawyers? They need to grow thicker skins” to “What pathetic excuses for legal students.” Quite.

Come to think about it, of course we would be shocked by such a question. Having studied such delights as R v Brown, in which “a group of sado-masochists, willingly and enthusiastically participated in the commission of acts of violence against each other for the sexual pleasure it engendered in the giving and receiving of pain” and R v Gittens, where “The appellant attacked and killed his wife with a hammer and then raped and killed his daughter”, it is surprising that the question featured only one occurrence of anal insertion, and only a single instance of manslaughter by pubic waxing. Pretty tame.

It’s wrong to be facetious about this, but, as so many Daily Mail commenters helpfully pointed out, the law is not pretty, and people are weird. The question served a legitimate purpose, in the context of sexual offences and consent, and, as is usually the case with law exams, which the BBC helpfully pointed out, “The exam students were asked to outline any offences which may have been committed.” There was no moral judgement involved, no requirement that students weigh up the pros and cons of pubic waxing over epilation, or other means of hair removal. The context was strictly legal, and entirely appropriate.

As first year Christ’s lawyer, Amy, put it, “I liked the question. The circumstances felt familiar, and that was a comfort in the stressful atmosphere of an exam room.”

It was no backhanded stab at drinking society antics either. In previous years, the exam writers have favoured use of the names of Desperate Housewives characters in problem questions – hypothetical scenarios are so commonplace within the law course, if anything the question was probably intended to keep the marker entertained.

Making a college drinking society the subject matter was perhaps more risqué than anything which has gone before, but it wouldn’t be the first time familiar circumstances have appeared in the criminal law exam. The 2011 paper featured as part of a problem question: “Later that evening and with the bag of poison still in his pocket, Ralph takes Victoria out for an Indian meal. Ralph orders prawns as a starter and hot curry as a main dish. Victoria suffers an unexpected allergic reaction to the prawns and dies instantly. Ralph quickly removes from Victoria’s lifeless neck a valuable antique necklace and takes it with him as a memento.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but that sounds like a standard night at the Mahal.