In Good Order: Deaths, Disputes and Default Rules

By Dr Joanna McCunn, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School) and Dr Andrew J Bell, Research Assistant (Institute for European Tort Law of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and University of Graz, Vienna).

Shipwrecks were a common cause of commorientes cases.

The ‘extraordinary’ recent case of Scarle v Scarle[1] has brought national press attention to a property law rule dating from 1925. Though little-known and seemingly bizarre in application, the rule stands atop millennia of legal thinking and is a useful and pragmatic tool for solving this instance of an unusually challenging evidential problem. This problem, of intractable uncertainty, occurs across the legal system, and the various rules used to address it can have surprisingly extensive policy benefits.

Scarle v Scarle

John and Ann Scarle were discovered dead at their home, having both succumbed to hypothermia under mysterious circumstances. It became vital to know which of the two had died first. If Ann had outlived her husband, she would have inherited the whole of their jointly owned property; if Ann had died first, it would have passed to John. Dispute arose because each of the spouses was to be succeeded by a daughter from a previous relationship; each daughter thus stood to inherit all or nothing from her parent.

The dispute coalesced around a presumption known as the ‘commorientes rule’. Found in section 184 of the Law of Property Act 1925, this provides that, where it is uncertain which of two or more persons has outlived the other(s), a younger person is deemed to have survived an elder.[2] While the rule itself is clear, it has been unclear what kind of ‘uncertainty’ is required for the rule to apply. Does a sequence of deaths have to be proven beyond reasonable doubt to avoid the presumption (the criminal law standard), or only on the balance of probabilities (the civil standard)?

HHJ Kramer decided that the ordinary civil standard applied: the commorientes rule is only engaged when it cannot be proven on the balance of probabilities (i.e. >50% probability) which person survived longer. In Scarle, however, even that hurdle was not met. The evidence as to the order of deaths was too equivocal and section 184 therefore kicked in: Ann Scarle was younger than, and so taken to have outlived, her husband. Her daughter inherited everything. (more…)

Know Your Enemy: Racism and Islamophobia

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

According to a recent report by a cross-party group of MPs, ‘Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness’. This definition has, however, been rejected by the government and criticised by others[1] not least on the grounds that, although Islamophobia coincides with racism in certain contexts, this is not always the case. Understanding the differences and similarities between various kinds of social prejudice is important not only for intellectual reasons, but also because a lack of clarity may militate against tackling them effectively.

In the popular sense, ‘race’/‘ethnicity’ involves shared physical identity (particularly skin colour and facial features), plus assumptions about kinship and origins more often imagined than real. Standard components of ‘racism’, typically based on myth, caricature and stereotype, generally include the belief that races possess distinct and inherent characteristics including social practices, the sense that one’s own race is superior to most if not all others, and express or implicit prejudice against people of races apart from one’s own.

‘Islamophobia’ generally refers to irrational antagonism towards Islam and/or Muslims also typically based on myth, caricature and misleading stereotype. Strictly speaking, a ‘phobia’ is a clinically observable anxiety disorder defined by recurrent and excessive fear of an object or situation. The term has, however, been extended to include individual and collective hostility towards minorities such as homosexuals (homophobia), foreigners (xenophobia) and Islam/Muslims (Islamophobia).

Racial and anti-Muslim discrimination can clearly overlap, particularly in England and Wales where over 90% of Muslims are non-white. (more…)

Is freedom of expression in academia under threat from academics themselves?

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

Freedom of expression has long been extolled by those who love freedom generally. For example, attempting to capture Voltaire’s commitment to it, historian Evelyn Beatrice Hall coined the famous phrase, wrongly attributed to the French philosophe himself – ‘I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it’. George Orwell also once memorably quipped: ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people things they don’t want to hear’. And, according to the European Court of Human Rights, this includes offending, shocking and disturbing.[1]

Spats, fall-outs, intellectual and personal feuds, have, of course, been commonplace amongst scholars since antiquity. And before the institutionalisation of the right to free speech in the west, the consequences could be much more serious than ruffled feathers. In the 16th century, for example, questioning the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation – that the wine and wafers used in the Mass miraculously turn into the physical body of Christ upon consumption – could result in being burned at the stake as a heretic. In the centuries since, the west has become accustomed to vigorous, legally-protected, yet not always even-tempered academic debates. For example, arguably making a bid for the most disrespectful scholarly put-down on record, nineteenth century German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, denounced his much more famous and influential contemporary, Hegel, as a ‘flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan’. (more…)

