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Dr Stephanie Pywell

Profile summary

Professional biography

Stephanie has a BA (Open) in science, maths, economics and statistics, and a First Class Honours LLB and PhD from the University of Hertfordshire.

She worked in the Academic Team at ILEX Tutorial College (now CILEx Law School) for six years before becoming a freelance academic author, tutor and editor.

Stephanie was an Associate Lecturer with The Open University from 2008–2013, teaching students on two introductory law modules. She joined the Law School as a full-time Lecturer in November 2013, and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2018. Stephanie achieved Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy in August 2014, and Senior Fellowship in June 2017.

The highlight of Stephanie's teaching career was winning an individual Open University Teaching Award for Excellence in Supporting Students in 2019, and being the OU's nominee for an AdvanceHE National Teaching Fellowship.

Research interests

Stephanie's wide-ranging research projects reflect her strong belief in justice, fairness and autonomy in all areas of life, particularly at moments of great importance. She also has a keen interest in making law accessible to students and the public, and in the importance of true democratic scrutiny in law-making.

She has delivered numerous papers at niche, national and international conferences, and has published extensively, with some of her most important papers covering neuroimaging and decision-making for people with prolonged disorders of consciousness, pedagogy, the classification of delegated legislation and its relevance to Brexit, and the treatment of litigants in person in the civil justice system. Five of her papers – including one assessed as being four-star – were included in the Law School's REF 2021 submission, and the trajectory of her seven-year research career forms part of the narrative in its Research Environment Statement.

Stephanie's current research focuses principally on marriage and 'wedding celebrancy'. Her 2018 article in Child and Family Law Quarterly (CFLQ) on the content of civil marriage ceremonies in England, which she co-wrote with Professor Rebecca Probert, presents and discusses the results of a ground-breaking investigation into the vows and rituals that couples request, and registrars permit, in civil wedding ceremonies. 

Stephanie undertook the first exploration of the work of independent 'wedding celebrants', who conduct non-legally-binding celebration ceremonies in England and Wales; her findings were presented and analysed in the June and September 2020 issues of CFLQ. She has also investigated the cost and availability of civil weddings. Her initial findings were published in two articles in the Law Society Gazette, and she is working on a longer collaborative article that incorporates them.

Stephanie and Rebecca are currently investigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on weddings in England and Wales. Their first article about this has been accepted for publication in Legal Studies, and they are working on their second.

Teaching interests

Stephanie's main teaching interest is in making the law accessible to as many people as possible. She is the longest-serving member of the Module Team for W101 An Introduction to Law, and has played a significant role in developing and refining the module.

She wrote the 12 Introductory Steps to Law, a set of online materials designed for students who begin their Law studies at OU Level 2 (FHEQ Level 5). The Steps provide essential basic knowledge of the legal system of England and Wales, and the established correlation between students' study of the Steps and their academic success in Level 2 modules was the main reason for Stephanie's 2019 Individual Teaching Award for Excellence in Supporting Students. The first Step is publicly available, free of charge, on OpenLearn. Stephanie's article about the Steps, which was published in The Law Teacher in 2018, illustrates the symbiosis between her research and teaching interests. In June 2020, this article was one of four chosen from the last 10 years of The Law Teacher to be made freely available online, in order to support legal academics who had to move to online teaching during the pandemic.

Stephanie is the Lead Supervisor for a PhD student who is researching the Court of Protection's role in end-of-life decision-making for people with prolonged disorders of consciousness.

Stephanie is responsible for all the module- and qualification-level guides that support students through their LLB studies. She also has ownership of two Law websites – Law Study Home and Law Postgraduate Home –  that are available to everyone who can access the OU intranet.

Stephanie's University-wide responsibilities include membership of the Human Research Ethics Committee and the Referencing Project Implementation Group, and she is the Law School's academic lead for decisions relating to the recognition of potential students' prior learning.

Impact and engagement

Stephanie and Professor Rebecca Probert's Child and Family Law Quarterly (CFLQ) article on the content of civil marriage ceremonies has led to a change in practice within the Registration Service. Her work on wedding celebrancy prompted the Wedding Celebrancy Commission to amend its Professional Standards – Couples Ceremonies, and her two CFLQ articles about this project informed barristers' arguments in the 'humanist wedding' case, Harrison and others v Secretary of State for Justice [2020] EWHC 2096, which was heard in the Administrative Division of the High Court in July 2020. 

Stephanie's work on weddings and celebrancy is cited 18 times in the Law Commission's Getting Married: A Consultation Paper on Weddings Law, and she received a personal invitation to act as a consultee. Her body of work on weddings and celebrancy, which comprised an Impact Case Study in REF 2021, may therefore influence a change in the law of England and Wales.

Stephanie contributed two Open Justice blog posts about her experience as a self-represented litigant, with the aim of increasing awareness of the stress that involvement in the civil court system can cause.

In January 2019, Stephanie contributed a 'Brainteaser' for the OU's social media platforms. This had a reach of 177,751, and a 'meaningful engagement' rate of 8%.

External collaborations

Stephanie collaborates with Professor Rebecca Probert from the University of Exeter, who is the leading authority on marriage law in England and Wales. 

Stephanie contributed two chapters – one solely authored, and one co-authored with Paul Catley – to the 2015 edition of Jahrbuch für Wissenschaft und Ethik.

In 2019, she presented a paper at the 36th International Congress of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health in Rome.


