Reflections on hospitality, the hostile environment and the law

Netty Yasin, second-year part-time LLM student, and Patrick Page, Senior Caseworker, Duncan Lewis Public Law discuss the Birkbeck School of Law’s recent residential weekend at Cumberland Lodge, where they took part in discussions and workshops with eminent legal scholars.

Each year the School of Law at Birkbeck hosts a residential weekend at Cumberland Lodge, Windsor, giving staff and students the opportunity to participate in discussions, workshops and lectures with internationally renowned researchers. This year the discussions centred around the themes of Hospitality, the Hostile Environment, and the Law. Two of those who attended reflect on the weekend’s events:

Netty Yasin, second-year part-time LLM Qualifying Law Degree student
The presentations covered a broad range of topics, including the creation of the ‘bad immigrant’, racist narratives in the sentencing of migrants, as well as detention and deportation policies and practices. Speakers included a former barrister, PhD students, a solicitor who shared some harrowing case studies from his experience of representing clients with medical needs in detention centres and even a personal perspective from a former detainee. Although there was a full schedule of seminars, there was also plenty of time to relax and enjoy the beautiful environment of Cumberland Lodge and its surroundings. It was also a great opportunity to network and have informal discussions with the speakers over dinner or drinks at the bar. It was a hugely interesting, informative and enjoyable weekend in a wonderful setting and I hope to return next year. Thanks to the School of Law for organising such a fantastic event.

Patrick Page, Senior Caseworker, Duncan Lewis Public Law
‘You don’t need permission to be anti-establishment.’ This was a response to a question by one of the speakers at the Cumberland Lodge conference on Hospitality, the Hostile Environment, and the Law. The speaker in question had been detained at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre, and has since been shining a light on the injustice of immigration detention – what she calls ‘the hostile environment on steroids.’ For me, the answer encapsulated the spirit of the weekend. With its range of lawyers, academics and activists (many, indeed, wearing a number of these hats at once), the programme thoroughly exposed the hostile environment in all its manifestations. We were taken through the way in which the UK government has conscripted civil society in its racialised system of immigration control, how the ‘good migrant/bad migrant’ narratives dominate the legal system, and how executive powers to detain and remove have steadily expanded. Frances Webber, a barrister who has been working in this area for decades, put it simply: ‘it was never good, but it was never this bad.’ But this sombre tone was lightened by a cautious optimism that change is possible, that resistance isn’t always futile. As we saw with the Windrush scandal, those targeted by the hostile environment, like the speaker mentioned above, are increasingly mobilised to expose injustice. In the last talk of the weekend, we were reminded of the words of James Baldwin: “The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.”

Read more of Patrick’s thoughts on the Cumberland Lodge weekend at the No Walls blog

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9 year old tells mum “You’re going to be amazing” as she graduates with a first class degree in Law from Birkbeck

Chloe Livingston, 29, took the meaning of multi-tasking to the extreme when she decided to enrol for a law degree whilst working full time and raising her son as a single parent. On 6 November 2018, she graduated with a first class honours in Law from Birkbeck.

Growing up, Chloe had always dreamed of being a lawyer or a doctor, but fell into a career in banking on leaving school. Although successful, she never lost the desire to return to study. “People always told me I was smart, but I had nothing to back it up,” she explains. “When I first began looking into university, it was really so I could tell people that I had a degree.”

Discussing returning to study with a friend, Chloe was reluctant to become a student again. “I didn’t want to go back to being a student with no money,” she says, “It wouldn’t have been fair to subject my son to that lifestyle.” That’s when Chloe’s friend suggested Birkbeck – the evening study model meant that she wouldn’t have to give up her job and could continue supporting her son while getting the education she’d always wanted.

Chloe knew that it wouldn’t be easy to give up so much time to study, but was lucky to have a support network of friends and family close by to help with childcare. Despite being only five years old when his mum started her course, Chloe’s son was really supportive. “Some days I would be locked in my room or glued to the dining room table working and he’d come in and say ‘are you ok mummy? Do you need anything?’” she remembers.

As well as her responsibilities as a parent, Chloe took on the additional challenge of full-time study while working. “I took part in a Birkbeck alumni mentoring scheme before starting my course, and my mentor asked if I was sure I could take on the workload,” she remembers. As a relationships manager for a bank, Chloe’s day job is no nine-to-five and she would frequently be required to stay late, even completing an additional banking course at one point during her studies. “I thought that because lots of Birkbeck students also work during the day, the lecturers might go easy on us, but that definitely wasn’t the case!” she laughs. Thankfully, Chloe’s employers were very supportive, especially as they could see the impact of her studies in the workplace, as she became a voice for key issues like diversity.

