From the “Democratic Deficit” to a “Democratic Surplus”: Constructing Administrative Democracy in Europe

By Dr Athanasios Psygkas, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol).

When academics, policymakers, media commentators, and citizens talk about a European Union (EU) “democratic deficit,” they often miss part of the story. My new book, From the “Democratic Deficit” to a “Democratic Surplus”: Constructing Administrative Democracy in Europe (Oxford University Press, 2017), challenges the conventional narrative of an EU “democratic deficit.” It argues that EU mandates have enhanced the democratic accountability of national regulatory agencies by creating entry points for stakeholder participation in national regulation. These avenues for public participation were formerly either not open or not institutionalized to this degree.

By focusing on how the EU formally adopted procedural mandates to advance the substantive goal of creating an internal market in electronic communications, I demonstrate that EU requirements have had significant implications for administrative governance in the member states. Drawing on theoretical arguments in favor of decentralization traditionally applied to substantive policy-making, the book illustrates how the decentralized EU structure may transform national regulatory authorities into individual sites of experimentation and innovation. It thus contributes to debates about federalism, governance and public policy, as well as about deliberative and participatory democracy in the United States and Europe. (more…)

Brexit and Public Procurement Reform: What Next?

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

Eight months ago, by giving formal notice under Article 50 TEU, the United Kingdom formally started the process of leaving the European Union (so called Brexit). This has immersed the UK Government and EU Institutions in a two-year period of negotiations to disentangle the UK from EU law by the end of March 2019, and to devise a new legal framework for UK-EU trade afterwards. The UK will thereafter be adjusting its trading arrangements with the rest of the world, and the Government has recently stated its intention for the UK to remain a member of the World Trade Organisation Government Procurement Agreement (GPA).

In this context, public procurement regulation is broadly seen as an area where a UK ‘unshackled by EU law’ would be able to turn to a lighter-touch and more commercially-oriented regulatory regime, subject only to GPA constraints. There are indications that the UK would simultaneously attempt to create a particularly close relationship with the US, although recent changes in US international trade policy may pose some questions on that trade strategy. Overall, then, Brexit has created a scenario where UK public procurement law and policy may be significantly altered. In a paper* recently published in the Public Contract Law Journal with Dr Pedro Telles, I speculate on the possibility for Brexit to actually result in a significant reform of UK public procurement law (of which I remain sceptical). (more…)

Has the European Court of Human Rights Become a “Small Claims Tribunal”?

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights, and Ms Faith Wylde, Research Assistant (University of Bristol Law School).

View of the Court’s main entrance

After nearly two decades, the case overload afflicting the European Court of Human Rights has finally been reduced to more manageable proportions. However, it is too early to tell if this welcome trend will be sustained. But, if it is, the authors of this article argue it will have been achieved at considerable cost because, in the attempt to defend it, the cherished right of individual petition has, paradoxically, been undermined.They also claim that the Court has been confirmed as a“human rights small claims tribunal”, that structural violations are now more likely to be institutionalised than resolved, and that a golden opportunity to improve the protection of human rights across the continent has been missed.

Greer & Wylde develop these arguments in full in their publication ‘Has the European Court of Human Rights Become a “Small Claims Tribunal” and Why, If at All, Does it Matter?‘ (2017) 2 European Human Rights Law Review 145-154.

Closing the Gaps: Health and Safety in the Home

By Dave Cowan, Professor of Law and Policy (University of Bristol Law School).

Following a commission from Shelter, the housing charity, Dave Cowan and Edward Burtonshaw-Gunn, University of Bristol Law School, and Helen Carr and Ed Kirton-Darling, University of Kent Law School, conducted research into the law and practice around housing standards.  Their conclusions – which draw on 940 responses to a questionnaire from professionals, landlords and occupiers – make for stark reading about the deficiencies in our current law.  This is the Executive Summary to the report.  The full report can be found at http://www.bristol.ac.uk/law/research/grenfell/.

The law relating to health and safety in people’s homes is piecemeal, out-dated, complex, dependent upon tenure, and patchily enforced. It makes obscure distinctions, which have little relationship with everyday experiences of poor conditions. Tenants wanting to remedy defects face numerous and often insurmountable barriers to justice. The law needs to evolve; no longer should occupiers be treated as posing health and safety risks; instead they should be treated as consumers of housing with enforceable rights to ensure minimum standards are adhered to. The state needs to accept its role as the primary enforcer of those standards.

Not only does the law require reform, there also needs to be a cultural change, so that those responsible for the health and safety of occupiers become pro-active in fulfilling those responsibilities.

