Joanna Bell

Picture of Joanna Bell, Associate Professor and Tutorial Fellow in Law, St Edmund Hall

Please tell us a bit about your background.

I grew up in a small town in the North West of England called Heywood. The town takes its name from the Heywood family, who occupied the land from the Middle Ages. One of its members, Peter Heywood, is said to have played a part in preventing the gunpowder plot. The Heywood family manor house no longer stands. The town’s more recent history, however, remains clearly visible. Scattered across the streets are disused mills from Heywood’s time as a centre for cotton production during the Industrial Revolution. Much of its population can trace their lineage back to mill workers, including myself. (My great-grandfather’s first job was as a ‘knocker-upper’: worth a Google if you have never come across it and don’t worry it’s not rude). Heywood market is the only place I know where you can still get a cup of tea - or, more properly, ‘a brew’ - for 50p.  

I went to primary and secondary school in Heywood. For Sixth Form, I bused to the neighbouring town Bury (as in ‘Bury black pudding’). Later, I was fortunate enough to be able to take up a place to read Law at Keble College. I loved Oxford and I loved the intellectual rigour of studying here. So much so that I stayed for the BCL, and then the DPhil. I have spent some time away as a Lecturer at St John’s College in Cambridge where I worked with some amazing people. It was, however, a real privilege to return to Oxford to take up my position at St Edmund Hall last year.   

What led you to a career in academia? 

The thought of an academic career had never occurred to me before coming to Oxford. However, I reached the position in my second year, when my peers were applying for vacation schemes at solicitors’ firms, of being absolutely certain that I wanted to read for a DPhil and to begin teaching as soon as I possibly could. I am certain that the main reason was the incredible support, encouragement and teaching I received from my college tutors, Ed Peel and Jamie Edelman, in those early years. DPhil supervision by the utterly brilliant Liz Fisher cemented my suspicion that there is no better way to spend time than reading broadly and thinking deeply.  

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

My research field is administrative law. I am also interested in, and teach, several fields with which administrative law interacts, including planning and environmental law, constitutional law and the law of torts.  

I think what interests me most about administrative law is that it is a field characterised by lots of many overlaps. Someone put it to me recently that a judicial review case is never solely a judicial review case. It is also simultaneously a planning case, housing case, immigration case, etc. The result is that there is a lot to make sense of, and lots of different ways of going about making sense of it. All of this means that there is plenty of room in administrative law scholarship to think creatively, and to venture into new intellectual territory. I find this really exciting.

What are you working on at the moment?  

Until earlier this year, revising my doctorate for publication as a monograph has taken up much of my time. My book, 'The Anatomy of Administrative Law', was published in May. I’ve accordingly spent the last few months writing new things and laying the groundwork for future projects to which I have wanted to turn for a while. 

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

Without a doubt, spending time with my family. The lockdown earlier this year meant I have managed to spend a lot more time with my partner this year than usual, which has been wonderful. However, I have really missed being able to see my family in the North. As my 3-year-old nephew Bertie consistently reminds me on video calls, “Boris says no” to visits. Hopefully, that will change before too long...

What is your favourite place to visit in the world? 

Porto. I adore the place and try to go for a long weekend once a year. I’m not sure I can fully articulate the reasons. I think it's something about the combination of the city’s beautiful architecture combined with its history of industry – a sort-of Portuguese fusion of Oxford and Manchester. The riverfront, amazing wine and custard tarts definitely help too.  

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