LLM students through to semi-finals of prestigious Moot competition

Two Birkbeck LLM students are set to compete in the semi-finals of one of the most prestigious and popular mooting competitions in the UK, led by Mooting Co-Ordinator Jonathan Thorpe from the School of Law.

Lewis Aldous (pictured, right) and Daniel Cullen (left), both post-graduates on the LLM Qualifying Law degree programme, are through to the semi-finals of the Oxford University Press (OUP) and Inns of Court College of Advocacy National Mooting Competition.

Moot competitions are an ancient method of training lawyers in the art of advocacy, an essential skill for those wishing to practise law. Moots involve two teams, competing in a fictitious appeal case, but in front of a real judge. Teams are scored under several headings – on their ability to interpret and use the law, their skill in presenting legal arguments, and how they deal with questions from the judge during the moot.

Birkbeck Law School runs its own moot training programme each academic year. from which students are selected to compete externally, against other universities, in the major UK moots.

Over the past few years, Birkbeck Law School has had considerable success in the national moots, but LLM students Lewis and Daniel have done exceptionally well this year, beating three highly reputable law schools in legal problems ranging over criminal law, contract law and contempt of court, to reach the semi-finals of OUP.

Further congratulations are due to Lewis, who was recently awarded a full scholarship by Inner Temple Inn of Court to study to be a barrister.

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Reflecting on a career in criminal policy research 

Professor Mike Hough has retired from the Institute for Criminal Policy Research after serving for more than 20 years as its Director. His ICPR colleague Gill Hunter writes about Mike’s retirement presentation and shares some of the insights amassed during his career. 

Mike Hough bows out with his presentation Does justice policy listen to criminological research? Experiences of speaking truth to power

On 8 March, 2018, the ICPR, Law School, Birkbeck hosted a retirement event for Professor Mike Hough. Mike was Director of ICPR for 23 years (ICPR has been at Birkbeck since 2010), and before joining academia in 1994, he was a senior researcher in the Home Office for 20 years. His presentation – Making Justice Policy Listen to Criminological Research: Experiences of Speaking Truth to Power – drew from a long and distinguished career in criminal policy research to offer his reflections on the vagaries of achieving research impact but also the politics and ethics of policy research. Mike has held over 100 research contracts and has some 300 publications. He sought to identify – and to share with us – the ‘magic ingredients of impact’ by reference to examples of his own work which have attained policy traction and others that, in his words, ‘sank with little trace’.

As a policy researcher, Mike has seen impact as being not only about academic citation – although he is a researcher of international renown and has made a significant contribution to the field of Criminology – but how, and in what ways, his research has been able to positively influence justice policy and practice. While having research impact beyond academia is now ‘measured’ in the Research Excellence Framework, there are numerous hurdles to achieving this.

Mike’s move from Home Office to academia in the mid-1990s was instigated by his desire to carry on doing policy research but with greater freedom, and the late ’90s was a boom time for policy research. Mike was a beneficiary of some of this plentiful Government funding and contributed to programmes of research firmly in the tradition of liberal reform – more of which below. However, as he highlighted, there are ethical issues when one is in a position to secure large amounts of public or charitable trust money that may affect public policy, and a government can choose to accept or ignore research that doesn’t tally with its political vision. He noted the fine balance between making compromises when reporting critical research findings to funders and of being compromised, and described this often laborious negotiation process as a largely neglected craft.

Through reference to his research undertaken with colleagues, he described some impact successes and challenges:

  • The British Crime Survey (now Crime Survey of England and Wales) has had enduring impact as a reliable indicator of crime trends. This had scale, was novel and had access to policy power through its location in the Home Office.
  • Research into problem drug-use was committed to the idea that encouraging dependent drug users into treatment was better policy than punishing them. This was done at a time of increasing Government investment in drug treatment, but relationships frayed with Government’s move to mandatory treatment and its over-claiming of success, which reduced scope for independent research.
  • Research on public attitudes to sentencing and penal populism provided good evidence that there wasn’t a monolithic punitive public, and that sentencing practice wasn’t wildly out of kilter with people’s sentencing preferences. Research on the sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPPs) played a part in the abolition of this unjust sentence. This programme of work had traction with senior judiciary and was assisted by the Prison Reform Trust who secured access to politicians and senior policy advisors.
  • Research into public trust in the police. One well-funded study charted falling public trust in the Metropolitan Police, attributed to perverse effects of numerical targets. This work lacked a good conceptual framework, policy allies or interest from senior police managers but it did lay the foundation for later work on procedural justice theory which has had a significant impact on policing ideas in the UK.