We recommend a new Housing (Health and Safety in the Home) Act which is tenure neutral, modern and relevant to contemporary health and safety issues, and which encourages and provides resources for pro-activity by statutory authorities. In particular, the Act should

  • Strengthen duties on local authorities to review housing and enforce housing health and safety standards
  • Introduce a legal duty to review and update all guidance relating to health and safety in the home every three years
  • Provide routes for occupiers to require local authorities to carry out housing health and safety assessments
  • Remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing enforcement action being taken against local authority landlords and remove unnecessary procedural barriers which undermine the current regime
  • Consolidate and up-date existing law
  • Place clear responsibilities on bodies for breaches of fire and building regulations
  • Provide routes for occupiers to hold landlords and managers to account for fire safety provisions
  • Strengthen remedies against retaliatory eviction

Such an Act, either working alongside or incorporating a Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, would not only improve health and safety outcomes for occupiers, it would signify also that, as a society, we accept responsibility for those standards.

Researching European Union Tort Law in the Era of Brexit

By Prof Paula Giliker, Professor of Comparative Law (University of Bristol Law School).

October 2017 marked the publication of the Edward Elgar Research Handbook on EU Tort Law. This is part of the series of Research Handbooks in European Law published by leading Law publishing house, Edward Elgar, which offer authoritative reference points for academics, students, and practitioners studying or working in EU law, private law and comparative law. The aim is to be comprehensive and informative, but also accessible for those approaching the subject for the first time.

The Research Handbook on EU Tort Law is edited by University of Bristol Professor of Comparative Law, Paula Giliker, but also contains contributions from other Bristol academic staff including Dr Jule Mulder, Dr Albert Sanchez-Graells and Professor Keith Stanton, together with 14 other contributions ranging from the UK and Ireland to France, Germany, the Netherlands and Hungary. This truly international project seeks to examine the extent to which EU-sourced law (directives, judicial decisions, regulations, Treaty provisions) have created new rights in the law of tort on which claimants can rely in either the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) or national courts.

The variety of areas of law in which EU-sourced tort law can be found is striking, as highlighted in Giliker’s introductory chapter, ‘What do we mean by “EU tort law”?’ Contributors discuss actions in the CJEU (Gutman), State liability for breach of EU law (Granger), product liability (White), competition law (Odudu and Sanchez-Graells), data protection law (Stauch), employment law (Mulder), insurance law (Davey), financial services law (Stanton) and the law relating to unfair commercial practices (Riefa and Saintier). Further contributions examine what we mean by compensatory remedies in EU law (Leczykiewicz), whether we can identify a culture of EU tort law (Niglia and Knetsch) and the possibility of harmonising European tort law more generally (Martin-Casals, Blackie and Faure). Finally, Giliker examines the future of EU tort law, both as a substantive area of law and as a concept in need of clarification and further academic debate. (more…)

North-South Free Trade Agreements – Trade, Policy and Europe

By Dr Clair Gammage, Lecturer in Law, and Prof Tonia Novitz, Professor of Labour Law (University of Bristol Law School).

On 4 October 2017, we held an event at the University of Bristol Law School, funded by PolicyBristol, considering the dynamics of negotiation, implementation, and enforcement of North-South trade agreements.

The first panel (Clair Gammage, Maria Garcia and Tonia Novitz, chaired by Phil Syrpis) examined the external policies of the European Union (EU) particularly in the context of regionalism and free trade agreements (FTAs). The significance of power disparities between trading partners in the negotiation process was considered and it was argued that true ‘partnerships’ in trade will be established through an inclusive and participative approach, as advocated by Clair Gammage in her book on North-South Regional Trade Agreements as Legal Regimes (Edward Elgar, 2017).

The second panel (Emily Jones, Sophie Hardefeldt and Gabriel Siles-Brügge, chaired by Tonia Novitz) examined how the UK could – in the event of Brexit – depart from or improve on the practices of the EU. Issues regarding human rights protections, development and transparency were considered, echoing many of the themes emerging from the discussion of the first panel. (more…)

Comparing UK and Irish law: A special relationship?

By Prof Paula Giliker, Professor of Comparative Law (University of Bristol Law School) and former President of the British Association of Comparative Law.

The British Association of Comparative Law (BACL) held its annual seminar, jointly with the Irish Society of Comparative Law, at University College, Dublin on 5 September 2017. The joint seminar was chaired and organised by Professor Paula Giliker. To celebrate BACL’s first annual seminar in Ireland, the seminar reflected on the relationship between UK and Irish law in the fields of land law, banking regulation, language legislation and consumer law.  The seminar was sponsored by publishers, Intersentia.

