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Kate Exall, Senior Lecturer in Law and LLB 2-year programme leader, writes:

 

On Thursday June 15th over 20 students attended the inaugural Law Employability Day at Park Campus.  Attendees ranged from first years through to Post Graduate students and they enjoyed 2 key note speakers and a workshop activity finishing with a networking lunch.  The event was organised by UCEE and was supported by Law tutors to give students some practical support with their careers and voluntary activities.

 

Lisa started by explaining the Changemaker Portal  which contains all sorts of useful information, tips and advice as well as being a one stop shop for booking appointments, having mock interview practice, CV checking and volunteering.  For more information visit : https://mynorthamptonac.sharepoint.com/sites/student/changemaker-hub

 

The first talk was by Laura Swallow, a solicitor with Arquiva, a firm that provides the infrastructure for telecommunications providing for example telecom towers and digital and satellite services both at home and overseas.  Laura works in the commercial property section working with land owners and others to secure and maintain sites for their operations.   She is also involved in graduate recruitment for the firm.  Her advice included:

 

  • Paying attention to detail in applications
  • Looking at a range of employers for training contracts – they don’t have to be done in private practice
  • Be commercially aware
  • Get a range of experience during training
  • Take all the opportunities that are offered.

 

Isla from Lawcareers.net went through the dos and don’ts of making applications for any job and the importance of commercial awareness.    They work with graduate recruiters and have a range of resources and material available on their website (http://www.lawcareers.net/) to help students with the next stages in their careers.  Isla’s top tips included:

 

  • Paying attention to detail – don’t get the firm’s name wrong or make spelling or grammatical errors
  • It is better to apply for a smaller number of jobs rather than sending bulk emails out.
  • Target each one to the specific firm and research them first to find out as much as possible about them
  • Make sure the application goes in on time.  Recruiters can check to see what time an application was submitted so don’t leave it to the last minute as that does not reflect well.
  • Be commercially aware – find out what is going on in the sector they work in.

 

The workshops included how to be Changemaker by discussing problems arising from the cuts to the Legal Aid Budgets and what action students can take to help people affected.  Mark Bytheway, the University’s Graduate Recruitment Consultant, helped students to make better use of Linked In and to understand the importance of networking.  Finally students could have their CVs checked by a member of UCEE.

 

The morning concluded with a networking lunch which was also attended by Sarah Hayle from The Community Law Service in Northampton.   They are looking for volunteers to work one day a week for a year with their Benefits Team or for more general support with administration.   For more information see: http://www.communitylawservice.org.uk/

 

Student Feedback was very positive and they were pleased to have the opportunity to get so much support and advice with their careers.  Particular thanks must go to Lisa Slaughter who organised the event with support from the wider Changemaker Hub team. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kirstie Best, Subject Leader for Law, writes:

During the 2017 election campaign Theresa May spoke of the Government’s intentions, if re-elected, to review counter-terrorism legislation to ensure that it is robust enough to meet the on-going threat of attacks of the sort recently carried out in Manchester and London. As well as commenting on the possibility of extending surveillance and pre-arrest powers, she talked of the need to make it easier to deport those suspected or convicted of involvement in terrorism.[1]

Whether or not such measures are introduced remains to be seen, but her comments raise interesting points about the strength of current powers, the previous Government’s approach to countering terrorism, and the extent to which human rights standards do, in fact, prevent Governments from effectively countering terrorism.

The current legal basis for deportation is the Immigration Act 1971, with section 3(5) allowing for ‘a person who is not a British citizen’ to be deported. There are various grounds on which deportation can occur, but in relation to people suspected or convicted of involvement in terrorism the key ground is found in section 3(5)(a) where the Secretary of State (normally the Home Secretary) can deport if this is ‘conducive to the public good’. There is much case law on this, but it’s clear that it does cover those suspected and convicted of terrorism-related offences.[2] On such matters the courts, while not ceding authority totally to the executive, do give the Secretary of State a very broad discretion as to the exercise of this power. So in Rehman the House of Lords accepted that it was for the executive to decide what is in the interests of national security, as this is not a question of law but of judgment and policy. [3]