Through these examples Mike emphasised his lessons for achieving impact as: having something noteworthy to say that is based on research done on a significant scale, within a coherent conceptual or theoretical framework; timing; working with NGOs who understand the policy process; cultivating non-academic allies, including within Government; knowing how to amplify your voice through the media and contributing to the parliamentary process.

Last, but by no means least, is building strong collaborative working relationships with academic and policy colleagues. Some of these longstanding colleagues, including Gloria Laycock (Professor of Crime Science, UCL), Ben Bradford (Professor of Global City Policing, UCL), Juliet Lyon (previous director of the Prison Reform Trust and Visiting Professor, Birkbeck) and Julian Roberts (Professor of Criminology, Oxford University) paid tribute to Mike and encouraged his continuing contribution to criminal policy research. Mike is currently a Visiting Professor in the School of Law.

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Female imprisonment worldwide

Catherine Heard reflects on Female Imprisonment Worldwide, a recent event organised by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research. Listen to highlights from the speakers’ presentations on Birkbeck’s podcast.

Why this event? A rapidly increasing global female prison population

At ICPR we compile and host the World Prison Brief, a unique online resource that provides free access to the best available data on prisoner numbers in almost every country on the globe. This gives us a bird’s eye view of important trends in world prisoner numbers, which have been rising steadily in recent decades – particularly the numbers of women prisoners, as our World Female Imprisonment List (4th Edition) shows.

Numbers of women prisoners are rising in every continent, with significant increases reported in developed as well as less developed countries. This matters, not least because of the very high levels of vulnerability we know exist among women who get caught up in criminal justice processes. Women and girls in prison usually come from backgrounds of disadvantage and are likely to have experienced trauma, abuse, neglect or mental ill health before their imprisonment.

This event brought together experts in female imprisonment from around the world to discuss some of the causes and consequences of rising female prisoner numbers.

The scale and profile of female prison populations

Our keynote speaker was prison philanthropist Lady Edwina Grosvenor. Edwina has worked in criminal justice reform for more than 20 years. Perhaps her most ground-breaking contribution has been to advance the field of trauma-informed practice in the women’s custodial system in the UK.

Next, we heard from Roy Walmsley, who founded the World Prison Brief in 2000 and who compiles the population lists. Roy presented key data from the fourth edition of ICPR’s World Female Imprisonment List. There followed a presentation from Olivia Rope of Penal Reform International, an organisation that has contributed much to creating and promoting basic standards of decent, humane treatment for women and girls in custody. Olivia talked about some of the most common characteristics of women prisoners and explained why gender-informed approaches to women in criminal justice systems are so important.

Over-incarceration of women: drivers, harms and solutions
Marie Nougier from the International Drugs Policy Consortium then presented on the work they and members of their network have been doing to change the conversation around female drug offending, a major driver of the rapid rise in women prisoner numbers. View slide presentation here. 

Our next speaker, Teresa Njoroge had just given a TED talk in the United States, so we were all the more honoured to welcome her. Teresa heads up the NGO, Clean Start Kenya, which works with women and girls in Kenyan prisons. Teresa shared with us her own experience as an inmate in a Kenyan prison, spending a year in horrendous and needlessly humiliating conditions. She said many women never fully recover from the experience of prison in Kenya and in that sense their punishment lasts much longer than the term of custody they are sentenced to serve. View slide presentation here.

We then welcomed Madhurima Dhanuka from the Commonwealth Human Rights Institute in India. Madhurima’s presentation brought into sharp focus one hugely avoidable cause of high prisoner numbers – that is, the overuse of pre-trial imprisonment, a major problem in India. Madhurima also described the psychological damage prison causes many women, with awful conditions of custody followed too often by social isolation on release when their families abandon women due to the shame they are seen to have brought. View slide presentation here. 

Our last speaker was Jo Peden from the health and justice team at Public Health England. Jo has been working on a project to develop woman centred standards of health-care for female prisoners, something that is sadly lacking in too many prisons today. Jo’s presentation shed light on the alarmingly high rates of suicide and self-harm seen among women prisoners and the underlying vulnerabilities that they bring with them into custody. View slide presentation here. 

