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Dr Simon Lavis

Profile summary

Professional biography

Simon is a Senior lecturer in law, who joined the Open University Law School in October 2013. Prior to this he studied for a PhD in Law at the University of Nottingham, which he was awarded in 2015. Simon initially completed undergraduate and masters degrees in history at the University of Sheffield, specialising in historical theory and the history of Nazi Germany, before undertaking the GDL and LPC at the College of Law, Guildford. He trained and qualified as a solicitor at commercial firm DLA Piper UK LLP between 2007-2009 (currently non-practising) and re-entered academia via an LLM from the University of Birmingham, in which he studied aspects of legal theory, criminal theory and international law.

Research interests

Simon's research covers aspects of history, theory and law, particularly public law. He is interested in the role law plays in authoritarian regimes, past and present, including to communicate ideology, regulate compliance, and foster consent.

Much of his research is in the nexus between law, history and theory in relation to Nazi Germany, including the history of the legal system in the Third Reich, its theoretical nature, and its implications for the concept and practice of law today; as well as the representation of Nazi law in academic legal and historical discourse. He is also interested in research in public law (particularly the state of exception and UK and comparative constitutional law).

Simon's PhD thesis, titled 'The Conundrum of Nazi Law: An historiographical Challenge to the Anglo-American Jurisprudential Representation of the Nazi Past' is concerned with the historical and contemporary implications of the period of National Socialist rule in Germany, as well as the way in which legal and historical knowledge and meaning are constructed. It explores how legal scholars, and those from related disciplines, write about the Nazi past and the impact this has on the way in which this period is perceived and understood as having legal and historical significance. His thesis counters the theoretical assumptions that lead to the exclusion of the Nazi experience of law in the construction of legal knowledge. It also examines and develops encounters between law and other disciplines, history in particular, in writing about Nazi Germany, in order to trace parallel approaches between these subject-areas and make further connections across these disciplines.

Simon's current research involves examining the relationship between ideology and law in the Third Reich in order to understand the role of law in constituting consent in Nazi Germany and shaping the normative environment.  His recent publications include 'The Distorted Jurisprudential Discourse of Nazi Law: Uncovering the ‘Rupture Thesis’ in the Anglo-American Legal Academy' (2018) International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, and '"No one wants the taint of an association with the crimes of Nazism": (Sometimes) in search of the meaning of Nazi Law' (2018) ​Holocaust Studies. Simon is co-editor of a collection entitled States of Exception: Law, History, Theory, which has recently been published by Routledge.

Teaching interests

Simon is co-Chair of undergraduate law module W350 Exploring legal boundaries, and on the production of new module W211 Public law. He is also a module team member on W203 Public law and criminal law and W340 Law, society and culture. 

He is an associate lecturer on W203 and W340, and has previously tutored on W350 (2019/20) and LLM module W821 Exploring the boundaries of international law (2017). He previously taught public law and contract law at the University of Nottingham.

Impact and engagement

Simon is the academic consultant for series 2 of the OU/BBC co-production The Prosecutors, and authored some of the OpenLearn materials associated with this series.

He has written various blog posts for different audiences, including:

Representing Nazi Law: Historians, Lawyers and Interdisciplinary Discourse on the British Association for Holocaust Studies blog.

- Four vlogs on Judging Brexit with Professor Simon Lee, discussing the implications of the UK Supreme Court decision in R (on the application of Miller) v The Prime Minister [2019] UKSC 41

Day 80, Year of #Mygration: Interdisciplinary Belonging Symposium on the OU's Year of Mygration project.

The Prosecutors – Consulting on Series 2 and the Criminal Law Principle of Conspiracy on the OU's Open Justice blog.

External collaborations

Simon has ongoing research collaborations with UK and international scholars, including in particular a series of streams co-convened with Dr Cosmin Cercel and others at the Critical Legal Conference.

Simon is a member of Nomos: Centre for International Research on Law, Culture and Power.


‘No one wants the taint of an association with the crimes of Nazism’: (Sometimes) in search of the meaning of Nazi Law (2020)
Lavis, Simon
Holocaust Studies: A Journal of Culture and History, 26(1) (pp. 108-122)

The Distorted Jurisprudential Discourse of Nazi Law: Uncovering the ‘Rupture Thesis’ in the Anglo-American Legal Academy (2018-12-31)
Lavis, Simon
International Journal for the Semiotics of Law - Revue internationale de Sémiotique juridique, 31(4) (pp. 745-770)

Introduction: Untimely Considerations on the State of Exception (2020-07-23)
Cercel, Cosmin; Fusco, Gian Giacomo and Lavis, Simon
In: Lavis, Simon; Cercel, Cosmin and Fusco, Gian Giacomo eds. States of Exception: Law, History, Theory. Law and Politics (pp. 1-12)
ISBN : 9780367077167 | Publisher : Routledge

‘The Exception of the Norm in the Third Reich: (Re)Reading the Nazi Constitutional State of Exception (2020-07-23)
Lavis, Simon
In: Cercel, Cosmin; Fusco, Gian Giacomo and Lavis, Simon eds. States of exception: law, history, theory. Law and politics: continental perspectives (pp. 92-116)
ISBN : 9780367077167 | Publisher : Routledge

Nazi Law as Pure Instrument: Natural Law, (Extra-)Legal Terror, and the Neglect of Ideology (2020)
Lavis, Simon
In: Klimaszewska, Anna and Gałędek, Michał eds. Modernisation, National Identity, and Legal Instrumentalism: Studies in Comparative Legal History (Vol. II: Public Law) (pp. 192-216)
ISBN : 9789004417359 | Publisher : Brill

Nazi Law as Non-law in Academic Discourse (2019-09-05)
Lavis, Simon
In: Skinner, Stephen ed. Ideology and Criminal Law: Fascist, National Socialist and Authoritarian Regimes (pp. 59-76)
ISBN : 978-1-50991-081-6 | Publisher : Hart Publishing | Published : Oxford

States of Exception: Law, History, Theory (2020-07-23)
Cercel, Cosmin; Fusco, Gian Giacomo and Lavis, Simon eds.
Law and Politics
ISBN : 978-0367077167 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : Abingdon