UK Universities must soon comply with the EU Web Accessibility Directive

By Dr Albert Sanchez-Graells, Reader in Economic Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

In 2016, the EU adopted the Web Accessibility Directive to foster better access to the websites and mobile applications underpinning public services – in particular by people with disabilities, and especially persons with vision or hearing impairments. This Directive is meant to complement the European Accessibility Act and to implement the EU’s commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Article 9 UNCRPD requires the adoption of appropriate measures to ensure equal access to information and communication technologies, including the Internet, for persons with disabilities. Under the Web Accessibility Directive, this translates into an obligation for public sector bodies to ensure that their websites and apps comply with a 2014 EU standard adapted to the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) at level AA (currently WCAG 2.0).

The Web Accessibility Directive must be transposed into UK law by 23 September 2018 and will generate obligations for new websites from 2019, for pre-existing websites from 2020, and for all public sector apps from 2021. The UK Government is currently analysing the responses to a public consultation on the draft Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 (the Web Accessibility Regulations), and the Government Digital Service is developing a host of initiatives to roll-out accessibility policies throughout the public sector. This blog post explains that UK Universities and further education institutions are covered by the Web Accessibility Directive. They must be clearly placed under the scope of application of the future Web Accessibility Regulations and be supported by the Government Digital Service and the Department for Education to ensure that their websites and apps comply with the relevant accessibility standards as soon as possible. This is not only legally mandated, but also essential to the public service mission of universities and other educational institutions. (more…)

Brexit – What are the options for the UK now?

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

In the light of the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson, it is time to reexamine the state of play in the Brexit negotiations. In this post, I seek to identify the various possible outcomes, and to provide some comments on the political ramifications of each.

The list of possible outcomes is almost as long as it was in March 2017, when Article 50 was triggered. That in itself is a cause of huge concern. What is also worrying, is that there does not appear to be a clear path to any of the possible outcomes.   (more…)

Centre for Law at Work Launched

By Dr Jennifer Collins, Lecturer in Law, and Prof Alan Bogg, Professor of Labour Law, Centre for Law at Work (University of Bristol Law School).

Centre for Law at Work Launch Event, Law School, University of Bristol © Bhagesh Sachania

On Thursday 28 June the Bristol Centre for Law at Work was launched. The Centre is based in the Law School, with Professors Alan Bogg and Tonia Novitz its founding Directors. It is supported by scholars from across the Law School who will come together to reflect upon legal issues relating to work and its regulation. Adopting an inter-disciplinary approach, the Centre aims to advance scholarly analysis of work-related issues, and to generate innovative perspectives. In so doing, it aims to shape policy at national, transnational and international levels using evidence-based interventions to influence current political debates. Centre members have already made high profile contributions to the recent Taylor Review of modern working practices.

A very successful launch of the Centre was held at the close of the first day of Professor Alan Bogg and Dr Jennifer Collins’ workshop, Criminality at Work. Professor Mark Freedland, opening the Centre, commented on Bristol’s global reputation in work-related legal scholarship. He was also deeply impressed by the excitement and enthusiasm across the University for the objectives and activities of the Centre for Law at Work.  Professor Paddy Ireland, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law, commented that the Law School has attracted fantastic interdisciplinary scholars who will contribute to the work of the Centre. The Centre will build links across the wider Faculty, based around the Faculty Research Group on Work. It will also connect with a global network of academic centres through its formal affiliation with the Labour Law Research Network. (more…)

How (not) to counter extremism

By Prof Julian Rivers, Professor of Jurisprudence (University of Bristol Law School).*

The ‘Peace Window’ memorial to Dag Hammarskjøld, by Marc Chagall

Earlier this year, the Government fulfilled one of its General Election Manifesto commitments by appointing Sara Khan as the first chair of a new Commission for Countering Extremism. The Commission’s task is not an enviable one, since if not exactly an admission of failure, its establishment represents at least a significant pause for thought. Its job will be to support society in countering extremism and to advise the Government on new policies and powers. We have some idea of what it aspires to achieve, and how it will work, but as yet no concrete proposals have emerged.

