Our friend and colleague Helen Reece has passed away. A contributor to spiked and its previous incarnation, Living Marxism, Helen was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, and died last week. She was 48.
Helen was a frequent contributor to public debate, and a hugely respected scholar. Since 2009, she had been a reader and associate professor in law at the London School of Economics, publishing regularly on issues relating to family law. In 2003, she published her acclaimed book Divorcing Responsibly, which was awarded the Socio-Legal Studies Association Book Prize in 2004. Her writing on Tort law won her the Wedderburn Prize in 1997, and was cited with approval by the House of Lords. She qualified as a barrister in 1992.
While her research was wide-ranging, her most recent work focused on the relationship between family life and the state. She said in an interview in 2014 that she had ended up specialising in family law almost by accident, having been invited to do some guest lecturing on it following her graduation from University College London. She even said that initially she found family law ‘messy’ and too complicated. But it was precisely the messiness of family law, a messiness arising from its deep connection to the inherent complexity of human relationships, that made it perfect for Helen’s uncompromising and forensic intellect. If anyone could ask the difficult questions about such a ‘messy’ and fundamentally human area of law, it was Helen.
We first met seven years ago. I had just started studying law and was given Helen’s name as someone who was interested in the intersection between the law and politics. I met her for lunch at LSE. She was funny and extremely personable, but even during that initial meeting I noticed a trait of hers that would dominate our friendship: she questioned almost everything I said. I had read up on Helen’s work before we met, so I thought my carefully crafted points about the nature of particular pieces of legislation and the creeping regulation of family life would go down a storm. How wrong I was. Instead, my attempt to regurgitate her ideas was met, not with approval, but with a furrowed brow and her asking, in the nicest possible way, ‘Do you really think that?’.
Over the years, I came to find her rigorous, ceaseless questioning invaluable. I was almost too scared to send her a copy of my first book, Why Rape Culture is a Dangerous Myth, for fear of her expressing her polite reservations. I always had to be prepared to have some aspect of my thinking, some point I had assumed or glossed over, probed by Helen’s searching questions. She could spot intellectual laziness a mile off. What I came to appreciate was that Helen would apply the same forensic analysis of ideas she found broadly acceptable to those with which she disagreed robustly. She was an antidote to orthodoxy and groupthink.