There are limits to this power though. So, British citizens can’t be deported unless they have already been deprived of their citizenship i.e. had it removed. This is a power that has been much extended since 2001, post the 9/11 attack, so that anyone who is a dual citizen (i.e. hold British citizenship plus another nationality) can have their British citizenship removed by the Secretary of State on the grounds that this is conducive to the public good. This is limited only by the prohibition on statelessness – that is, there must be another State to which the person can make a claim of nationality.[4]

Despite these powers, Theresa May argued that human rights standards were hindering deportations. She wasn’t specific about which human rights and how, but there are two rights in particular that may prevent deportation, both are recognised by the European Convention on Human Rights (of which the UK is a party, and has been since 1951) and are incorporated into UK law via the Human Rights Act 1998. Article 3 is the prohibition on torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. This is an absolute right and deportation can’t occur, whatever the grounds, where there is substantial evidence of a real risk that deportation would breach this right.[5] The Government has no discretion in relation to this as this absolute right is recognised in national, regional and international law, both written and unwritten. Because of the evidence required to engage Article 3, deportation won’t be prohibited just because the deportee claims his or her rights will be breached. Famously (although for some reason, often forgotten), Abu Hamza’s claim in this respect was not upheld by the European Court of Human Rights who found that conditions in ‘Super Max’ prisons in the USA were not so onerous, despite Abu Hamza’s disabilities, to engage Article 3.[6] He was subsequently deported to the USA for trial on charges related to terrorism.

So, if reform of the law in respect of the prohibition on torture, inhuman and degrading treatment is impossible, how else could the Government perhaps modify its human rights obligations to make deportation easier?

The other right that is often in issue in deportation cases is the right to a family life, recognised by Article 8(1) European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This is a limited right, so deportation can occur even if it would restrict the deportee’s family life provided that, inter alia, the deportation is lawful, proportionate and for a legitimate aim such as the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.[7] Theresa May, when Home Secretary, once mistakenly claimed that the courts recognised pets (in this instance, a cat) for the purposes of establishing family life to halt deportation.[8] Leaving aside this error of law, Article 8(1) doesn’t offer complete protection against deportation, and in terms of family life claims, the key thing to consider is whether the effect of the deportation of the claimant would be ‘unduly harsh’ on his/her partner or child.[9] So, even if Theresa May had been correct in relation to the cat, it would be the cat’s interests that were considered, not those of the deportee.

If the Government felt that the courts were being consistently disproportionate in the weighting given to family life they could attempt to derogate from Article 8. This occurs through invoking the terms of Article 15 of the ECHR, which allows a State party to the ECHR to temporarily set-aside certain rights (but not all) in time of public emergency. This has to be approved by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe (the supra-national organisation that established the ECHR, and entirely separate from the EU), may need to be approved by the UK Parliament as well, and is challengeable both before the UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights. Nevertheless, despite these hurdles, the UK has successfully derogated from various rights in relation to counter-terrorism legislation[10] although such derogations have also been found to be unlawful on occasion.[11] The point remains though, that if the Government wished to set aside its obligations under Article 8(1) because of a public emergency (such as a subsisting and grave threat from terrorism), there is a mechanism to do so.

However, whether as Home Secretary or Prime Minister, Theresa May hasn’t chosen to enter a derogation to the right to family life. Equally, given her roles, she would be aware that some rights can’t be set aside, even in the gravest of situations and to imply that this is an option is disingenuous. Finally, while human rights standards are undoubtedly a challenge to Governments attempting to mitigate the genuine threat from terrorism, they are an essential component of the rule of law and a democratic society. Governments must be careful not to unduly restrict such rights nor to suggest that they have the need and power to do so when they in fact do not.

 

 

 


[1] Rowena Mason and Vikram Dodd, ‘May: I’ll rip up human rights laws that impede new terror legislation’ The Guardian (6 June 2017).

[2] Gina Clayton, Textbook on Immigration and Asylum Law (OUP, 2016) pp.566-578.

[3] Secretary of State for the Home Department v. Rehman [2001] 3 WLR 877.

[4] Section 40(2) and (4A), British Nationality Act 1981.

[5] Chahal v. UK (1996) 23 EHRR 413.

