Introduction to the English Legal System

Martin Partington

£25.99, Oxford University Press


May juncker

More questions than answers on Brexit – unsurprisingly

Martin Partington is emeritus professor of law at the University of Bristol. His recently updated Introduction to the English Legal System is absolutely fit for purpose as a gateway into legal systems and, more broadly, the current climate of the profession.

The preface to this 2018/19 edition states that the book will ‘provide all those coming new to the study of law [at] A-level, degree or postgraduate conversion level, with an overview of the context within which law is made and practised’. This is achieved. Clearly defined parts of the book look to give readers an overview of: law, society and authority; the structure of the legal system; the delivery and funding of legal services; and a conclusion drawing together the issues and arguments.

As a family law practitioner I was particularly struck with the family justice section. It is accurate, insightful and highlights some of the most important and exciting parts of family practice. However, what Partington does so smoothly is tease out some of the broader socio-legal issues for new students. He wants readers to start to grapple with wider questions around law, as ‘all students should be encouraged to think about law and legal practice beyond the boundaries of the legal profession’. Indeed, in the family law section he states at the outset that ‘the role law should play in the regulation of family relationships is controversial’. 

His style is consistent. First you get the background to an issue or area of law, then some factual information, before some reflections for new students. The reflections tease out future essays and areas of study, probably most obviously for undergraduates and converts to law who will go on to study and research topics beyond the scope of this introductory text.

The book also touches on some of the implications of Brexit for the profession. This will be welcome for new students and is an important update not covered in earlier editions. It poses more questions than answers on the UK’s exit from the EU, but this is to be expected. What Partington does achieve is to draw attention to potential pressure points which students can use as a basis for future investigation and teaching.

The main strength of the book is that it provides very clear and concise context. But it will require readers to go further and read other texts on the areas they want to specialise in, whatever level they are at when they read this one.

This book will appeal to those starting the study of law who want to know the basics, but who also want to be signposted to some of the most interesting and controversial areas of law. It has many references to past government reports, investigations and statistics. For example, there is a very useful introduction to terrorism law, PACE and the criminal law system. The book does not go into the type of detail a keen undergraduate researcher would crave, but it signposts important context which new students will need as a first step.

This updated edition is exactly the type of text a new student will need to digest. Its clear concise explanations will help students set the foundations. It will work best as a manual during one’s undergraduate years – a reference point – after a detailed first read at the start of a programme of study.

Scott Halliday is a family law solicitor at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth