Helen Reece

Helen Reece

Helen Reece joined LSE as an Associate Professor (Reader) in September 2009. Her main teaching responsibilities and research interests lie in Family Law. She previously held posts elsewhere in the University of London, at University College London and Birkbeck College. After studying Law at University College London, she qualified as a Barrister and then took an MSc in Logic and Scientific Method at LSE. Her monograph, Divorcing Responsibly, was awarded the Socio-Legal Studies Association Book Prize in 2004 and her article, Losses of Chances in the Law, won the Wedderburn Prize in 1997.

Helen died on Wednesday 26 October 2016. Should you wish to post a tribute to Helen; leave your condolences or share any memories you have of her, the condolence page can be found here.

Research Interests

Current research is concerned with the regulation of intimacy. The main research project at present, Violence to Feminism, is a theoretical probing of the contemporary feminist approach to violence against women. The two main research questions are first, why contemporary feminist theory has celebrated ever-widening conceptions of violence and secondly, why the contemporary feminist approach to violence against women has permeated legal development. Another current research project focuses on changing conceptions of parental responsibility.

External Activities
  • Reviews Editor for International Journal of Law in Context

  • Member of the editorial committee of the Modern Law Review

  • Member of the editorial board of Law, Probability and Risk


Law in Society: Reflections on Children, Family, Culture and Philosophy,  Helen Reece, Noam Peleg, Alison Diduck eds. (Brill, 2015)

This collection, written by legal scholars from around the world, offers insights into a variety of topics from children’s rights to criminal law, jurisprudence, medical ethics and more. Its breadth reflects the fact that these are all elements of what can broadly be called ‘law and society’, that enterprise that is interested in law’s place or influence in diffferent aspects of real lives and understands law to be simultaneously symbol, philosophy and action. It is also testament to the broad range of vision of Professor Michael Freeman, in whose honour the volume was conceived.

Divorcing Responsibly (Hart Publishing, 2003), 264pp

Divorcing responsibility - coverThis book provides an analysis of the increasing impact on the law in general and divorce law in particular of post-liberalism,which replaces choice with self-discovery. The author shows that post-liberal premises formed the foundation for every aspect of the recent divorce reform proposals. Accordingly, she attributes their failure to the contradictions inherent within post-liberalism. Nevertheless, she concludes that post-liberalism maintains a subtle yet pervasive influence on the law. Specifically, this means that we are held accountable not for what we do but for how we approach our decisions. Thus, for the first time ever, it has become possible to divorce responsibly.

Law and Science: Current Legal Issues (editor) (Oxford University Press, 1998) 307 pp

This book explores the relationship of law and science, with a particular focus on the role of science as evidence. Scientific evidence impinges on a wide range of legal issues, including, for example, risk assessment in mental health and child abuse, criminal investigations, chemical and medical products, mass tort cases and the attribution of paternity. Science promises to reduce (or even eliminate) uncertainty; how should lawyers respond to such ambitious claims? As the civil justice process undergoes a major overhaul, this diverse and stimulating collection of essays provides a timely and thought-provoking reassessment of the relationship between law and science in general and the uses and value of scientific evidence in particular.

Science in Court (editor, with Michael Freeman) (Dartmouth, 1998), 206 pp

Contained within this volume are essays from leading thinkers on both sides of the Atlantic on the relationship between law and science. Science plays an ever-increasing part in the development of legislation and the adjudication of cases. Its limitations and its value are explored in these essays which discuss issues of methodology and evidence. Amongst areas covered are silicone breast implants, the rape trauma syndrome, the environment, inventions and Bayesianism.

Selected articles
and chapters in books

'Michael Freeman and Domestic Violence' in Law in Society: Reflections on Children, Family, Culture and Philosophy,  Helen Reece, Noam Peleg, Alison Diduck eds. (Brill, 2015)

'Debating Rape Myths'  Law Society and Economy Working Paper Series, WPS 21-2014 December 2014

In a recent article, I argued that the regressiveness of current public attitudes towards rape has been overstated, suggesting that, to a troubling extent, we are in the process of creating myths about myths. The article itself and the arguments contained within it have provoked various responses from feminists. While these responses proceed at times on the basis of misunderstandings or misinterpretations of my argument, they are helpful both in clarifying areas of disagreement and in underscoring some important points of agreement - at times explicitly by accepting, and at other times implicitly by leaving unchallenged, some of my core claims. In what follows, I aim to point out the misunderstandings or misinterpretations, and to clarify both the areas of assent and the areas of dissent in an attempt to move us towards the productive public conversation we believe we want.

'Leaping without looking' in Robert Leckey ed., After Legal Equality: Family, Sex, Kinship (Routledge 2014) pp.115-133

‘The pitfalls of positive parenting’ (2013) 8(1) Ethics and Education pp.42-54

Contemporary official parenting advice about disciplining children can be boiled down to ‘Be nice’. I first expand on this claim, drawing on primarily Birth to Five and secondarily Parentchannel.tv, showing that ‘Be nice’ breaks down into the absence of punishment and the expansion of both positive reinforcement and leading by example, these three components comprising an approach that is popularly described as positive parenting. Second, I examine the ways in which such apparently innocuous advice could be damaging: positive parenting is arduous if not impossible, thereby setting parents up to fail, and partly because of this onerousness, it is arguably destructive of the spontaneity of the parent–child relationship. However, the difficulties of upholding a whole-heartedly spontaneous approach to parenting have led critics to endorse a model of the good parent as the reflective parent, and in conclusion I warn that this is just as coercive as the positive parenting model that it is designed to replace.

'Rape Myths: Is Elite Opinion Right and Popular Opinion Wrong?' Oxford J Legal Studies (2013) pp.1-29

England and Wales have recently experienced wide-ranging rape law reform and a galloping rape reporting rate but no comparable increase in rape convictions, leading many erstwhile law reformers to turn attention to attitudes. In essence, their argument is that reform has proved relatively ineffective because a range of agents hold ‘rape myths’. Despite the broad consensus that this approach has attracted, I argue that the regressiveness of current public attitudes towards rape has been overstated. The claim that rape myths are widespread may be challenged on three grounds: first, some of the attitudes are not myths; secondly, not all the myths are about rape; thirdly, there is little evidence that the rape myths are widespread. To a troubling extent, we are in the process of creating myths about myths. This process functions to close down, not open up, the possibilities of a productive public conversation about important and at times vexed questions.

'“Unpalatable Messages”? Feminist Analysis of United Kingdom Legislative Discourse on Stalking 1996–1997' (2011) 19(3) Feminist Legal Studies 205-30.

North American scholarship has charted resonances between 1990s legislative and feminist discourse concerning violence against women. Feminist critique of official discourse surrounding the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 suggests that 1990s resonances did not reach the UK: however, an examination of the Hansard debates suggests this under-estimates the influence of feminist discourse. Halley’s discussion of “bad faith” helps to explain both the tendency of feminists to under-estimate their influence and why this matters. A commitment to an understanding of themselves as powerless may encourage feminists to underplay similarities between feminist and official discourse, leading feminists to find only what they expect. Such an understanding gives feminism the capacity to change social life without acknowledging, let alone agonising over, the full range of its distributive effects. This is most troubling in relation to “carceral” feminism, since under-assessment of feminist impact encourages amplification and intensification of the carceral message.

'"Bright line rules may be appropriate in some cases, but not where the object is to promote the welfare of the child". Barring in the best interests of the child?' C.F.L.Q. 2010, 22(4), 422-448.

In Re P (Adoption: Unmarried Couple) [2008] UKHL 38, [2008] 2 FLR 1084 the House of Lords held that a bar on adoption by unmarried couples is unlawful discrimination contrary to Article 14 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 (ECHR). In R v Secretary of State for Health and Kent County Council, ex p B [1999] 1 FLR 656, the High Court found that a bar on fostering by convicted sex offenders is lawful. In what follows, I argue that the reasoning in Re P applies mutatis mutandis to individuals such as those in ex p B prevented from adopting or fostering under vetting and barring schemes, the most prominent being the scheme introduced by the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006. I first consider various ways in which such individuals could bring themselves within the grounds protected by Article 14, and I argue that 'sex offender' itself could be a protected status, because sex offenders have the personal characteristic of 'risk'. I next analyse whether the bar on adoption and fostering, and vetting and barring schemes in their entirety, would fall within the ambit of a substantive Article of the ECHR, and I conclude that the whole Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act scheme would come within the scope of Article 8. Finally, I consider whether the bar on adoption and fostering by risky individuals is objectively justified, and I conclude that the argument that convinced the House of Lords in Re P applies equally in this context: it is impermissible to turn a reasonable generalisation into an irrebuttable presumption for individual cases, given the duty to treat the best interests of the child as paramount.

'Parental Responsibility as Therapy' (2009) Family Law 1167

'The Degradation of Parental Responsibility' in Rebecca Probert, Stephen Gilmore and Jonathan Herring (eds), Responsible Parents and Parental Responsibility (Hart Publishing, 2009)

Responsible parents - coverThis book examines the idea of 'parental responsibility' in English law and what is expected of a responsible parent. The scope of 'parental responsibility', a key concept in family law, is undefined and often ambiguous. Yet, to date, more attention has been paid to how individuals acquire parental responsibility than to the question of the rights, powers, duties and responsibilities they have once they obtain it. This book redresses the balance by providing the first sustained examination of the different elements of parental responsibility, bringing together leading scholars to comment on specific aspects of its operation.