[6] Babar Ahmad v. UK (2013) 56 EHRR 1.

[7] Article 8(2) ECHR, as incorporated by Section 1 and Schedule 1, Human Rights Act 1998.

[9] See Gina Clayton, Textbook on Immigration and Asylum Law (OUP, 2016) p.570-572.

[10] Brannigan &  McBride v. UK (1994) 17 EHRR 539.

[11] A & Others v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2005] 3 All ER 169; A v. UK (2009) 49 EHRR 29.

 

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Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

In the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, there has been an increased focus in the UK about how to stop a terrorist from carrying out an attack, when they are willing to die during the commission of the attack.

This is, of course, not the first time that such attacks have happened, either in the West or elsewhere, and there is a litany of similar events since the turn of the millennium.

Back in 2004, Darpa, the research section of the Pentagon, along with the US National Research Council, convened a panel to investigate ways of stopping suicide bombers, which were causing US military losses at checkpoints in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The New York Times Magazine (link) reports that the panel came up with an array of suggestions, some of which seem technically feasible, and some of which were morally ambivalent, at best. They included:

“Detection by detonation” Under this plan, soldiers at a military checkpoint would fire radiation at each approaching car. If there were no explosives on board, the car would pass through the beam safely. But if the car carried suicide attackers, the radiation would cause their bombs to explode, killing everyone on board (and anyone unlucky enough to be nearby), but leaving the checkpoint unharmed.

“Distributed biological sensors” — bees, moths, butterflies or rats specially trained to pick up bomb vapors, buzzing or fluttering through a crowd, sniffing for fumes. (The rats, equipped with global-positioning-system chips, would work the sewers.)

What seems to distinguish the attacks in London Bridge, Westminster Bridge Berlin and Nice from previous attacks is the use of a vehicle as a weapon, rather than as a way of transporting and housing a weapon. This, of course, makes the job of the security services much harder. The Statistica website says there were 31.7m cars and vans on the road in the UK in 2016 (link), each one capable of being used as a weapon.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May said on 6th June, whilst campaigning:

As we see the threat, changing evolving, becoming more complex, we need to ensure that our police and our security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need…

I mean longer prison sentences for those convicted of terrorist offences. I mean making it easier for the authorities to deport foreign terrorist suspects back to their own countries. And I mean doing more to restrict the freedom and movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they are a threat, but not enough evidence to prosecute them in full in court.

And if our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change the laws so we can do it.

Better legal minds than mine have picked apart this statement over the last few days, but one of the key issues for me is that all of the men directly involved in the attacks died on the spot. Longer prison sentences would not have deterred them. The threat of deportation would not have applied to any of the British citizens involved in the attacks.  Extra powers to control suspects would not have applied, as even those know to MI5 seem to have been downgraded and assessed as being a lower priority.

In short, nothing that the Prime Minister said would have done anything to prevent these three attacks.

We live in a world of surveillance cameras, ANPR, dash cams, and automatic facial recognition cameras. London and Chicago seem to be vying for the title of “most surveillance” in a city. In addition to the cameras, there is surveillance by government and corporations of phone call data, internet browsing history, travel, credit card use, shopping habits, and restaurant preferences. All of this information, all of this data, all of this imagery, is stored, coded, filed away.

What makes it useful is people. Without warm bodies to look through this footage, the utility of it is limited.

According to Government Statistics (link) the Metropolitan Police had 31,782 police officers in September 2016. This had fallen to 31,075 by January 2017 (link) and continues a slide from the September 2015 position of 32,183.

This shows that over sixteen months, police officer numbers in the Metropolitan Police dropped by 1,108, or 3.5 per cent. The graph below, from the Guardian, shows the change in police numbers across the UK since 2010:

As academics and students of law, we always encourage caution in the “we need a new law” knee-jerk type of reaction to crises. Often, it turns out that the laws we have are completely adequate, fair, and effective, but that the ability of those who are tasked with enforcing it has been hampered.

From an environmental law perspective, all students will be able to trot out the fact that in 1863 the Alkali Inspectorate was the first pollution inspectorate to be set up anywhere in the world, score 1 for the UK! The underpinning legislation, the Alkali Act 1863 created an inspector and four deputies to control pollution from the alkali industry. That is five people to control a whole industry which, at the time, producing 50,000 tons of alkali (link).

