Tag Archives: think piece

Panorama: Behind Bars: Prison Undercover

By Dr Michael Naughton, Reader in Sociology and Law (University of Bristol Law School).

The BBC Panorama programme, Behind Bars: Prison Undercover, aired on Monday 13 February 2017. Culled from footage from an undercover reporter in HMP Northumberland, it claimed to “reveal the reality of life behind bars in Britain’s crisis-hit prison system.”

Leaving aside the obvious methodological issues with such a claim, i.e. that such a generalisation cannot be made from a few insights in a single, adult, male, category C, private prison, what we got, instead, was an entirely biased, one-sided view. On this occasion, it was the fears of clearly overworked and overwhelmed prison staff that was the central focus of concern. The narrative depicted was simplistic: prisoners are both out of control and in control of the day to day running of prisons, supported by images of drug taking, drunken and abusive prisoners. A strong case was being made for more prison officers, which is totally justified in the context of overcrowded prisons and savage cuts to prison staff.

A major problem was that this was at the expense of a more balanced programme that took account, also, of the prisoner side of the story – the desolation, monotony and periods of sheer terror of everyday life behind prison bars. This is well documented in the research and it might, also, go some way, at least, to contextualising and/or explaining the images of the relatively small handful of misbehaving prisoners that were selected to persuade viewers to accept the underpinning narrative without question. Continue reading

Righting the Injustices of the Past: The Case of Alice Wheeldon

By Prof Lois Bibbings, Professor of Law, Gender and History (University of Bristol Law School).

Right – left: Alice Wheeldon, Winnie Mason, Hettie Wheeldon and a guard, taken when on remand in 1917. © Alice Wheeldon Campaign.

History matters in the context of criminal justice; it matters that our criminal justice system lives up to standards of justice and upholds due process in respect of the past. The strength of support for this view is, for example, shown in the successful campaign to pardon men executed by British Forces during the First World War (the Shot at Dawn campaign).

Miscarriages of justice cases, such as those of the Birmingham Six and Judith Ward, also illustrate the importance of righting the wrongs of the past when it comes to crime. One hundred years ago today another such injustice occurred and efforts are now being made to right this wrong.

At the Old Bailey on March 10th 1917 Alice Wheeldon, her daughter, Winnie Mason, and her son-in-law, Alf Mason, were convicted of conspiracy to murder the Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George along with the leader of the Labour Party Arthur Henderson and other persons unspecified. Alice was sentenced to 10 years of penal servitude, with Alf receiving 7 years and Winnie 5. Their efforts to appeal were rejected and so they were sent to prison. Alice went on hunger strike, was released early due to ill-health but died of influenza in 1919. Alf and Winnie were released unexpectedly at the end of the war. Continue reading

Reflections on the ‘Three Knights Opinion’ and Article 50 TEU

By Miss Rosie Slowe LLM, Research Collaborator (University of Bristol Law School).

On 17 February 2017, Bindmans LLP published an Opinion that it had solicited from several leading authorities on EU law concerning Article 50 TEU. The so-dubbed ‘Three Knights Opinion’ put forward compelling legal arguments in support of why an Act of Parliament at the end of the Article 50 negotiation process is necessary in order to ensure that Brexit occurs in accordance with domestic and, by extension, EU law. These contentions, and Professor Elliot’s rebuttal, warrant careful consideration, not least because of the constitutional significance they pose.

The Opinion was asked to address three questions: whether it was a ‘constitutional requirement’, within the meaning of Article 50(1), that Parliament authorise the final terms of any deal reached with the EU; whether the UK is able to validly notify its intention to withdraw from the EU, pursuant to Article 50(2), subject to such a requirement; and the legal consequences if that requirement is not satisfied. It is submitted, for reasons that will become apparent, that the latter question of consequence is effectively answered by examining the possibility of conditionality being attached to notice under Article 50, and this post accordingly considers the two issues together. Continue reading

Argentina’s Restrictive Turn on Migration: Trump’s First Imitator in the Americas?

