Biography

Associate Professor of Family Law, University of Oxford; Tutorial Fellow in Law, Oriel College. 

TEACHING

Family Law (BA special option); Children, Families, and the State (BCL option); Tort Law (BA core subject).  I am the Senior Member for the Children's and Family Law Discussion Group

As part of the undergraduate Family Law course, I lecture on financial provision upon relationship breakdown, children's rights, child protection, and parenthood and parental responsibility.  My postgraduate teaching centres on the legal regulation of children (children's rights theory, international children's rights, welfare and wellbeing, and children and poverty).

If you are interested in pursuing Family Law at the graduate level, either as the subject-matter of a BCL dissertation, or for the MPhil, MLitt, or DPhil, I would be happy to discuss potential topics broadly within the fields of Family Law, Children's Law, or Education Law. 

PROFILE AND BIO

I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.  In 2015, I was awarded a Distinction on the Post-Graduate Diploma in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

In 2016, I was a finalist for Oxford University Press' national Law Teacher of the Year award.  I have received multiple university teaching awards:  In 2015, I was awarded a Teaching Excellence Award from the University; in 2011-12, I was awarded the Oxford University Student Union Teaching Award for the Most Acclaimed Lecturer in the Social Sciences Division.

Outside of the University, I am an Associate Member of 1 King's Bench Walk.   

I pursued my first two law degrees at Oxford (including a year studying at the University of Konstanz in Germany), before undertaking further graduate studies at Queen's University in Canada.  In the course of my graduate studies, I was a recipient of the Canadian Rhodes Scholars' Foundation Scholarship, the Commonwealth Scholarship, and AHRC graduate funding in addition to competitive internal awards.  From 2005 to 2007, I was an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Alberta in Canada.

RESEARCH

My research is centred on family law, children's law, and education law.  Copies of my recent publications and presentations are available here.  In particular, I work on family law theory, especially: children's rights and interests in domestic, European, and international law; aspects of private ordering and financial provision upon relationship breakdown; and, within education law, especially exclusion from school.  Whilst my perspective is theoretical, my work is also deeply practical and concerned with how we might draw on the underlying theoretical arguments to improve outcomes for children and families regulated by law.  

