UCT Law on the brink of a new frontier

18 October 2019 | Story Niémah Davids. Photos Brenton Geach. Read time 5 min.
Prof Danwood Chirwa says the faculty needs to work hard to become more inclusive and diverse in all respects.
Prof Danwood Chirwa says the faculty needs to work hard to become more inclusive and diverse in all respects.
 

To explore the parallels between law and technology, and draw further on their interconnectedness for both research and teaching and learning, the University of Cape Town (UCT) has undertaken to establish Africa’s first Centre for Law and Technology.

The multidisciplinary centre, to be housed in UCT’s Faculty of Law, will pilot research and teaching and learning from the perspective of law and technology in a bid to keep up with the demands of a modern, tech-driven world.

This was revealed by Dean of Law Professor Danwood Chirwa, during the facultyʼs 160th anniversary celebration in Cape Town this week.

Alumni, members of the Leadership Lekgotla including Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, deans of faculties and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation and former Dean of Law Professor Danie Visser, joined the festivities at the Old Granary in the city on Thursday, 17 October.

“Those that came before us long recognised the link between law and humanities and between commerce and law, and introduced combined degree programmes in these fields. Now we see the interconnections between law and technology, and we think these links are worth exploring,” Chirwa said.

 

“Our efforts must continue so that we can be more inclusive and more diverse in all respects, including race, disability, sexual orientation and social background.”

“We can’t be complacent”

Reflecting on the 160-year milestone, he told the audience that age can either be seen as a yoke, or it can provide impetus for greater achievement. It will become a yoke if people choose to be complacent, he added.

“Ignoring the rapid and gradual changes taking place in society can’t be an impetus for greater achievement.

“Our efforts must continue so that we are more inclusive and more diverse in all respects, including race, disability, sexual orientation and social background.”

UCT Law says cheers to 160 years.

He said there have been ongoing debates in the faculty about just how much globalisation and technology continue to impact the LLB academic programme. The effect of Generation Z, and the number of new ways of consuming knowledge and how they have impacted the teaching of law in particular have also come under scrutiny.

But using these trends to impact legal education and benefiting from them is what really counts.

“All this has compelled us to think more and examine ourselves. We’ve been thinking more of improving our teaching,” he said.

What’s good for teaching

For a long time, academics in the faculty placed teaching methodologies and philosophies on the backburner. But that has changed.

Today, Chirwa said, discussions on what is good for teaching law and the methods to get it right drive conversations. Academics in the faculty are also more sensitive to students’ ideas and opinions, and involving them in key decisions that directly affect them is common.

“Previously, we treated students’ views on teaching, and our teaching specifically, as distractions and lame excuses. Now we are more responsive to student input and participation in decision making.”

Some plans already in place to revolutionise the faculty and connect students and academics include the recent establishment of the Law/Tech Club. The club provides a space for students and staff to come together and engage about law and technology.

 

“All this has made us better and stronger, and can make us even better.”

In the next five years the faculty hopes to establish a combined degree programme that will draw into the LLB programme students in information systems, mathematics and computer science. There are also plans to offer a postgraduate programme in law and technology, and a skills course in law and technology for LLB students.

“All of this has made us better and stronger, and can make us even better. We have a history of resilience, self-examination, adaption and [we’ve been on] a quest for constant progress. If we continue with that spirit, we can be what we wish to be,” Chirwa said.


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