'Feminist Anti-violence Discourse as Regulation' in Shelley Day Sclater, Fatemeh Ebtehaj, Emily Jackson and Martin Richards (eds), Regulating Autonomy: Sex, Reproduction and Family (Hart Publishing, 2009) pp 37-51

Regulating autonomy - coverThese essays explore the nature and limits of individual autonomy in law, policy and the work of regulatory agencies. Authors ask searching questions about the nature and scope of the regulation of 'private' lives, from intimacies, personal relationships and domestic lives to reproduction. They question the extent to which the law does, or should, protect individual autonomy. Recent rapid advances in the development of new technologies - particularly those concerned with human genetics and assisted reproduction - have generated new questions (practical, social, legal and ethical) about how far the state should intervene in individual decision making. Is there an inevitable tension between individual liberty and the common good? How might a workable balance between the public and the private be struck? How, indeed, should we think about 'autonomy'?

'The Autonomy Myth: A Theory of Dependency' (2008) 20 Child and Family Law Quarterly 109-124 (Review article)

'UK women's groups' child contact campaign: 'so long as it is safe'' (2006) 18 Child and Family Law Quarterly 538-61

In this article, the author demonstrates that, during their recent child contact campaign, UK women's groups concentrated on violence-based feminist critiques of child contact to the exclusion of autonomy-based critiques. While the author recognises that this focus had a clear rationale and led to concrete successes, she argues that it damaged mothers' interests by creating two mutually exclusive types of mothers involved in child contact disputes, the domestic violence victim and the unreasonable mother. The author suggests two explanations for women's groups' exclusive concentration on domestic violence: first, a search for consensus; and, secondly, a feminist definition of domestic violence. However, the author concludes that there is a tension between the women's groups' demand for the law to treat domestic violence as more determinative in contact disputes and their demand for the law to adopt a feminist interpretation of domestic violence: women's groups are using safety as a stand-in for autonomy, to the detriment of all mothers.

'The End of Domestic Violence' (2006) 69 Modern Law Review 770-91

In this article, I examine the rationales that have been given for extending domestic violence legislation to associated persons. I argue that the empirical and principled rationales are unfounded and that the ideological rationale is reactionary. With regard to the empirical rationale, the extent of violence that the aggregate of associated persons suffers is not high enough to justify privileging associated persons over other citizens with regard to protection from violence. In relation to the principled rationale, the impetus for domestic violence legislation was based on isolation and inequality, which are not experienced in particular by the category of associated persons when taken as a whole. With regard to the ideological rationale, it is worrying that intimacy and equality are emerging as the touchstones of a newer rationale for domestic violence legislation, which rightly has more to do with isolation and inequality than intimacy and equality.

'From Parental Responsibility to Parenting Responsibly' in Michael Freeman (ed), Law and Sociology: Current Legal Issues (Oxford University Press, 2006), pp 459-83

'Divorcing Responsibly' (2000) 8 Feminist Legal Studies 65-91

In this article I argue that Part II of the Family Law Act 1996 gives expression to a new form of responsibility. I begin by suggesting that responsible behaviour has shifted from prohibiting or requiring particular actions: we now exhibit responsibility by our attitude towards our actions. I then examine where this new conception of responsibility has come from. Through an examination of the work of post-liberal theorists, principally Michael Sandel, I argue that a changing view of personhood within post-liberal theory has led to a questioning of the possibility of choice, and that the absence of choice necessitates a shift in the definition of responsible behaviour. If we are created by our decisions then we cannot be held to account for our decisions, but only for the care we have taken over them. Responsibility is therefore measured not by our level of self-control but by our level of self-awareness. Finally I examine the consequences of this shift in the meaning of responsibility. Within this framework autonomy is illusory therefore decisions do not need to be respected. This explains why the implementation of Part II of the Family Law Act 1996 has been called into question. Within this framework responsibility is relative therefore it extends indefinitely. This enables the Family Law Act to be uniquely intrusive and judgmental: every divorcing couple, on being held up to scrutiny, is found lacking. 

'Divorcing the Children' in Jo Bridgeman and Daniel Monk (eds), Feminist Perspectives on Child Law (Cavendish, 2000), pp 85-106

Feminist Perspectives on Child Law is a collection of interdisciplinary socio-legal essays which explore the complex relationship between childhood,gender and the law. Drawing on a wide range of feminist and critical theories and empirical research, these original essays challenge the gender neutrality of law; they explore the shifting constructions of childhood by law, legal practice and popular culture; and they provide critical and timely insights into the complex relationship between adults and children.