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Spotlight on Professor Dame Hazel Genn

7 August 2017

Hazel Genn

This week the spotlight is on Professor Dame Hazel Genn, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies at UCL Laws, and Director of the UCL Centre for Access to Justice and Co-director of the UCL Judicial Institute. Last week, Professor Genn stepped down as Dean of UCL Laws, after nine years in the role, to return to her research, teaching and policy work.

What is your role and what does it involve?

From September 2008 until last week I was Dean of the UCL Faculty of Laws. As the head of a single department faculty, I have been responsible for the leadership and day-to-day management of the Faculty, which has around 100 academic and professional services staff and 1,000 students. 

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I came to UCL as Professor of Socio-Legal Studies in September 1994 having just served three years as Head of the Department of Law at Queen Mary University of London.  

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

I am proud of the fact that the Faculty of Laws is doing so well and is rightly regarded as one of the world’s leading law schools. Over the past nine years, the Faculty has developed its research and teaching, reaching new areas to address pressing global and local challenges. While building on our traditional strengths in jurisprudence, private law and environmental law, we have developed new research centres in human rights, ethics and law, healthcare law, judicial studies, intellectual property and labour law.

I am personally delighted that, during my term as Dean, we managed to establish a Centre for Access to Justice in the Faculty. The Centre is a practical response to my research and that of others in the Faculty, revealing how difficult it is for citizens to deal with everyday legal problems. Through the Centre, our students take on legal cases for vulnerable individuals. This makes a very real, positive contribution to the local community and, at the same time, helps students to understand how law works in the real world and the power of the law in achieving social justice.      

Hazel Genn Bentham House

Professor Dame Hazel Genn visits Bentham House, the home of UCL Laws, currently undergoing a £24million redevelopment.

Tell us about a project you are working on now that is top of your to-do list.

Having set up a student legal clinic within a health centre in Stratford as part of the activities of the Centre for Access to Justice, I am working hard on an innovative research project funded by the Legal Education Foundation. The project collects data designed to explore the extent to which early legal advice might have a positive effect on patients’ mental and physical health and wellbeing. We know from research that many health problems have a socio-legal underlying cause and that legal problems around housing, welfare benefits, employment and family issues, for example, can have a negative effect on health. 

Patients often visit their GPs to discuss a health problem that the GP recognises has a social welfare rather than medical cause. It is currently estimated that around 20% of GP consultations fall into this category. We believe that providing GPs with the opportunity, in these circumstances, to refer patients directly to our free legal clinic (what is known as ‘social prescribing’) so that we can assist with such problems will: have a beneficial effect on wellbeing; make life easier for GPs; and, perhaps, reduce demands on GP services. 

I am in the early stages of designing the research, but there is a great deal of interest in this innovative area of ‘health-justice partnerships’. Concluding my term as Dean will give me much more time to focus on this research and build up our health-justice activities in Newham.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Album: Let it Bleed by the Rolling Stones, or Mozart’s Requiem Mass (I love most types of music except modern jazz).

Film: Brief Encounter (1945, directed by David Lean).

Novel: Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (anyone interested in civil justice HAS to read this).

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

I would love to tell you that I have a favourite joke but I am completely hopeless at remembering jokes, so any that I have laughed at in the past I have long since forgotten.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Anne Tyler, Christine Legarde, Angela Merkel and Nelson Mandela. Not sure how well they would mix but I would be interested to talk to them.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I have always tried to do as well as I possibly could at any task that I have been given or taken on. I think that is a strength, but I also think that at times I have given less important tasks more time than they deserved and as a result not always had a good work/life balance. I think if I was advising my younger self I might tell me to ease up a bit and make more space for non-work things that I enjoy.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

In a different life I would have loved to have been a concert pianist and, for a while, when I was young, I thought it was a possibility.

What is your favourite place?

With my family, around the kitchen table, interrupting each other and laughing over a takeaway curry.