After the presentations, we had an open discussion with our audience. We were lucky enough to have Juliet Lyon CBE with us to chair this session. Juliet is now a visiting professor at Birkbeck. Prior to this, she was for many years the director of the Prison Reform Trust, which has long promoted better understanding of the needs of women prisoners and advocated to downsize the female prison population. Juliet reflected with honesty and a sense of sadness about the distance there remains to travel in achieving justice for women affected by the criminal justice system. If you listen to my podcast on the event, you can hear Juliet’s concluding thoughts on the presentations.

Where does female imprisonment fit within our world prison research programme?

Women prisoners are predominantly incarcerated for minor, non-violent, property or drug-related crimes, and are often primary carers for one or more children or older family members. This surely suggests that the economic and social costs of imprisoning women will, in most cases, outweigh the supposed benefits. That should prompt us to look more carefully at whom we imprison and ask, in every case, why we imprison and what we expect prison to achieve.

Our prisons research at ICPR aims to do just this. It seeks to bring about a deeper understanding of the many interwoven factors that combine to drive up prisoner numbers. We are doing this so that we can come up with some concrete, practical solutions to these harmful and unsustainable increases in the imprisonment levels of recent decades. We know that in order to do this, we must provide a better account of who it is that our states choose to imprison, and why.

This is a key goal of our current project, Understanding and reducing the use of imprisonment worldwide. The project entails an in-depth exploration of imprisonment in ten jurisdictions across all five continents. Those countries are: Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, the United States, India, Thailand, England & Wales, Hungary, the Netherlands and Australia. Among these are countries with some of the largest prison populations in the world: the USA, Brazil, India and Thailand are all in the top six globally. Most of these countries have seen very significant increases in their female prison populations since 2000. You can learn more about the project here.

  • Catherine Heard is director of ICPR’s World Prison Research Programme. Catherine has also recorded a podcast on the event, with audio content from each of the speakers’ presentations.
  • Speakers’ short biographical details can be found here. 
  • ICPR would like to thank all our speakers for their contributions to this event.
  • We are grateful to Clifford Chance for their generosity in hosting the event.
  • ICPR’s World Prison Research Programme is funded by Open Society Foundations.
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Strategic litigation: anti-racism in the courtroom?

Rebecca Sparrow, second year LLM student, discusses a recent event about how to challenge structural and state-sanctioned racism in law.

The Centre for the Research of Race and Law’s most recent event, Strategic Litigation: Anti-Racism in the Courtroom?, hosted two panels, each of which broadened understandings of what strategic litigation does and might look like. How, whether, and when to litigate, and how to ethically, and effectively occupy Mari Matsuda’s ‘multiple consciousnesses’ of working within and against the law, is a constant and pressing concern for anyone involved in social justice or political campaigns, critical academia and legal advocacy. This set of workshops provided a stimulating space for discussion and exploration of this fraught battleground of the law, particularly in the context of challenges to structural and state-sanctioned racism, including in its ever-increasing formulation through immigration policy.

In the first session, Ioannis Kalpouzos from the Global Legal Action Network suggested a challenge to Upendra Baxi’s suggestion that all political issues of salience in the second half of the 20th Century must be articulated through human rights. Kalpouzos described the Network’s efforts to use the International Criminal Court to challenge offshore detention in Australia, a country he described as the ‘envy of the Western world’ when it comes to brutal immigration regimes. He explored the potential of using International Criminal Law to name and label western state-sanctioned violence – even when that violence is not spectacular or radical, but bureaucratic and all-pervasive. This raised questions from the audience about whether using criminal law might exceptionalize particular moments of violence, and therefore also serve to normalise violence that we should be pushing to be accepted as human rights violations. The responses to these questions made the particularly strategic nature of such litigation clear.

Lewis Kett from Duncan Lewis Solicitors, one of the main law firms with legal aid contracts to represent those in UK immigration detention, spoke about his recent successful case challenging laws on segregation in immigration detention centres. Although this, and previous wins of Duncan Lewis’, have been important, and provided some of the only real positive changes to detention policy in recent years, Kett also expanded on the extent of the problems within existing policy, and how much further there is to go. In response to queries from workshop participants, he reflected on whether improving structurally violent institutions such as detention can serve to make them more palatable without removing their inherent violence, but concluded that as a solicitor it is ethically impossible not to litigate for reform where possible, not only to change practice but also to provide accountability, and as part of wider campaigns.