  • The law was fine, and fit for purpose.
  • The enforcement was patchy at best, and many offenders slipped through the net.
  • The enforcement body was chronically understaffed.

Ring any bells?

Now the hysteria of the general election has dies down, and Mrs May’s position seems far more precarious, I would urge the new government to leave the law alone, stop playing to the lowest common denominator over human rights, and to focus instead on properly staffing the police and security services.

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Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

To mis-quote Edwin Starr’s 1970 classic soul track, Law (huh). What is it good for? Absolutely everything – although this is really a blog post about voting, honestly!

In Shakespeare’s Henry VI (Part 2), at the conclusion of a discussion between Jack Cade, Smith the Weaver and Dick the Butcher about possible overthrow of the King, Dick says:

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”.[1]

Later in the play, a messenger arrives to inform the King that the rebels are rising up and:

“All scholars, lawyers, courtiers, gentlemen,

They call false caterpillars, and intend their death.”[2]

These words may be over 300 years old, and there are some who argue that Dick’s words were intended by Shakespeare as a compliment to lawyers rather than a criticism (on the basis that lawyers are the only thing between society and chaos), but the basic sentiment is still rife in certain sections of society.

A quick search of one of the many online databases of quotations reveals the following sentiments expressed about the law and lawyers.

“Justice? You get justice in the next world. In this one you have the law.”[3]

“The law is for the rich, the gallows are for the poor and justice is for fools.”[4]

“Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.”[5]

“Laws are spider webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.”[6]

Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges (The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws).”[7]

“F**k them, and their law.”[8]

These, and there are many more, would seem to suggest a level of dissatisfaction with the law itself, and with the legal profession. There are undoubtedly laws and rules which you, and I, think are excessive, misguided, or simply wrong. Our views may converge on some laws but diverge on others.

Blaming lawyers for the law is a bit like blaming puddles for the rain. Lawyers don’t generally create the law; they simply interpret what is created elsewhere. There is an unending debate about the extent to which society creates laws, or laws create society, but for me it is a circular argument, as each influences the other.

On a practical level, law is made by Parliament. If you want to watch a quick 60 second guide to what Parliament does, there is one here. This is the key issue as we march towards June 8th but we will return to that later.

So what is law good for?

Well, pretty much everything.

Everything we consume – meat, veg, water, milk, cigarettes – is produced, packaged, marketed, shipped, sold and thrown away in accordance with a law of some sort.

Everything we do – work, leisure, transport, shopping – is laid out, built, managed and operated in accordance with the law.

The things we look at, read, hear and say are all covered. Try posting something libellous online and see where it gets you (or just ask Katie Hopkins)

The air we breathe, the view we look at, the ground we stand on, the water we swim in, the standards for these are all are set out by law.

The only things that are not governed by law (yet) are the thoughts we have and never express.

Think nothing much changes? Have a guess as to how many Acts of Parliament were passed in 2016. The answer is 25, and it was one of the quietest years since the 1950s.[9] Now, what about the Regulations, Orders and so on? 1,243 – and that is the lowest since the 1980s. Those of you who were born in the first half of 1999 (and thus can vote for the first time this year) have lived through the creation of 646 new Acts of Parliament so far.

The laws (which as we have seen govern every single aspect of your life) are created by Parliament. Members of Parliament vote on these laws, and represent their constituency and party.

You have the chance to vote for an MP to represent you, and influence the direction in which the law travels. This is true as long as you are not:

  • Under 18
  • A convicted prisoner in prison,
  • “Anyone other than British, Irish and qualifying Commonwealth citizen”
  • A member of the House of Lords (which is unlikely)
  • The Queen (which is even more unlikely)

A further category of person barred from voting is anyone “found guilty within the previous five years of corrupt or illegal practices in connection with an election” (Electoral Commission).

Of course, the biggest barrier to voting is not registering. The deadline for that has passed, so if you didn’t get round to it, you’ve missed the boat.

If you can vote, you should. I’m not telling who to vote for, or even who I am voting for, that is a decision for you and you alone.