Just as she was hitting her stride though, a terrible accident almost changed everything. A near fatal head-on collision towards the end of second year threatened to stop Chloe’s progress in its tracks. “Thankfully I was okay,” she remembers, “Birkbeck were really supportive and gave me the adjustments I needed to complete my assignments. Second year nearly broke me, but I had too much to lose to not pull through. I couldn’t let the sacrifices my friends, family and most of all my son had made for me be for nothing.”

There’s no doubt that taking on further study alongside other commitments is tough. Chloe’s advice is to be realistic about what will be expected of you in terms of time and effort – “They’re not going to spoon feed you anything,” she warns. Having heard of the non-traditional routes that students take to Birkbeck, Chloe wasn’t expecting to make good friends on the course. She says, “People told me that I wouldn’t meet like-minded people at Birkbeck, but you get out what you put in and I’ve come away with some brilliant friends.”

Having begun her degree to prove herself, Chloe was surprised to find how much she enjoyed studying Law. On her course, she learned skills that she could put to use straight away – an in-depth knowledge of contract law proved particularly useful during a booking dispute for a family holiday!  Now, Chloe is looking to leverage her experience in finance with a career in corporate or commercial law and will be applying for a masters in Law next year.

Graduating with a first class University of London degree, Chloe is proud to be a role model for her son. “At first, I think he thought that university looked too much like hard work!” she remembers, “But when we were walking home from school the other day he turned to me and said ‘I’m so proud of you mum, you’re going to be amazing.’” Chloe, who has taken her son to both her siblings’ graduations, is looking forward to celebrating her own graduation with her family.

“The way I got my degree worked best for me,” she says. “If I’d gone to university at eighteen, I don’t know if I would have completed my course, or got a first. Now I’m wondering what to do with my evenings!”

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Birkbeck student overcomes bereavement, anorexia and depression to graduate on her late father’s birthday

At the time when most young people are applying to university, Sarah Solomon was battling an eating disorder and depression as she came to terms with her father’s death. Now she’s looking towards her next challenge with optimism as she graduates with a degree in law from Birkbeck.

Sarah Solomon has always been interested in law, “I’m the kind of person who likes reading the small print!” she laughs. Yet, despite being a keen student, Sarah was prevented from doing as well as she could have at school. “My Dad committed suicide when I was fourteen and I really struggled to cope,” she explains. “I suffered with depression and anorexia and was in and out of hospital for the last four years of school, so I didn’t get great GCSE or A level results.”

Six years later, when Sarah felt ready to return to education, she was dismayed to find that most universities were very inflexible when it came to her exam results, despite the time that had passed since. “Birkbeck looked at more than just grades when they considered my application,” she says, “They take on students that really want to be there.”

Going back to full-time education was a nerve-wracking experience for Sarah at the start: “There was a lot of work and a lot of writing, which was a skill I hadn’t used much for the last few years, but after a few months it just felt normal again,” she explains. In her first year of study, Sarah received support from Birkbeck’s wellbeing service. “I knew that with depression I might find it hard to motivate myself to go in,” she says, “Birkbeck couldn’t solve that problem for me, but they really listened to me and were very supportive.”

It would have been easy to walk away in those first few months, but Sarah persevered and soon began to enjoy studying. “People don’t study at Birkbeck for the sake of it,” she explains, “It’s important to make friends, but you’re also there to gain something for your future. I really enjoyed studying the theory and methodology of law and even started to like writing essays!”

Birkbeck’s evening study model suited Sarah, who prefers working late in the evening, as it gave her the space in the day she needed to focus on her mental health. “It’s important for universities to understand that students and staff have competing demands on their time, and to make provision for that,” she says. Her advice for potential students is to know who can be called on in your support network for when challenges arise. “Have a discussion with your friends and family beforehand,” she advises, “studying in the evening will affect your social life, but for me it was all worth it.”

A highlight of studying at Birkbeck for Sarah was the relationships she built with the lecturers and tutors she worked with. “The professors and lecturers who taught us were really supportive and approachable, but I was also impressed by how up to date they kept with their research – there was always something new to learn from them,” she explains.

Sarah graduates on Tuesday 6 November, on what would have been her dad’s birthday. He also studied law at university, as Sarah explains: “I didn’t choose my course because of my dad, but I suppose it was always in the back of my mind while I was studying. I’m relocating to Canada with my husband next year and I’d like to do more research in law and eventually work as an academic or in a not for profit – I don’t want to place any restrictions on my future.”

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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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