Innovative Pedagogy module: "A clinical approach to Law" as part of the "Migration Law and Human Rights" course

Prof. Cesla Amarelle

Module coordinators: Flora Di Donato and Stefanie Kurt

Recognised in 2015 as one of the Innovative Pedagogy Projects by the University of Neuchâtel’s Service de qualité, the module “A clinical approach to Law”, part of the “Migration Law and Human Rights” course, aims to teach students how the law, beyond its technical dimensions, is a social and cultural product of which humans are the protagonists. The teaching framework aims to support students in their analyses of legal questions, taking a groundbreaking approach which includes:

a) studying files based on real cases in the field of migration;
b) meeting the protagonists of these cases as “clients”, as well as actors on the ground (NGOs; social services; administration; legal professionals);
c) making use of narrative methods of analysing and deconstructing cases;
d) using interactive and cooperative forms of learning.

Working with “access to justice for vulnerable people” and the latest developments in migration law, the topic chosen for this pilot course is “foreign female victims of spousal violence”, as stipulated by the application of Article 50 of the Federal Foreign Nationals Act (LEtr).

The module took place with the active participation of representative from associations on the ground, such as the Observatory of Law on Asylum and Foreign Nationals of French-speaking Switzerland (ODAE) and the Protestant Social Centre (CSP) which contribute to the creation and transmission of knowledge related to this field as well as to the legal and social protection of victims.

Following the success of the pilot phase, the module will be taught again in the autumn semester 2017, in the form of a themed seminar on citizenship and integration.


Student testimonials:

"The use of direct witness accounts was a first in my university career. It was really interesting to benefit from this kind of “grounding in reality”, in that the cases which we will have to deal with in our practice of the law will involve real people, not just X and Y. Our training is often devoid of such interaction, and so this approach is vital if we want to provide our clients with appropriate counsel."

Matthieu Loup


"It was the first time that we had met someone involved in a case we studied, which gave us a real taste of the reality instead of abstract theory. It’s useful to realise the mammoth gap between dry legal judgements and real testimonies. I think that, to make a decision, you have to succeed in balancing the two aspects, human and legal."

Sarah Vincent


"For me, it was telling, on the one hand, to see how the authorities sometimes cast doubt on what victims say and can be biased, but on the other hand, to hear that two women die as a result of spousal violence every month. To my mind, Mrs. G’s* account showed this perfectly: behind laws and rulings there are still people with their own stories to tell. Listening to Mrs. G* at the same time as knowing that certain authorities might doubt her account showed the doubly precarious situation in which women like Mrs. G* find themselves."

Mira Ducommun


“My Master’s was not in Law but Social Sciences, but I think it’s important for our course to have a practical side. Having access to legal files, so to real materials, rather than just laws, lets us go into a case in more detail, so we feel like we have a deeper understanding of the individual cases, giving us a better idea of what’s waiting for us after our studies. Our training shouldn’t just be the theory and appreciation of what legal reasoning is, but access to the practice on the ground, too.”