The Crime, Justice and Society Seminar - Abenaa Owusu-Bempah

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Rap lyrics in criminal trials: What does the case law tell us?

About this event

The Crime, Justice and Society presents

Rap lyrics in criminal trials: What does the case law tell us?

Abenaa Owusu-Bempah, Assistant Professor of Law, LSE

About the seminar

It has become increasingly common for prosecutors to rely on rap lyrics and videos as evidence of guilt in criminal trials, despite growing concern about the discriminatory nature of this practice. This presentation will explore the current approach to the admissibility and use of rap music in English criminal trials by presenting findings from an analysis of over 30 reported appeal cases. A number of themes emerge from the case law in respect of the nature of the charges and the profile of defendants, including age, ethnicity and location. The case law also shows that rap music is commonly treated as ‘bad character evidence’ to establish gang affiliation and, in turn, liability for an offence. As well as challenging the categorisation of rap music as ‘bad character evidence’, the presentation critiques the way in which questions of relevance and prejudicial effect have been addressed by the courts. In particular, when making admissibility decisions, the courts appear to give little, if any, consideration to the cultural context, artistic conventions or social influences within the rap music genre. These factors affect both the probative value of the evidence and the fairness of its admission. It will be argued that courts should be slow to admit rap music as evidence of guilt, and should not enable prosecutors to rely on stereotypical narratives and racist imagery to construct case theories.

Crime, Justice and Society Seminar Series

The Crime, Justice and Society seminars are co-hosted by the Criminal Law and Criminology subject areas of Edinburgh Law School and are open to all. We particularly welcome students from our LLM and MSc programmes to join us. 

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Online event

Organiser Edinburgh Law School, University of Edinburgh

Organiser of The Crime, Justice and Society Seminar - Abenaa Owusu-Bempah

Edinburgh Law School, based at the University of Edinburgh, has been training some of the world's finest legal minds for more than 300 years.




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