After the referendum, many those who voted for Brexit criticised anyone who pointed out flaws in the decision as “remoaners” and said that we (yes, I’m self-identifying as a remoaner) should stop complaining. That is fundamentally wrong, and misses the point of voting. If you voted for something that didn’t happen, you have every right to complain – as loudly and frequently as you want.

You may think that by not voting you are demonstrating your lack of faith in the political system, and sticking it to the man (yeah!) and you can live in your happy self-righteous echo-chamber on social media and tweet snarky comments about everyone else.

In reality, your failure to vote counts exactly the same as the person who couldn’t be bothered to get off the sofa. “The man” could not care less why you didn’t vote, he will simply register that you didn’t vote.

You become an irrelevance to him, and lose your right to complain about the laws that are made.

So, in case the exhortation wasn’t clear,

VOTE.


[1] Act IV, Scene 2

[2] Act IV, Scene 4

[3] Gaddis, W., 1994, A frolic of his own, New York, Simon & Shuster, p13

[4] Sicilian Proverb

[5] Swift, J., 1707, A Critical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind, p257

[6] Attributed to Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) but I cannot find exactly where. It also so closely resembles Swift’s words from 100 years earlier that it may simply be a mis-attribution. I’m happy to be enlightened if anyone knows where it is from!

[7] Tacitus, Annals, Book 3, p27

[8] The Prodigy, 1994, Their Law (on the album Music for the Jilted Generation). This was a direct response to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which tightened legal powers in relation to raves.

[9] According to legislation.gov.uk, there were 23 Acts in 2012, 24 in 2005, and no lower number since 1957.

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Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

(l-r Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsellino)

In May 1939, Arturo and Luisa Falcone celebrated the birth of their third child, and only son, Giovanni. As young Giovanni grew up, and the part of Palermo where he lived repaired itself after the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, he became friends with Paolo Borsellino, who was a few months younger. Giovanni and Paolo both chose a career in law, and both graduated from the University of Palermo, Giovanni in 1961 and Paolo in 1962.

Growing up in Palermo in the 1950s and 1960s, both men were aware of the role played by the mafia in the underground life of the city, and indeed the island, but neither initially intended to make mafia prosecutions their speciality.

Borsellino worked across Sicily as a magistrate before returning to Palermo in 1975, where he worked with Judge Rocco Chinnici in the Prosecutor’s Office. Falcone too had spent some time travelling Sicily as a magistrate followed by four years working in the Palermo bankruptcy court before, in 1980, joining the Uffizio instruzione (lit. “Office of Instruction”), which served as the investigative branch of the Palermo Prosecutor’s Office.

The friends were now working together for the first time, and were pulled into Chinnici’s (initially informal) “Anti-mafia Pool” of magistrates. The pool was designed so that all of the members took collective responsibility for mafia prosecutions, in the belief that this would not single any individual out for reprisals. Several incidents triggered the creation of this pool.

  • Judge Cesara Terranova was shot dead in his car in September 1979, along with his bodyguard, an assassination ordered by the Sicilian Mafia Commission. Terravona was intended to head up the Uffizio Instruzione. A little over twenty years later, seven members of the Commission were sentenced to life imprisonment for his murder (Salvatore “Totò” Riina, Bernardo Brusca, Bernardo Provenzano, Francesco Madonia, Pippo Calò, Nenè Geraci and Michele Greco).
  • Piersanti Materella, President of the Regional Government of Sicily was killed on 6 January 1980, again on the orders of the Commission. His death was ordered because of his attempts to create some clear space between the mafia and politicians. Matarella’s younger brother Sergio, a strong anti-mafia campaigner, became President of the Italian Republic in 2015.
  • Judge Gaetano Costa was killed on the orders of Savatore Inzerillo (“out of pique”[1]) in 1980. He was the lead prosecutor in the case against the Spatola-Inzerillo-Gambino clan for heroin trafficking, though his case had been handed to Falcone for investigation shortly before his murder.

These three mafia murders influenced Chinnici’s decision to create the pool, and the subsequent (also Commission-mandated) murder of MP Pio La Torre effectively forced the hand of the government, which sent Carabinieri General (and former Head of Counterterrorism) Carlo Chiesa to Sicily in 1982 to “crush the mafia” as effectively as he had dealt with the Red Brigades in the 1970s.