The seminar sought to examine different features of the relationship between Irish and UK law: the tensions of the past, the similar problems faced by two common law jurisdictions in the light of a global banking crisis, linguistic diversity and demands for consumer law reform and the future, with one jurisdiction remaining within the European Union and the other deciding to leave.  (more…)

Setting aside of arbitral awards under the Arbitration Act 1996 and the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration: failure to deal with all the issues

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

© liza31337 (Flickr)

Back in the 1980s, the Departmental Advisory Committee on Arbitration Law recommended against England adopting the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (‘Model Law’ or ‘ML’). Nevertheless, during the course of the reform process that led to the Arbitration Act 1996, the Model Law played a significant role and its impact can clearly be seen in terms of the 1996 Act’s structure, style and content. Nevertheless, English law retains a number of distinctive features and, even in those areas in which the objectives of the 1996 Act broadly mirror those of the Model Law, there are places where the two legislative schemes diverge.

One significant area of difference is the setting aside of awards. On this issue, the Model Law is, at first blush, simplicity itself. The six grounds for setting aside under art 34 ML replicate bases set out in article V of the New York Convention of 1958 (‘NYC’) on which an award rendered in country A may be refused recognition/enforcement in country B. (For obvious reasons, art 34 ML contains no provision corresponding to art V.1.e NYC.)

The Arbitration Act 1996 approaches setting aside in a very different way. First, in keeping with the traditions of English arbitration law, the 1996 Act provides that, albeit in carefully circumscribed and narrow circumstances, an award may be set aside on the basis that, as regards the merits of the dispute, the arbitral tribunal made an error of English law (s 69). The Model Law, by contrast, follows the modern international practice of making no provision for setting aside because the tribunal did not reach the correct result, either on the facts or the law. Secondly, the 1996 Act separates ‘jurisdictional’ defects (s 67) from ‘procedural’ and other defects (s 68). Thirdly, section 68 lists a total of twelve ‘procedural’ grounds on which an award may be set aside. This contrasts with the ML’s two ‘procedural’ grounds (art 34.2.a.ii and iv). Fourthly, whereas article 34 ML provides simply that an award ‘may’ be set aside if one of the grounds is established (giving the supervisory court a degree of flexibility), an award cannot be set aside under section 68(2) unless the procedural defect relied on by the applicant has caused or will cause substantial injustice to the applicant.

The combined effect of these differences is to produce setting-aside regimes which, although largely seeking to implement the same policies, work in rather different ways. This point can be illustrated by the quite common scenario in which, after an award has been rendered, one of the arbitrants (typically, a respondent whose defence was wholly or partly unsuccessful) challenges the award on the basis that it fails to address an issue which was raised in the arbitration. (more…)

Cowboys of the wild west? — Some context on the influence of fee-charging McKenzie Friends in family law

By Dr Leanne Smith, Senior Lecturer in Law (School of Law and Politics, Cardiff University) and Dr Emma Hitchings, Senior Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

© Christopher Dombres

In mid June 2017, the report of our Bar Council commissioned research on fee-charging McKenzie Friends in private family law cases was published (the full report can be accessed here and an executive summary here).

One of the report’s key messages is that we found little evidence of McKenzie Friends seeking to exercise rights of audience on a regular basis and plenty of evidence that the bulk of the work done by McKenzie Friends is done outside of court. The work McKenzie Friends do in court, we said, is ‘the tip of the iceberg’. This was the finding that the Pink Tape blog outlining Lucy Reed’s perspective on the research focused on, indicating that it was not at all surprising. We hope we can be forgiven here for indulging in a few words in defence of the utility of the research.

We readily accept that many in the legal professions have been aware for some time that paid McKenzie Friends operate predominantly outside court, but research has an important role to play in interrogating anecdotal evidence and providing more systematically derived evidence in order to validate or debunk it.  This is no less true because perceived experience is validated by a set of results. In this instance, our hope is that the findings of the research will function as a turning point for discussion on the subject of fee-charging McKenzie Friends in a way that the observations of some professionals who encounter them has not. In addition there are, of course, some more granular observations that we consider important buried in our report, though we will resist spoilers for those who haven’t yet finished reading it…

(more…)

New Challenges for European Comparative Law

By Dr Jule Mulder, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

Dr Jule Mulder has published an article on European comparative law methodology entitled New Challenges for European Comparative Law: The Judicial Reception of EU Non-Discrimination Law and a turn to a Multilayered Culturally-informed Comparative Law Method for a better Understanding of the EU Harmonization.[1] This article argues that comparative law needs to explore its critical potential when engaging with the European harmonization process and its effects on the law of the Member States. (more…)