A Governance Revolution or Costly Distraction? Reassessing the promises of blockchain for public procurement governance

By Prof Albert Sanchez-Graells, Professor of Economic Law (University of Bristol Law School).

Blockchain or, more generally, decentralised ledger technologies (DLTs), are capturing the attention of policymakers. ‘Blockchain’ has become shorthand to refer to technology usually identified with the properties of a decentralised, trustless and immutable (or at least, tamper-proof) mechanism for information verification and recording that can enable self-executing digital transactions between anonymous parties (‘smart contracts’).

Blockchain’s touted tamper-proofness and potential to enable smart contracts are driving initiatives that seek to create automated ‘trust in trustless environments’ for public sector use cases, in particular concerning activities highly-exposed to corruption risks and/or the automation of administrative procedures devoid of discretion.

There are high economic stakes at play in public procurement—which represents around 12% of GDP and over a third of public expenditure in OECD countries, and even higher proportions in other economies. Coupled with the growing (over)reliance of policymakers on business consultants, the hype around blockchain—and, more generally, about public procurement 4.0—is perhaps particularly intense in this field of GovTech and RegTech.

Some legal scholars are rather optimistically jumping on the ‘disruptive technologies bandwagon’ and identifying blockchain as a main tool to increase the probity and efficiency of procurement governance at a national level.1 Some officially-backed ‘visions for the future’ go as far as promising blockchain-supported global e-procurement platforms capable of covering the entirety of procurement transactions carried out worldwide.

This is creating a set of expectations about how blockchain will revolutionise public procurement governance that does not translate into real action. Even further, I submit, blockchain is and will remain structurally inapt to generate such a governance revolution, for several reasons. (more…)

Deradicalization and the London Bridge attack of 29 November 2019

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

Two central questions are raised by the horrific knife attack by Usman Khan upon some of those attending a criminal rehabilitation workshop at Fishmonger’s Hall, London Bridge on 29 November: how, if at all, could it have been prevented? And how, if at all, could other similar incidents be averted? While there are, regrettably, no entirely reassuring answers to either question, there are, nevertheless, ones we must be content to live with.

Khan, from Stoke-on-Trent, joined the jihadist movement al-Muhajiroun in 2006 at the age of 15 and was arrested for terrorism in 2010. Two years later he was convicted with several others, of involvement in planning to establish terrorist training camps in Pakistan, and conspiracies to attack several London targets, including the Stock Exchange, the US Embassy, and the home of the then Mayor, Boris Johnson. He was sentenced to an indeterminate term of imprisonment with a recommendation that he spend at least eight years behind bars. This was, however, altered on appeal to a fixed term of 18 years with the standard entitlement to automatic release after half the sentence had been served. Khan is said to have been a model prisoner. By contrast with the majority of his terrorist peers, he willingly cooperated with the available opportunities for deradicalization and rehabilitation. But it is not entirely clear what precisely these involved. It has also been reported that he applied to join a more intensive programme but was unsuccessful. The reasons have not yet been fully disclosed. But it is said that there is a long waiting list. (more…)