MELS: a module review
Modern English Legal System, or MELS, is a brand-new first year law module studied by undergraduates in the first term at Warwick Law School. It is a core module for a variety of law-based course (see here) and aims to “provide students with a sound practical understanding of English legal method”. In a nutshell, it is an introduction to the English legal system focusing on the courts, legal cases, and statutory interpretation. As the module is new this year, I though I would give some insight into the ups-and-downs of the past 10 weeks of studying MELS!
What is MELS?
MELS is an interesting module that is taught via two seminars per week. Unlike other modules, MELS lectures are not really a thing. Other than the introductory lecture and the lecture about the MELS essay, the entire module was taught in our seminar groups.
MELS was taught through 2 very broad topics – the UK benefits cap and the death of Iraqi detainee Baha Mousa. Although these may seem like two very different, slightly random legal issues to focus on, the seminars were focused on using the specific legalities surrounding the benefits cap and the Mousa case to teach us a more general understanding of how the law works. By reading a UK Supreme Court case on the benefits cap, we not only learnt about the Welfare and Work Reform Act 2016, but also we learnt how to read cases, how judges interpret and decide on the law, how to write a judgment etc.
What Skills Were Acquired?
1. Understanding the Courts System
2. Reading Cases
3. Statutory Interpretation
4. Writing a Reflection / Judgment / Essay
5. Legal Reading and Research
How is MELS Assessed?
MELS is 100% assessed by a portfolio submitted in December consisting of 3 parts.
Reflection on a Court Visit – 15%
A requirement of the MELS course is that all students go and visit a court to hear a case. Based on this visit, we had to write a 500-word reflection on the visit. We were instructed to briefly discuss the case at hand and then critically analyse our experience in the courtroom – what were we expecting? Did the courtroom dynamics meet our expectations? Were we subjected to incorrect preconceptions due to literature and film? How are space, power, and language used within the courtroom?
Judgment – 35%
For this task, we were given a problem question relating to a topic we had already studied. We then had to write a 750-word High Court judgment on the case. We had to research judgment writing, the style in which judges make decisions, and the precedent in this particular area of law.
I think this was my favourite of the 3 portfolio tasks – it was a great opportunity to be slightly more creative and conduct thorough research so that I could provide an original argument.
Essay – 50%
The final task was a 1250-word essay relating to what we had studied about the controversial death of Baha Mousa. We were given an essay title, some perspectives that we could chose to take on, and some guidance as to the kinds of issues we could research and write about. Although the strike meant that a lot of us did not have the seminars designed to provide support on this essay, we were ensured that we had all the resources needed to complete the task at hand.
Pros / Cons
✓ MELS is great for students who (a) don’t exam well, or (b) prefer to study modules that are coursework-based.
✓ The portfolio tasks are diverse enough to ensure that even if you struggle with one of the three tasks, you will most likely perform well on the other two!
✓ This approach to learning about the English legal system seems way more interactive and engaging than trying to memorise the court hierarchy from a law textbook!
✓ Encouraged to work as part of a team, conduct independent research, visit a court! Lots of fun opportunities to make friends / go out!
✘ WORD COUNTS. I know for a fact that I am not the only student who struggled massively with keeping my ideas within the strict word counts of the three portfolio tasks… however, this just means you have to practice being really concise!
✘ For those students who actually prefer exams, this module may not be very fun for you. Don’t worry though, the other modules you study in term 1 are all exam-based. Fun!