By Dr Diego Acosta Arcarazo, Senior Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School)  and Ms Leiza Brumat, postdoctoral researcher (CONICET).*

Argentina’s history and national identity are inextricably linked to immigration. Indeed, between 1880 and 1930 the country was the world’s second largest recipient of migrants, behind only the US. The immigration policies of both nations were often aligned during the period. In 1902, for example, Argentina adopted a law facilitating the expulsion of foreigners amid concerns about labour movements and anarchists; in 1903 the US banned the naturalization of anarchists. After the US approved its 1917 Immigration Act, which excluded from entry numerous groups including epileptics, alcoholics, criminals, beggars, and those with a physical disability, Argentina quickly reacted with similar laws in 1919 and 1923, fearful that those denied permission to disembark in US ports would continue their journeys to Buenos Aires.

Of course the days when those refused entry into the US would instead try their luck in Argentina are long gone. Whilst Argentina continues to be the largest recipient of migrants in South America, in the global context it’s no longer a significant destination country. Fewer than 5% of its population are foreign born according to official statistics – almost 90% of them from South America.

Yet one can see similarities between the executive order signed by Donald Trump on 27 January prohibiting entry into the US for certain nationalities, with the alleged objective of protecting the US from terrorism, and the executive decree adopted on the same day in Argentina curbing immigration in the name of the fight against criminality. Discursively, the presentation of other South American nationals as criminals recalls Trump’s infamous haranguing of Mexicans. Is this pure coincidence or rather another example of the influence on Latin America of the US’s ideological stance on migrants and refugees? To answer that question, we need to look at the context for current events. Continue reading

All companies are equal, but some companies are more equal than others

The new Industrial Strategy under the May Government and its implications for regulating takeovers in the UK

By Dr Georgina Tsagas, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

© Barnyz https://www.flickr.com/photos/75487768@N04/

The regulation of takeovers constitutes a highly sensitive topic insofar as takeovers may be the means by which control over a typically dominant corporation in one EU Member State is transferred from its holder to a foreign acquirer. The issue of how takeovers are regulated is therefore not only of interest to investors and the broader business community, but is ultimately an issue which attracts the interest of national governments and industry-specific authorities, as it can affect important institutions within a Member States’ economy.

The phrase ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’ is one of the most memorable phrases of George Orwell’s highly political literary book ‘The animal farm’. The story narrates how the animals of the farm attempt to revolt against man as their ruler in order to create a farm which will be run by all animals on an equal basis. However, certain animals eventually prevail over others abusing their power, collaborating with the former ruler and dominating in the same way in which the ruler they had overthrown had. ‘The animal farm’ constitutes a satirical allegory of the Russian Revolution and in essence criticizes the way in which control is in fact exercised in societies that have otherwise been founded on the ideology of equality. Though not a society per se, but rather a union of Member States, the EU has been founded on similar principles of equality or rather principles of ‘non-discrimination’ introducing the four freedoms which apply to natural, as well as to legal persons throughout the Union. Continue reading

A good year for torturers?

By Prof Nicholas Hardwick, Professor of Criminal Justice (Royal Holloway, University of London) and collaborator of the Human Rights Implementation Centre (University of Bristol Law School).

2017 looks set to be a good year for torturers.

Most noteworthy, they have received a glowing endorsement from President Trump. When it was put to him in a recent ABC interview that during his election campaign he had said he would “bring back waterboarding…and a hell of a lot worse” he did not demur. “Would I feel strongly about waterboarding?  As far as I am concerned we have to fight fire with fire,” he said.  “Absolutely I feel it works”, he went on.

It is true he qualified his remarks by stating that he would defer to the views of his defence secretary, James Mattis, and CIA director, Mike Pompeo, both of whom have said they would abide by the existing prohibition, and it is true there would be formidable political and legal obstacles to overturning the ban on torture. But it cannot be denied that the moral and operational case against torture has been dealt a heavy blow. Torturers worldwide can claim Trump has said torture is acceptable and it works. Continue reading

Dicta… Dictators and Law

By Prof Judith Masson, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies (University of Bristol Law School).