The creation of the Commission is the latest stage in a fairly rapid process of policy development. In its current guise, the idea of countering extremism first emerged in the 2011 version of Prevent, the counter-terrorism strategy. Extremism was defined there as ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’. It was identified as a problem because, it was claimed, extremist ideologies can lead to terrorism – the use or threat of serious violence or other damaging attacks on the public to advance a political, religious, racial or ideological cause. However, at that point the only thing the Government suggested should be done about it was ‘challenge’ – in other words the use of informal social and political pressure to reinforce liberal values in the face of illiberal ones.

In October 2015 – after the ending of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition – the Government’s counter-terrorism policy took another turn. A new counter-extremism strategy identified extremism as a harm in its own right, requiring new legal responses and new Government powers. Ever since, the Government has been trying to work out what these should be. (more…)

US Departure from the UN Human Rights Council

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

On 20 June 2018 the US announced that it was leaving the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) because it was ‘a cesspool of political bias’ particularly against Israel. Although this decision has been condemned by human rights activists and NGOs around the world, and/or ‘regretted’ by other western states, sadly, the claims upon which it is ostensibly based are not without foundation.

The protection of human rights is one of the UN’s key objectives and a formal element in all its activities. But, since 2006, the UNHRC has been particularly entrusted with this task. The final nail in the coffin of its discredited predecessor, the UN Commission on Human Rights, was the election of Libya as chair in 2003. Composed of officials from 47 UN member states, the UNHRC is elected on a secret ballot by simple majority of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). Thirteen seats are set aside for African states, thirteen for Asian, eight for Latin American and Caribbean countries, six for Eastern Europe, and seven for Western Europe and the rest. Any member state of the UN, irrespective of its own human rights record, is eligible to stand. The UN requires states, when casting their votes, to take the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights into account, and the vast majority of those seeking election make written pledges and commitments to this effect. But it is widely believed that diplomats horse trade with each other about who to vote for, with the usual back room deals and political partisanship this entails. (more…)

Smart technology and patient safety – a double-edged sword?

By Dr Oliver Quick, Reader in Law (University of Bristol Law School) and Prof Anita Ho, Associate Professor of Bioethics (University of British Columbia).*

This blog explores the implications of a specific type of information and communication technology on healthcare delivery: direct-to-consumer (DTC) self-monitoring devices and smartphone apps. The use of such technology is central to healthcare systems delivering more personalised care, and may be useful given an ageing population, the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions, and the aim of reducing hospital admissions. However, smart technologies may create a double-edged sword for therapeutic relationships and patient safety. When used properly, these technologies may promote safe and effective care by empowering patients to take charge of their own health and promote efficient sharing of relevant health information.  However, if not regulated or incorporated appropriately into clinical care, smart technologies can pose significant ethical and safety concerns. (more…)

Standing of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in the UK Supreme Court Abortion Decision

By Dr Jane Rooney, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

In its much-awaited decision on Northern Irish abortion laws, a majority in the UK Supreme Court dismissed the appeal brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (the Commission) on the basis that it lacked standing to bring legal proceedings [In the matter of an application by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission for Judicial Review [2018] UKSC 27]. Kathryn McNeilly, Fiona Bloomer, and Claire Pierson explain the context and implications of the ruling here. Despite agreement ‘that the current law in Northern Ireland on abortion is disproportionate and incompatible with Article 8 of the [European] Convention’ on Human Rights (see UK Supreme Court press release), the Commission had no standing and therefore the Supreme Court could not make a declaration of incompatibility under section 4 of the Human Rights Act and their statements on rights violations were obiter dicta.

This blog considers the Supreme Court’s adjudication on standing. It argues for a literal interpretation of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) to argue that, contrary to the UK Supreme Court’s majority judgment, the Commission is empowered under the Northern Ireland Act to bring proceedings in cases of an unlawful act of a public authority and for review of the compatibility of Northern Irish primary legislation with the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). (more…)