Tag Archives: think piece

The phoney war is over. Theresa May has triggered Article 50. The clock is ticking. But clarity and legal certainty remain elusive

By Prof Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law (University of Bristol Law School)

In her letter to Donald Tusk the Prime Minister outlined the UK’s starting position in negotiations with the EU. The EU Council of Ministers responded by producing draft negotiating guidelines (to be confirmed by the European Council at the end of April). These guidelines create the framework within which negotiations on withdrawal, and those on the future relationship between the UK and the EU, will occur. Meanwhile, a White Paper on the Great Repeal Bill was presented to Parliament, promising on the one hand to repeal the European Communities Act (ECA) and end the supremacy of EU law in the UK, and on the other to convert the acquis communautaire into UK law, so that ‘EU-derived rights’ (as we will need to get used to calling them) will, as far as possible, be unaffected.

The opening exchanges between the UK and EU have generated a lot of comment. Much of it has focused on the unlikely subject of Gibraltar (Michael Howard’s crass evocation of the Falklands conflict will have done nothing to lower simmering tensions). In relation to the White Paper, most attention has been devoted to the role of Parliament and the devolved assemblies. Rather less attention has been paid to many of the EU law aspects. In this short note, I focus on those. I first consider what new light has been shed on the way in which the Article 50 negotiations will proceed, drawing attention to the host of issues which remain unanswered. I then consider the EU law questions raised by the repeal of the ECA, and the conversion of the acquis into UK law. Michael Ford has already commented on this blog on the applicability of judgments of the European Court of Justice in the post-Brexit era; so there is no more on that subject here.

My overarching concern is that the Government, in particular in the White Paper, has failed to provide a clear sense of the size of the task which lies ahead. It is impossible to know whether this is because the Government itself does not appreciate the magnitude of the challenge, or because it is trying to conceal the difficulties. The Government has, for months, struggled to articulate just what Brexit might mean, and has made a series of disparate promises which a range of different constituencies have, if so minded, been able to rely on, or cling to. It will now start making hard choices. It has not prepared the ground well. Continue reading

The Great Repeal Bill, Workers’ Rights, Henry VIII and the ECJ

By Prof Michael Ford QC, Professor of Law (University of Bristol Law School).

The key words in the recent White Paper, Legislating for the United Kingdom’s Withdrawal from the European Union, are ‘certainty’ and ‘clarity’ in the interests of a ‘smooth and orderly Brexit’, repeated in the forewords and the text.  To that end, the envisaged Great Repeal Bill (GRB) will initially convert the existing acquis of EU law into domestic law, including directly effective EU laws, such as Article 157 of the TFEU on equal pay. Also in order ‘to maximise certainty’ the meaning of EU-derived law will be determined ‘by reference to’ – note the vague words – the case law of the Court of Justice (ECJ) existing on the date of Brexit. This means, the White Paper happily explains in a user-friendly example in a shaded box, that workers’ rights will ‘continue to be available’ after Brexit, giving ‘certainty to service providers and users, as well as employees and employers’. In this way the GRB will apparently deliver on the Prime Minister’s promise in October last year that workers’ rights ‘will continue to be guaranteed in law’ post-Brexit.

Despite being thin on the detail of the GRB, so far all appears so good. But scratch the surface and things are not so simple underneath. Continue reading

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