The second panel began with Muhammad Rabbani, the director of CAGE recently charged and convicted under terrorism legislation for refusing to hand over the passwords to his mobile phone and laptop in Heathrow airport. He was stopped under Schedule 7, the law introduced in 2000 that sees 50,000 people per year stopped in airports, with no right to remain silent, to seek legal advice, to refuse a strip search or the handing over of data. The 99.8% non-arrest rate, as Rabbani highlighted, signifies a breach of the Magna Carta principles against suspicionless arrest. Rabbani asked brave, poignant questions about how he might have been treated, both during his arrest and during legal proceedings, particularly when unable to find any lawyer willing to submit a judicial review on his behalf because he had a ‘pigmentation problem’, and so wasn’t considered ‘the ideal case’. Thus Rabbani questioned the possibilities for strategic litigation when the law is actively constructed to target Muslims. Where, in this context, is the space for strategic litigation? Rabbani had to take his strategy beyond the courtroom and run his own campaign.

Gracie-Mae Bradley’s presentation followed on perfectly from Rabbani’s warnings. She spoke about her experience both within human rights organisation Liberty, and as an organiser of the Against Borders for Children (ABC) campaign. In particular, she highlighted ways in which litigation, however strategic, is severely compromised if it is not accompanied or preceded by wide-reaching social campaigns. She drew attention to previous strategic wins in the context of UK immigration detention, such as the retracting of the Detained Fast Track programme, and the way in which the Home Office is finding ways to re-introduce slight variations on the same policies only a couple of years later. Litigation, she reminded us, is a way of challenging policy that is fully incorporated within the limits of the system that created it, and controversial policy changes are often actively channeled by Government into legal frameworks, as the delays entailed by public consultations often mean that any successful litigation has to be applied retrospectively, which makes old policies easier to reinstate later. Quoting Gary Bellow, himself quoted by Derrick Bell, in the context of Leroy Clark’s insistence that an over-reliance on the law limited the potential of the black community’s success in pushing for school desegregation in the South, Bradley noted that ‘rule change, without a political base to support it, just doesn’t produce any substantial result because rules are not self-executing: they require an enforcement mechanism.’ Thus she showed that ‘riding on a technicality’, to which much strategic litigation must often be confined, though often crucial, is never enough to establish real change alone. Using the examples of data collection in schools that can be used to inform the Home Office of undocumented children and their parents, she argued that litigation must be accompanied by campaigns that highlight the implications and mechanisms of damaging policies, rather than just channelling the technicalities of their implementation.

Shining a light from a different direction, though with many of the same implications, Chai Patel explored the difficulties litigating strategically in anti-racist campaigns, when many of the effects of harmful and racist policy are not quantifiable in the terms required by the law. Speaking about the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants’ attempts to challenge the Right to Rent legislation of 2016, Patel described the insidious ways in which even though the requirement on landlords to ensure the immigration status of their tenants encouraged, in their own words, discrimination on the basis of perceived race or nationality, it was very difficult to quantify and record such prejudice. In particular, the detail that landlords will be fined for not checking documents if tenants are found to be residing unlawfully, but not for failing to check if they are legally renting, encouraged this discrimination. Thus the detail in the legislation makes it particularly likely to encourage biased assessments of prospective tenants’ immigration status. It also makes it particularly hard to collect data, pushing all conclusions into the realm of the hypothetical. Although litigation might, in this case, be one way to challenge the policy, it has been incredibly hard to show that it was the policy itself that was causing discrimination.

To sit in a room with such a broad mix of academics and practitioners, getting absorbed in the details, methods, implications, ethics, efficacy and revolutionary potential of strategic litigation against racist policy was inspirational. The mood was neither of cynical criticism nor naively hopeful for impossible change. And though the workshop participants, panellists and audience, provided necessary and timely reminders not to put all our faith in litigation, however strategic, the conference itself was inspiring testament to Rabbani’s moving encouragement that if we strive for compassion and courage, much is possible.

 

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