End-of-life Decisions for Patients with Prolonged Disorders of Consciousness in England and Wales: Time for Neuroscience-informed Improvements (2021-01)
Catley, Paul; Pywell, Stephanie and Tanner, Adam
Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 30(1) (pp. 73-89)

Love in the time of COVID-19: a case-study of the complex laws governing weddings (2021)
Probert, Rebecca and Pywell, Stephanie
Legal Studies ((In press))

Beyond beliefs: a proposal to give couples in England and Wales a real choice of marriage officiants (2020-09)
Pywell, Stephanie
Child and Family Law Quarterly, 32(3) (pp. 215-238)

2 + 2 = £127, if you're lucky (2020)
Pywell, Stephanie
Law Society Gazette

Availability of two-plus-two marriage ceremonies (2020)
Pywell, Stephanie
Law Society Gazette

The day of their dreams: celebrant-led wedding celebration ceremonies (2020)
Pywell, Stephanie
Child and Family Law Quarterly, 32(2) (pp. 177-199)

No Judge Required: M (By her litigation Friend, Mrs B) v A Hospital; M (Withdrawal of Treatment: Need for Proceedings) (2017) EWCOP 19 (2019-02-01)
Pywell, Stephanie M.
Medical Law Review, 27(1) (pp. 135-143)

Something old, something new: busting some myths about Statutory Instruments and Brexit (2019-01)
Pywell, Stephanie
Public Law (pp. 102-120)

The litigant in person’s tale: despair and dysfunction in the civil justice system of England and Wales (2019)
Pywell, Stephanie
Journal of Commonwealth Law and Legal Education (pp. 1-13)

Neither sacred nor profane: the permitted content of civil marriage ceremonies (2018-12)
Pywell, Stephanie and Probert, Rebecca
Child and Family Law Quarterly, 30(4) (pp. 415-436)

Bridging the gap: online materials to equip graduate entrants to a law degree with essential subject knowledge and skills (2018)
Pywell, Stephanie
The Law Teacher, 52(2) (pp. 154-170)

Live or Let Die? The Court of Protection's Ground-Breaking Decision in M. v. N. (by her litigation friend, the Official Solicitor) and others [2015] EWCOP 76 (Fam.) (2016-08)
Pywell, Stephanie
Journal of Medical Law and Ethics, 4(2) (pp. 143-152)

The reasonable robot (2016-05-27)
Pywell, Stephanie
New Law Journal, 166(7700) (pp. 19-20)

PP v Health Service Executive [2014] IEHC 622: The High Court of Ireland (Divisional Court): Kearns P, Baker, Costello JJ: 26 December 2014 (2015-06)
Pywell, Stephanie
Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, 4(2) (pp. 327-328)

Dimitrova v Bulgaria: Application no 15452/07: European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section); Raimondi (President); Hirvelä, Bianku, Tsotsoria, Mahoney, Wojtyczek, JJ; Panova, ad hoc judge: 10 February 2015 (2015)
Pywell, Stephanie
Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, 4(3) (pp. 542-543)

The Influence of Catholic Doctrine on Medical Law when X’s Life Poses a Threat to Y’s Life (2015)
Pywell, Stephanie
Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, 4(3) (pp. 520-525)

The ethical imperative of ascertaining and respecting the wishes of the minimally conscious patient facing a life-or-death decision. (2015)
Catley, Paul and Pywell, Stephanie
Jahrbuch für Wissenschaft und Ethik, 19 (pp. 77-90)

Disentangling the law (2013-08)
Pywell, Stephanie
CILEx Journal (pp. 30-31)

Untangling the law (2013-03-22)
Pywell, Stephanie
New Law Journal, 163(7553) (pp. 321-322)

The Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme: a proposal for radical reform (2002)
Pywell, Stephanie
Journal of Social Security Law, 9(2) (pp. 73-93)

A critical review of the recent and impending changes to the law of statutory compensation for vaccine damage (2000-12)
Pywell, Stephanie
Journal of Personal Injury Litigation, 2000(4) (pp. 246-256)

Reasonable diligence or unreasonable judicial expectations? The effect on lenders of section 32(1)(b) of the Limitation Act 1980 (2000-05)
Pywell, Stephanie
Conveyancer and Property Lawyer (pp. 261-267)

Vaccination and other altruistic medical treatments: should autonomy or communitarianism prevail? (2000)
Pywell, Stephanie
Medical Law International, 4(3-4) (pp. 223-243)

The public health risk from passive smoking: why our legislators should act now (1999)
Pywell, Stephanie
Health Care Risk Report, 5(6) (pp. 16-17)

The public health risk from passive smoking: an inadequate patchwork of protection from English law (1998)
Pywell, Stephanie
Health Care Risk Report, 4(10) (pp. 19-21)

Potential legal implications of advances in neuroimaging techniques for the clinical management of patients with disorders of consciousness (2015-08-01)
Pywell, Stephanie
In: Sturma, D.; Honnefelder, L. and Fuchs, M. eds. Jahrbuch für Wissenschaft und Ethik. Band 19 (pp. 115-146)
Publisher : De Gruyter | Published : Berlin

Infant vaccination: a conflict of ethical imperatives? (2005-08-26)
Pywell, Stephanie M
In: Garwood-Gowers, Austen; Tingle, John and Wheat, Kay eds. Contemporary Issues in Healthcare Law and Ethics (pp. 213-232)
ISBN : 0-7506-8832-7 | Publisher : Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd

Particular issues of public health: vaccination (2001)
Pywell, Stephanie
In: Martin, Robyn and Johnson, Linda eds. Law and the Public Dimension of Health (pp. 299-327)
ISBN : 1-85941-652-7 | Publisher : Cavendish Publishing | Published : London

Compensation for Vaccine Damage (2001-01-30)
Pywell, Stephanie
PhD thesis University of Hertfordshire