Competing Narratives in a Case Biography: A Tale of Two Citadels

Date01 September 2020
AuthorJonathan Montgomery,Caroline Jones
Published date01 September 2020
ISSN: 0263-323X, pp. 412–40
Competing Narratives in a Case Biography: A Tale
of Two Citadels
Caroline Jonesand Jonathan Montgomery∗∗
This article is the fourth in a series introducing the reader to methods
and theories relevant to advancing socio-legal research. They are
written for the curious rather than the expert reader and provide
illustrations of how the theories, methods, and frameworks have been
employed and might be used in your work.
This article explores the use of case biography methods for socio-legal
studies. Drawing on ‘paths to justice’ studies, network analysis, and
legal archaeology, we develop a case study of AC v. Berkshire West
Primary Care Trust. We show how the judicial determination of the case
suppressed a transgender rights narrative construction of the dispute
in favour of one about health care law. Our case biography analysis
explores how competing narratives can be traced not only through
legal argument and literature, but also through the personnel involved,
in ways that are obscured by formal records. Paying attention to
biographical features leads to a richer understanding of cases, including
the importance of pre- and post-judicial decision-making aspects.
Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law, Swansea University, Singleton Park,
Swansea, SA2 8PP, Wales
∗∗ Faculty of Laws, University College London, Bentham House, Endsleigh
Gardens, London, WC1H 0EG, England
We are grateful for the supprt of the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust
(SG122370). We owe thanks to our colleagues, peers at the Medical Law streams at SLS
and SLSA, the participants of the project’s two events, and the anonymous reviewers
for all of their helpful comments; to Alex Chrysanthou for research assistance; and
to Emma Nottingham for discussions on legal archaeology. We are especially grateful
to AC.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License,
which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properlycited, the use is non-commercial
and no modifications or adaptations are made.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley& Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
[I]t is no more than common sense to appreciate that it is misguided, if other
relevant materials exist, to rely upon lawrepor ts alone to tell us what happened
in the case.1
This article considers the uses of case biography methods for socio-legal
studies. It reports on an aspect of a project funded by the British Academy
and the Leverhulme Trust which explored methodologies for studying test
cases in health care law from the perspective of their having biographies –
‘lives’ that could be mapped and analysed.2The approach adopted here draws
on ‘paths to justice’ studies,3network analysis,4legal archaeology,5and the
idea of developing a ‘thick’ case study,6exploring the historical and social
contexts in which the focal legal case was situated.7
Cases are episodes in history that can be studied in many ways. Traditional
legal scholarship has focused on their significance within the legal system,
typically their consistency with expectations and precedential ‘weight’. For
the individuals involved, litigation is an episode in their lives, and legal
decisions feature in many biographies and autobiographies.8Sometimes,
cases gain a notoriety that attracts studies in their own right.9This may be
1 A.W.B.Simpson,Leading Cases in the Common Law (1995) 11.
2 As opposed to legal biographies or ‘legal life writing’, on which see R. G. Parry, ‘Is
Legal Biography ReallyLegal Scholarship?’ (2010) 30 Legal Studies 208; L. Mulcahy
and D. Sugarman, Special Edition on ‘Legal Life Writing: Marginalized Subjects and
Sources’ (2015) 42 J. of Law and Society 1.
3 P. Pleasance and N. Balmer, How People Resolve ‘Legal’ Problems (2014),
at <
4 J. H. Fowler et al., ‘Network Analysis and the Law: Measuring the LegalImpor tance
of Precedents at the U.S. Supreme Court’ (2007) 15 Political Analysis 324.
5 Peter Fitzpatrick was credited with the genesis of this phraseology by Simpson,
op. cit., n. 1, p. 12. Colloquial references to ‘doing a Simpson’ can be found in
the literature: W. Twining, ‘What Is the Point of Legal Archaeology?’ (2012) 3
Transnational LegalTheory 166, at 166.
6 D. L. Threedy, ‘Legal Archaeology and Feminist Legal Theory: A Case Study of
Gender and Domestic Violence’ (2007–2008) 29 Women’s Rights Law Reporter 171,
at 172; Twining,id., p. 168.
7 For example, R. Danzig, ‘Hadley v. Baxendale: A Study in the Industrialisation of
the Law’ (1975) 4 The J. of Legal Studies 249; A. W. B. Simpson, Cannibalism and
the Common Law (1984, reprinted 1994); Simpson, op. cit., n. 1; D. L. Threedy, ‘A
Fish Story: Alaska Packers’ Association v. Domenico’ (2000) Utah Law Rev.185; D.
L. Threedy, ‘Unearthing Subversion within Legal Archaeology’ (2003) 13 Tex as J.
of Women and the Law 125, at 126; D. L. Threedy, ‘Legal Archaeology: Excavating
Cases, Reconstructing Context’ (2006) 80 Tulane Law Rev. 1197; M. Chapman, The
Snail and the Ginger Beer (2010).
8 See the LSE’s Legal Biography Project: <
project/book-collection>; V. Gillick, A Mother’s Tale (1989); D. Blood, Flesh and
Blood: The Human Story behind the Headlines (2004).
9S.Barclay,Jaymee: The Story of Child B (1996); P.Devlin, Easing the Passing (1985);
Simpson, op. cit., n. 1; Simpson, op. cit., n. 7; Chapman, op. cit., n. 7.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley& Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University(CU).

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