Three cheers for the independent review of Prevent

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights and Dr Lindsey Bell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

Of the four ‘Ps’ which frame the UK’s counterterrorist strategy – Pursue, Prepare, Protect and Prevent – the latter is by far the most controversial. It aims to stop people from becoming terrorists, or from supporting those who already are, by countering terrorist ideology and challenging those who promote it (‘counter-radicalization’), steering vulnerable individuals away from it (‘de-radicalization’), and working with sectors and institutions where these risks are considered high. Over 50,000 people and over 2,500 institutions – including schools, universities, mosques, and faith groups – engage with Prevent in over 40 priority areas and over a million people have received relevant training. De-radicalization is coordinated by Channel, an official multi-agency initiative offering non-compulsory, tailor-made support plans based on counselling and encouragement of approved activities, to those willing to receive them. On 22 January 2019 the security minister, Ben Wallace, announced that Prevent would be independently reviewed in accordance with an amendment to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill currently wending its way through parliament. This should be welcomed by everyone with an interest in effective, human rights-compliant counterterrorist law and policy and particularly by those, like us, who have long contested the mythology of the anti-Prevent movement. (more…)

Parliamentary Sovereignty: Brexit and Schrödinger’s cat

By Marc Johnson, Lecturer in Law (Truman Boddon Law School)

Photo: Flickr

Brexit has been a source of emotionally-charged debate. One point which has received plenty of attention is the sovereignty of Parliament and its relationship with EU membership. It is often explained that the EU’s ability to make laws (which can apply in the UK) is some form of forfeiture of sovereignty. However, this statement has a number of shortcomings, not least that it ignores the election of Members of the European Parliament by the UK, providing (at least to some degree) a democratic mandate to the European Parliament. I will use Schrödinger’s cat to suggest that sovereignty can be present in multiple places and remain intact, allowing the normal operation of both the UK Parliament and European Parliament, without offending a nuanced view of sovereignty. In order to do this, one must cast aside the orthodox views of sovereignty and start with a pragmatic and philosophical approach to Parliamentary Sovereignty as it today. Brexit is akin to lifting the lid of Schrödinger’s box to observe the actual state of sovereignty at a specific point in time, but in doing so it reduces the observers to that of a quantitative measurer, and asks ‘is it dead or alive’ – when, in fact, reality is far more complex than this. (more…)

Nanny states and grown-up debates on alcohol policy

By Prof John Coggon, Professor of Law (University of Bristol Law School)

Photo: Flickr

Debates on alcohol policy are necessarily complex and controversial, and a complete consensus on how we should regulate this area will not be achieved. Like other lawful but regulated products, alcohol presents benefits and harms that may be understood from ranging perspectives. These include views based in cultural, economic, ethical, historical, legal, medical, population-based, religious, and social understandings. Of necessity, outlooks on alcohol policy and the role of regulation therefore vary both within and across such differing sources of critique. The values—positive and negative—of alcohol at individual, familial, community, commercial, and population levels thus call for careful, reasoned, and respectful public debates.

Even within the context of public health analysis, we cannot just look to scientific studies to inform and determine policy: we are required to consider forms of ‘evidence’ from different disciplines and sectors. This is well explained in a recent publication by the Health Foundation, with papers applied to child obesity but with lessons that are generalisable across health policy. However, for many working in public health, or members of wider communities who have interests in what makes good health policy, challenges emerge in relation to the conduct of public debates: often care, reason, and respect are replaced by simplistic slurs and assertions. And in this context, accusations of nanny statism are a key and persistent example. (more…)

The all-women jury in R. v. Sutton (1968): ‘of no more than minor interest’?

By Prof Gwen Seabourne, Professor of Legal History (University of Bristol Law School)

In a manslaughter case held in Swansea in 1968,[i] an unusual order was made. Thesiger J. decided that it should be heard by an all-female jury. He made the order under a discretion granted to him by the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, the first, and apparently the only time that such an order was made in Wales or England.

The possibility of ordering a single sex jury has long since been removed, but R. v. Sutton was and is important as an event, and as a working-out of the implications of the early, limited, moves towards women’s participation in public life which came with the Representation of the People Act 1918 and Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. The fiftieth anniversary of the case (and the approaching centenary of the 1919 Act) seems an appropriate moment to sketch some of its claims on our attention. (more…)

Enforcement of awards under the New York Convention: choice of remedies and the significance of time limits

By Prof Jonathan Hill, Professor of Law (University of Bristol Law School).