Publications

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  • L Ferguson, 'An Argument for Treating Children as a 'Special Case'' in Elizabeth Brake and Lucinda Ferguson (eds), Philosophical Foundations of Children's and Family Law (Oxford University Press 2018) (forthcoming)
    This chapter’s argument stems from the premise that legal language should speak for itself. The ‘paramountcy’ principle suggests the prioritization of children’s interests, and ‘children’s rights’ suggests some aspect of distinctiveness to children’s interests. But there is academic consensus in respect of both that children’s interests cannot and should not be prioritized over those of others. This chapter examines the justification for the contrary perspective, and for treating children as a prioritized ‘special case’ in all legal decisions affecting them. Four key counter-arguments frame the discussion. First, the ‘social-construct’ objection: as a social construct, childhood cannot sustain the prioritization of children’s interests over those of others. Second, the ‘vulnerability’ objection: children’s vulnerability is either not unique or suggests dependency or interdependency, not prioritization. Third, the ‘family autonomy’ objection: parents’ rights and the family unit justify deference of children’s interests. Fourth, the ‘equality’ objection: equal moral consideration makes prioritization unjustifiable.
  • L Ferguson and E Brake, 'Introduction: The Importance of Theory to Children’s and Family Law' in Elizabeth Brake and Lucinda Ferguson (eds), Philosophical Foundations of Children's and Family Law (Oxford University Press 2018) (forthcoming)
    What defines family law? Is it an area of law with clean boundaries and unified distinguishing characteristics, or an untidy grouping of disparate rules and doctrines? What values or principles should guide it – and how could it be improved? Indeed, even the scope of family law is contested. Whilst some law schools and textbooks separate family law from children’s law, this is invariably effected without asking what might be gained or lost from treating them together or separately. Should family law and children’s law be distinguished or treated together? One would expect disagreement on these questions in any context. In bringing together theorists from multiple jurisdictions and at least two primary disciplines, we should not be surprised to find deep differences in approach reflecting different methodologies and foundational questions. The tension between them, we hope, can illuminate and enrich discussion on all sides. Further, through combining insights from law and philosophy, we also intend to add another layer to the current trend to focus on the empirical in family law research, and highlight how critical debates in children’s and family law are at once theoretical and empirical in nature. Understanding the nature and content of a child’s “best interests” as contained in multiple jurisdictions’ legal frameworks regulating private and/or public law concerning children, for example, requires us to approach the matter both conceptually – in order to adjudicate between frameworks – and in terms of fit with evidence from research. This immediately makes any satisfactory resolution more uncertain, contested, and subject to criticism. It is in this context that we hope that the conversations between law and philosophy, their points of agreement and divergence, can advance stalled debates. International differences correspond, of course, to differences in law, policy, and procedure. Contrast, for example, England and Wales’ ‘single pot’ approach to the distribution of property and maintenance upon marriage breakdown to the more common, “pillarised” treatment of matrimonial property, pensions, and maintenance. The difference in system design necessarily affects the available potential justifications. As a more nuanced aspect of the impact of system design, one might consider the normative difficulties created by the variation in default regimes adopted in relation to matrimonial (or marital) property between US states. Facing jurisdictional differences – like considering historical changes within one’s own jurisdiction – can yield an awareness of the context-specificity of one’s own starting points. And awareness of how things are done differently can lead us to call into question our own ways of doing things. Such awareness might alert us to unintended consequences of legislation or to innovative solutions. And, more fundamentally, it might cause us to interrogate what we take as the core, the normal, or even the natural. This is where philosophical investigation becomes indispensable. In Section II, we outline a number of respects in which the approaches taken by (academic) lawyers and philosophers writing in this field tend to differ, as well as how the structure of this collection seeks to cut across and highlight both these divergences and shared accounts. In Section III, we introduce the key themes that underpin the collection, which demonstrate the potential for cross-fertilisation between legal contexts as well as between legal and philosophical perspectives. When we refer to ‘lawyers’ and ‘philosophers’, we have in mind those working in family law and children’s law in particular.
  • E Brake and L Ferguson (eds), Philosophical Foundations of Children's and Family Law (Oxford University Press 2018) (forthcoming)
  • L Ferguson, 'Brexit, Non-Court Dispute Resolution, and Family Justice' (2017) 47 Family Law 1130
  • L Ferguson, 'Commentary on Grover J's reimagined judgment in Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v Canada (Attorney General) 2004 SCC 4' in Kathryn Hollingsworth, Helen Stalford, and Stephen Gilmore (eds), Children's Rights Judgments: From Academic Vision to New Practice (Hart 2017)
