Meet the academic: Prof Bebhinn Donnelly-Lazarov
We spoke to our Head of the School of Law, Professor Bebhinn Donnelly-Lazarov to find out what's new within the School and what inspires her about Surrey.
What’s new within the School of Law?
Our Law and Technology Hub is developing fast – responding to one of society’s key challenges. Our academics are currently working on:
- Algorithmic fairness and bias
- AI autonomously-created inventions
- Regulation of AI
- Law and military technology
- AI as a conscious, responsible agent
- Predicting court case outcomes with AI.
This is a lot, but only a small part of our interests are in this area - we look forward to making this a truly multidisciplinary field.
We will be a key partner in Surrey's first University-wide institute, the People Centred AI Institute. The same enthusiasm characterises our approach to environmental law and regulation, where we are leading efforts within the field of plastics pollution. Our international projects in this area are partnered with governments and industries across the world.
We also launched our Court of the Future; a court as sophisticated as any court could be, foreseeing the opportunity for justice to operate remotely. This brand-new facility serves as a forum for justice to be heard, rather than the place where justice is physically located. This will allow us to purview the risks as well as opportunities. What is lost to justice, for example, if an accused no longer has the opportunity directly to face his accuser? How do juries really deliberate? We will be able to test this and much, much more.
Our various law clinics have been a tremendous success; exposing students to real-world legal dilemmas, faced by the most disadvantaged in society; refugees, the poor, victims of domestic violence, and by those at the cutting edge of legal technology, industry and commerce.
Why should a student come to Surrey to study law?
The staff are wonderful teachers and wonderful researchers. We also achieved a fantastic result in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022, placing the School 58th in the world and 14th in the UK for Law. Our extra-curricular opportunities are tremendous; the Professional Training placement scheme is a great success. Shorter career-focused opportunities like volunteering and pro-bono work with law clinics are equally valuable. We have a wonderful Law Society that we work closely with, and the range of social, sporting, and mooting events reflect truly admirable energy levels! The School's sense of community is fantastic - we are definitely a united ambitious community of learners.
We encourage all of our students to ‘think big’. Today’s world needs an eye on the big questions, as well as the detail that is the every day of any lawyer’s work. So we have developed pathways on Law and Technology, and Philosophy, Politics and Law. Why law and technology? Well, legal technology is the future in regards to how the law will operate, and technology (AI in particular) is impacting every aspect of human behaviour. Law and future lawyers need to stay on top of that!
Why Philosophy, Politics and Law? Well, think of what has happened in the last decade; a worldwide pandemic with extremely quickly enacted laws, regulations, advice, recommendations, the boundaries among these sometimes difficult to detect. Increasing use of semi-autonomous weapons across the world, environmental developments that threaten our existence, sections of society that seem increasingly impoverished and alienated. An awareness of the philosophy and the politics, as well as the law, will help us think a bit about these pressing matters. But, not just in the pathways, we want all our students to think about challenges to our society.
How would you describe your time at Surrey?
My time at Surrey has been inspired by ambitious, creative, international, and wonderfully collegial colleagues. All pushing the boundaries of legal thinking, engaging with societies priorities – AI, drone warfare, sustainability, the nature of the human mind and human responsibility. All are tremendously inventive in how they teach and incredibly industrious in their ability to find real-world opportunities for our students, through law clinics, placements, and integration into our community. Surrey is definitely all about the people - the staff in the School, the excellent faculty support, which all leads to an exciting school environment. There is a flourishing PhD community and this is a key part of our research centres.
Is there a particular memory at Surrey which stands out for you?
I remember when I started at Surrey in 2017, being welcomed by the Head of School at the time, Prof Veronica Rodriquez-Blanco. She was someone who I had admired for a very long time, in terms of her legal philosophical work, but also her ability to inspire through sheer strength of personality, empathy, and infectious intellectual curiosity – someone who could provide leadership just by being herself! That really made me feel like I had found a place I belonged in. That was confirmed during my first few events in the Surrey Centre for Law and Philosophy – the critical mass of extremely sophisticated legal and philosophical thought was somewhat overwhelming and definitely humbling. But, everything was conducted in what I have begun to think of as the Surrey way – a spirit of ambition, encouragement and willingness to push the boundaries of legal thinking and education.
What are your interests and hobbies outside of academia?
I love to cook, especially fish and seafood. That is my main form of relaxation – not always a success but always interesting. I swim outdoors – the colder the better; it's such an invigorating experience. I play the fiddle, though the less said (or heard) about that the better. I loved playing tennis, football, and golf (and doing all these things very badly indeed) but back trouble has brought my sporting interests to a premature conclusion. Generally, I'm really curious about people!
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