© Michael Coghlan

It is a truism that, although the ultimate purpose of an arbitration is the rendering of an award which definitively determines the disputes that were referred by the parties to arbitration, in practice, the making of the final award may well not be the end of the road. This truism is graphically illustrated by the events following an arbitration conducted around ten years ago under the auspices of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC); the dispute had arisen out of a failed joint venture between two groups of companies, a Malaysian media group (Astro), and various companies, including First Media (FM), which were part of an Indonesian conglomerate known as Lippo. During the arbitration, in which the Astro companies were the claimants, the tribunal made a number of awards; in 2010, the arbitration culminated in a final award of US$250 million in the claimants’ favour. Since then, the Astro companies have been trying to enforce the awards through the courts against FM (and others), most notably in Singapore and Hong Kong. Following decisions by the Singapore Court of Appeal (PT First Media TBK v Astro Nusantara International BV [2013] SGCA 57) and, more recently, by Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal (Astro Nusantara International BV v PT Ayunda Prima Mitra [2018] HKCFA 12), those attempts now appear to have failed.

In terms of the substance, the case seems, at first glance, to be a relatively simple one. The problems were, to a large extent, procedural and those problems were exacerbated by the fact that the courts of two jurisdictions were required to address the same – or very similar – questions. In total, there were five judicial decisions – two in Singapore – High Court (SGHC) and Court of Appeal (SGCA) – and three in Hong Kong – Court of First Instance (HKCFI), Court of Appeal (HKCA) and Court of Final Appeal (HKCFA). In both jurisdictions, Astro’s application to enforce the awards succeeded at first instance; it was only at the highest level in each jurisdiction that FM prevailed. This blog is divided into six substantive sections; after a brief consideration of the arbitration (I), the most significant features of each of the five court decisions are analysed (II-VI). Some of the lessons that can be learned from the whole saga are summarised in the Conclusion.  (more…)

Sex Work, Labour Unfreedom, and the Law

By Dr Katie Cruz, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

On 2nd June, sex workers and activists gathered globally to mark the struggle for sex workers’ rights. International Sex Workers Day is just one day of the year dedicated to the struggle for sex workers. Activists gather on March 3rd to mark International Sex Worker Rights Day and on December 17th to mark International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers. These dates occur because of the historical and ongoing violence against, and exclusion of, sex workers. Sex workers are subject to interpersonal forms of violence, from police officers and clients, and the structural violence of criminal justice and immigration institutions. They are criminalized and affected by often-punitive anti-trafficking laws and policies, and they are subject to heightened immigration controls, including the criminalization of movement and working. The Tory government’s hostile environment has created additional layers of institutionalised insecurity for many migrant sex workers, including restrictions on access to housing, healthcare, education, and banking services.

In a recent article I wrote for Feminist Legal Studies, I argue for a Marxist feminist methodology capable or describing and opposing these intersecting exclusions and oppressions as they apply to migrant sex workers in the UK. However, this method can be used to understand the precarious living and working conditions of all (sex) workers. In this post, I make some remarks in relation to citizen sex workers in the UK and Jamaica, where I am currently conducting fieldwork with Prof Julia O’Connell Davidson and Dr Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor. (more…)

Human Rights in the Council of Europe and the European Union: Achievements, Trends and Challenges

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School), Prof Janneke Gerards, Chair in Fundamental rights law (Utrecht University), and Miss Rose Slowe, Barrister (Middle Temple) and Honorary Research Fellow (University of Bristol Law School).

In our experience the general public, some of our students, and even some of our colleagues, are confused about the differences between the 47-member Council of Europe, the parent body of the European Court of Human Rights, and the 28 (soon to be 27)-member European Union, in human rights and other fields. Confusion about the differences between the two organizations has also been compounded by increasing interaction between them, particularly over the past decade or so. The human rights-related literature is also dominated by separate studies, largely concerning their respective legal systems. As a result, more integrated accounts are increasingly required. This is the primary objective of our recently-published book – S. Greer, J. Gerards and R. Slowe, Human Rights in the Council of Europe and the European Union: Achievements, Trends and Challenges (Cambridge University Press, 2018). (more…)