  • L Ferguson, 'The Curious Case of Civil Partnership: The Extension of Marriage to Same-Sex Couples and the Status-Altering Consequences of a Wait-and-See Approach' (2016) 28 Child and Family Law Quarterly 347
  • L Ferguson, 'The Denial of Opposite-Sex Couples' Access to Civil Partnership as Discrimination? [Case comment on Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education [2016] EWHC 128 (Admin)]' (2016) 38 Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 450 [Case Note]
  • L Ferguson, 'Case Comment on S v S [2014] EWHC 7 (Fam): 'Arbitral Awards: A Magnetic Factor of Determinative Importance, Yet Not To Be Rubber-Stamped'' (2015) 35 Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 99 [Case Note]
  • L Ferguson, 'The Jurisprudence of Making Decisions Affecting Children: An Argument to Prefer Duty to Children’s Rights and Welfare' in Alison Diduck, Noam Peleg, and Helen Reece (eds), Law in Society: Reflections on Children, Family, Culture and Philosophy – Essays in Honour of Michael Freeman (Brill: Netherlands 2015)
  • L Ferguson, 'Wyatt v Vince: the reality of individualised justice – financial orders, forensic delay, and access to justice' (2015) 27 Child and Family Law Quarterly 195 [Case Note]
    In Wyatt v Vince, the Supreme Court was called upon to consider the correct interpretation of rule 4.4 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, which governs the court’s power to strike out a statement of case. The Court of Appeal’s 2013 decision, from which the wife appealed, was the first reported decision on the interpretation of rule 4.4. This case commentary examines the Supreme Court’s unanimous judgment in detail. Whilst the judicial interpretation of rule 4.4 resolves the matter before the court, Lord Wilson’s judgment contains critical analysis of the nature of ‘needs’ and ‘contributions’ within the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, section 25 exercise, both independently and as they relate to delay. The court responds to the ‘forensic delay’ on the facts by narrowing its construction of ‘needs’ to those generated by the relationship and treating delay as a countervailing consideration to weigh against ‘contributions’. The former reasoning raises the possibility of a more coherent, interpersonal theoretical basis for financial provision upon relationship breakdown more generally. The latter arguably constructs delay as a substantive consideration, which strengthens the social obligation basis for financial provision.
  • L Ferguson, '“Families in all their Subversive Variety”: Over-Representation, the Ethnic Child Protection Penalty, and Responding to Diversity whilst Protecting Children' (2014) 63 Studies in Law, Politics, and Society 43
    ISBN: 1059-4337
  • L Ferguson, 'Arbitration in Financial Dispute Resolution: The Final Step to Reconstructing the Default(s) and Exception(s)?' (2013) 35 Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 115
    DOI: 10.1080/09649069.2013.774757
    In this article, I argue for caution in embracing family arbitration as a new form of private ordering for resolving parties’ financial disputes. I explain that family arbitration may be more successful than other forms of private ordering and final court hearings in enabling certain types of parties to resolve certain types of disputes. I consider why family arbitration may not become numerically significant despite its potential benefits, but may be much more important in normative terms. Lawyer-led negotiations remain the most common form of out-of-court resolution and constitute the de facto default form of bargaining in the shadow of the normative regime framed by ss 23-25 Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Together with the transformation in approach to nuptial agreements, family arbitration may mark a normative shift towards autonomy and private ordering. I question whether this is a desirable step for family law, at least before we have resolved the underlying policy debate.
  • L Ferguson, 'Not Merely Rights for Children but Children's Rights: The Theory Gap and the Assumption of the Importance of Children's Rights' (2013) 21 International Journal of Children's Rights 177
    ISBN: 0927-5568
  • Mavis Maclean, Rosemary Hunter, Fran Wasoff and L Ferguson, 'Family Justice in Hard Times: Can We Learn from Other Jurisdictions?' (2011) 33 Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 319
    ISBN: 0964-9069
  • L Ferguson, 'Rights, Social Inequalities, and the Persuasive Force of Interpersonal Obligation' (2008) 22 International Journal of Family Law and Policy 61
    ISBN: 1360-9939
  • L Ferguson, 'Uncertainty and Indecision in the Legal Regulation of Children: The Albertan Experience' (2007) 23(2) Canadian Journal of Family Law 159
    ISBN: 0704-1225
  • L Ferguson, 'Case Comment: ‘Retroactivity, Social Obligation, and Child Support’' (2006) 43 Alberta Law Review 1049 [Case Note]
  • Nicholas Bala, Martha Shaffer and L Ferguson, 'Family Law for the Older Canadian' in Ann Soden (ed), Advising the Older Client (Butterworths 2005)
  • L Ferguson, 'Trial by Proxy: How s.15 Removes Age from Adolescence' (2005) Journal of Law and Equality 84
  • L Ferguson, 'The End of an Age: Beyond Age Restrictions for Minors' Medical Treatment Decisions' (2004) SSRN
    This report was commissioned by the Law Commission of Canada. However, shortly after the report was published on the Law Commission’s website in 2005, the incoming Canadian government abolished the Commission and reports on pending issues were removed from the website. It is now available on the SSRN site.

Research programmes

Research projects

Research Interests

Family law theory; children's rights; welfare and wellbeing; education law

Options taught

Tort, Family Law, Children, Families and the State

Research projects