Chris Hodges

Chris HodgesPlease tell us a bit about your background.

I read law at New College, graduating in 1976, after King Edward’s School, Birmingham, where my father taught, and a gap year as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Signals in Germany (huge fun). My wife and I met as undergraduates in 1974 and have been married for 43 happy years. We have three grown up children: a biology teacher, a company executive, and a healthcare writer. Looking back, one can see life opportunities opening up for generations from all backgrounds in the 20th century based on public health, education and social stability. We are very lucky in this country.

What led you to a career in academia?

I spent 25 years as a practising lawyer based in the City (Slaughter & May, Clifford Chance, then partner at CMS Cameron McKenna) travelling the world advising multinationals on dispute resolution and regulation. Having started writing books (the first was pan-EU law on product liability) and talking to the European Commission and UK government on policy issues, I decided to do a PhD in my spare time (‘don’t try this at home’).  A mere 11 years later, having got the doctorate (EU regulation of consumer product safety), the interest in policy had deepened, and in why legal systems are the way they are, and whether they could be improved. A lucky conversation led to me having a part-time honorary post at New College for 3 years. I then jumped from the City and was lucky to land at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, which is a great place to learn about empirical research and socio-legal viewpoints. My unusual background means that I have first-hand experience of ‘real life’ regulation and solving disputes, from various perspectives, which helps when one is asked by governments, regulators, ombudsmen, consumers, business and so on to think about improvements – and it’s important to talk to all of those stakeholders. (A recent example was assisting banks and the Treasury on resolving disputes with SMEs.) It also gives the opportunity to ‘think outside the box’ of orthodox silos and draw on experience from many sectors, countries and traditions. 

What are your research interests and why have you chosen those particular areas?

I work on regulation and dispute resolution systems, helping officials, regulators, judges, ombudsmen and others to look at and improve their systems. Behavioural psychology and empirical studies on organisational management, regulation and intervention have exploded models that rely on a theory of deterrence, and instead support focusing (in most cases) on supporting people doing the right thing. Colleagues and I have come up with models of Ethical Business Practice and Ethical Business Regulation, and are supporting application of these models around the world. Systems are moving away from identifying breaches of rules and applying sanctions to ones of closer cooperation, identifying problems and their root causes, making changes to improve future behaviour, culture, performance and outcomes, and putting right historical harm. These systems need cooperation, trust, data and simplicity. It’s possible to see good elements across wide areas – for example, how ideas from achieving safety in aviation through industry culture can be deployed in many other situations, or how conformity assessment bodies (eg in food or medical devices) can improve outcomes in digital platforms and AI. 

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m delving deeper into behavioural science to understand more about why we behave in certain ways (eg obey or break norms) and how different interventions can help or hinder (in other words, better ways of achieving compliance and ‘enforcement’). The government asked me in 2017 to establish the International Network for Delivery of Regulation. This develops links with regulatory experts and governments all round the world, and we are engaged in multiple conversations about improving practice in many sectors – aviation, financial services, financial security and money laundering, modern slavery, energy, communications, online harms, digital and AI sectors, data protection, food, water, medicines, medical devices, education, healthcare, mining ….. In the dispute resolution area, I am supporting change in consumer dispute resolution in various EU states, especially developing the ombudsman model. Related reforms include administrative injury redress schemes (how Nordic models could help the NHS, medicines and devices), schemes for small businesses (the Groceries Code Adjudicator is highly effective – who knew?!), and simplifying systems for housing and property disputes (watch this space). My main driving idea is that it is imperative to redesign so many aspects of the legal system (even familiar institutions like courts, and orthodoxies like tort liability) to support people and organisations in a fairer and more cooperative and efficient society, that achieves more good outcomes. Access to justice is irrelevant if justice is not delivered.

What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time?

Gardening, singing and playing music. I was a choral scholar at New College, and sang professionally when I was younger, including as a founder member of The Sixteen (on their first 30 discs). Singing Poulenc’s fiendish Figure Humaine live at the Proms, the Johannes Passion at the Salzburg Festival, The Play of Daniel at the Aldeburgh Festival, and even a solo Lieder recital in the Holywell Music Room, were extraordinary experiences. I’m too busy now, and have just given up my union card after 40 years, but had fun ‘dep’ing’ for some years in New College 10-15 years ago and conducting my own London choir in the 90s. Hopefully more when I retire …… and having played the trumpet in my youth, I want to learn the French horn.

Who inspires you or has inspired you in the past?

There are so many teachers and colleagues from whom I have learned and gained inspiration, and continue to do so. Singling out just two, I would like to mention with great affection and gratitude my undergraduate tutors Peter Skegg and Harvey McGregor QC – an unlikely but wonderful combination!

On this page