One key piece of knowledge all law students are expected to grasp early on in their legal career is the difference between what a judge says – dicta or obiter dicta and what a case means – the ratio or ratio decidendi. Even when they know the difference, students and practising barristers often prefer to reach for a quotation from a case. It can be comforting to use a well-rounded phrase from Smith J or Jones LJ and it may at first glance suggest wisdom when it really is just about memory. However, reliance on dicta is a really bad habit, does not make better lawyers and can seriously undermine what the law means.

In the hands of some judges dicta are powerful ways of communicating ideas – judicial soundbites – which make the case and the judge memorable. Lord Denning was a past master at this, making it easy to remember the facts of cases, but not always the law. Indeed Lord Denning’s skill with language enabled him to make or even make up law. Of course he was largely dealing with Common Law, developing contract and tort law rather than interpreting statute. Continue reading

Time to be realistic about human rights?

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School).

© Deridder45

The case of Phil Shiner, struck off by the solicitors’ disciplinary panel for the attempted procurement by financial inducements of spurious abuse claims against the British army in Iraq, sadly illustrates that the ‘post-truth’ era has penetrated even the noble cause of human rights (‘Review of Iraq war cases after lawyer struck off’, Guardian, 3 February 2017).

While this episode is, of course, a grotesque aberration, myth, misinformation, misrepresentation, and intellectual tunnel vision, coupled with excessive and unsustainable demands, are, nevertheless, increasingly prevalent in the contemporary movement, and not confined to its opponents as many might suppose. This not only devalues the currency, it also stokes the scepticism towards human rights currently sweeping western states and societies. Continue reading

Article 50, the Supreme Court judgment in Miller ~ and why the question of revocability matters more than ever

By Miss Rosie Slowe LLM, Research Collaborator (University of Bristol Law School).

With the Supreme Court having ruled on 24 January 2017 that Parliament must have a say in the triggering of Article 50 TEU, the ensuing debate regarding the process for exiting the EU has revolved around what is politically considered the most desirable ‘type’ of Brexit, and whether MPs can restrict the Government’s negotiation position. This post puts forward the hypothesis that such debates may be irrelevant because, in the event that negotiations fail, the UK has no guaranteed input on the terms of its withdrawal from the EU. At the heart of this problem is the still unanswered question whether an Article 50 notification is revocable (Prof Syrpis).

In R (on the application of Miller and another) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2017] UKSC 5, the Supreme Court rejected the Government’s appeal and upheld the High Court’s ruling that the royal prerogative cannot be relied on to trigger Article 50.  Rather than reliance on executive power, an Act of Parliament is required to authorise ministers to give notice of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU. This is based on the premise that such notification under Article 50(2) would inevitably, and unavoidably, have a direct effect on UK citizens’ rights by ultimately withdrawing the UK from the EU. However, this assumption warrants exploration. Continue reading

Protecting civil society against shrinking spaces

By Prof Sir Malcolm Evans, Professor of Public International Law (University of Bristol Law School) and Chair, United Nations Subcommittee for Prevention of Torture.

On Thursday 26th January a debate took place in Parliament* on the ‘shrinking space for civil society’ in international human rights protection. I was recently at a meeting where it was pointed out that this description of the problem – which is much discussed in international circles at the moment – made it sound vaguely as if it was something to do with washing things at the wrong temperature, and meant very little to most people. To the extent that effective human rights protection is based on openness and transparency, which might be summed up in the idea of ‘washing dirty linen in public’, the idea of human rights being ‘shrunk in the wash’ at the moment is not altogether a bad one – but this hardly helps convey the significance of what is taking place and why it matters enough to warrant a debate in Parliament. The reality is that there is something extremely worrying going on in many parts of the world – which is that those who stand up for those in need are themselves increasingly subjected to various forms of attack, including physical attack, for doing so. Continue reading