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Professor 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, becoming a Senior Lecturer in 2018, and Professor of Law and Social Justice in 2022. 

Stephanie achieved Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy in August 2014, and Senior Fellowship in June 2017.

Stephanie won an individual Open University Teaching Award for Excellence in Supporting Students in 2019, and was the OU's nominee for an AdvanceHE National Teaching Fellowship. Her research featured prominently in the Law School's first submission to REF in 2021, and her work on weddings and related ceremonies comprised the School's leading Impact Case Study.

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 published two articles summarising their research into the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on weddings in England and Wales. 

Stephanie is collaborating with the Hansard Society on an 'explainer' about delegated legislation for the Society's public-facing website.

She is currently working, in collaboration with her colleague and PhD supervisee, Fred Motson, on a large-scale empirical research project exploring how people who led weddings and similar ceremonies felt about, and implemented, COVID-related laws and guidance at ceremonies, and how these things changed when all restrictions were removed on 'freedom day', 19 July 2021.

Teaching interests

Stephanie's main teaching interest is in making the law accessible to as many people as possible. She was the longest-serving member of the Module Team for W101 An Introduction to Law, and has played a significant role in developing and refining that and its successor module, W111 Criminal law and the courts..

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 was the Principal Supervisor for Dr Adam Tanner, whose PhD thesis described his empirical research in to the Court of Protection's role in end-of-life decision-making for people with prolonged disorders of consciousness. She now supervises Fred Motson, whose thesis has the working tite The Herculean Referee in the Age of Technology.

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 19 times,and she is quoted three times, in the Law Commission's Celebrating Marriage: A New Weddings Law, so her body of work on weddings and celebrancy might influence a change in the law of England and Wales.

In 2022, Stephanie was a panellist at the launch of a research report for the Nuffield Foundation, When is a wedding not a marriage? Exploring non-legally binding ceremonies by Dr Rajnaara Akhtar, Professor Rebecca Probert and Sharon Blake.

In 2022, Stephanie contributed an invited post about personalised wedding-style ceremonies to the ViaMedia.News blog. This sparked a lively debate on the Thinking Anglicans website about same-sex and secular marriages.

The main points from Stephanie's 2022 guest lecture for students, Unfit-for-purpose weddings law: the beginning of the end?, were summarised in an OU Law School blog post, Is the end in sight for outdated weddings law?

Articles in a number of publications, including The EconomistThe Church Times, The Observer and have mentioned Stephanie's work on weddings and related ceremonies.

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%.

In 2021, Stephanie featured in a BBC Ideas educational film, 'Does it ever pay to represent yourself in court?'.

Stephanie's Inaugural Professorial Lecture on 6 December 2022, Aspects of empowerment in legislation and education, seeks to increase public understanding of the importance of delegated legislation and education – especially that offered by The Open University.

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.


Postponing the day of your dreams? Modern weddings and the impact of COVID-19 (2023)
Pywell, Stephanie and Probert, Rebecca
Families, Relationships and Societies, 12(3) (pp. 431-446)

[Book Review] Religion and Marriage Law: The Need for Reform by Russell Sandberg (2022)
Pywell, Stephanie
Child and Family Law Quarterly, 34(1) (pp. 109-112)

Trying to get a piece of paper from City Hall? The availability, accessibility, and administration of the register office wedding (2022)
Probert, Rebecca; Pywell, Stephanie; Akhtar, Rajnaara; Blake, Sharon; Barton, Tania and Vora, Vishal
Journal of Social Welfare and Family law ((early access))

Love in the time of COVID-19: a case-study of the complex laws governing weddings (2021-12)
Probert, Rebecca and Pywell, Stephanie
Legal Studies, 41(4) (pp. 676-692)

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)

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

The impact of Covid-19 on legal weddings and non-legally binding ceremonies (2022-07)
Probert, Rebecca; Akhtar, Rajnaara; Blake, Sharon and Pywell, Stephanie
The Nuffield Foundation; University of Warwick School of Law