Chiesa was killed in September 1982, four months after arriving in Sicily, along with his wife. His murder was ordered by Totò Riina for his role in trying to stop the internecine fighting in Sicily, often referred to as the Mattanza (Slaughter)[2] Chinnici himself was killed in a car bomb in July 1983, along with his bodyguards, on the orders of Michael Greco (who had also played a role in the death of Terranova).

Chinnici’s replacement, Antonino Caponnetto (one of the few in this story to die of natural causes, in old age) turned the informal antimafia pool into a formal group. Also by this time, the antimafia law drafted by Pio La Torre had been pushed through the Italian Parliament in 1982, and was followed by 114 other mafia-related laws in the next ten years.[3]

In 1986, the combined efforts of the Antimafia judges resulted in the 22 month Maxi Trial, which started in February 1986. Because of the nature of the trial, it was held in a reinforced concrete courthouse, inside Palermo’s Ucciardone prison.

There were 452 defendants in the trial, accused of murders, drug trafficking, extortion and mafia membership. Much of the testimony came from informant (pentito) Salvatore Buschetta, who had spoken at length to Falcone and Borsellino.

At the end of the trial, there were 338 convictions, and the approach taken by Falcone, Borsellino and the antimafia judges was vindicated.

However, the Italian appeals process is a complex beast, and the appeal hearings ran from September 1989 to November 1990 before the Supreme Court of Cassation. The Court issued its judgement on 30 January 1992, and upheld the convictions of the original trial.

The mafia reacted furiously. They had used their political influence, particularly with MEP Salvatore Lima, to try and influence the appointment of a sympathetic judge.[4] The verdict left them feeling let down by Lima, who was ambushed on the way to Palermo two months later and shot in the back of the neck.

In May 1992, two months after Lima’s murder, Falcone was travelling with his wife and four escorting police officers along the A29 motorway when Giovanni Brusca, on the specific orders of Totó Riina, detonated over a ton of explosives hidden in a drain underneath the carriageway. All in the car were killed instantly, and one of the escorts survived.

In July 1992, Borsellino and five of his bodyguards died when a bomb containing 100kg of TNT was detonated in a Fiat 126 in via D’Amelio, close to the house of Borsellino’s mother.

After the murders of Falcone and Borsellino, and subsequent trial, conviction and sentencing to life imprisonment of eleven mafiosi (including Riina and Bernardo Provenzano), the power of the mafia and corrupt politics in Sicily seems to have diminished. Parelmo airport has been named Falcone-Borsellino airport, in honour of the two men (“aeroporto Internazionale Falcone e Borsellino di Palermo-Punta Raisi”).

So, 25 years to the day after Falcone’s murder, if you are watching a tv series or film that suggests the mafia are just “men of honour” who respect family life, and live to a code, take a moment to remember Giovanni, his fellow Judges, police officers, family members and passers-by who have been killed by the mafia in Sicily.

 

 


[1] Alexander Stille, 1995, Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic, Vintage Books, p111

[2] Kamm, H., 1982, Gunmen in Sicily kills high Italian police official, New York Times, 4 September 2982 at http://www.nytimes.com/1982/09/04/world/gunmen-in-sicily-kill-high-italian-police-official.html, accessed on 21/06/16

[3] Santino, U., 1998, Fighting the Mafia and Organized Crime: Italy and Europe, CSD Giuseppe Impastato At http://www.centroimpastato.com/fighting-the-mafia-and-organized-crime-italy-and-europe/, accessed on 21/06/16. Codification of Italy’s anti-mafia laws came most recently in 2011 with the Codice Unico Antimafia (Single Anti-Mafia Code – Legislative Decree No 159 of 2011) which applies to criminal organisations of three or more persons.

[4] It should be noted that Lima, though often accused, was never convicted of involvement with the mafia. His involvement was revealed post mortem by further testimony from the pentito, Buscetta. Source: Alexander Stille, 1995, Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic, Vintage Books, p380

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Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

On Thursday 18th May, the University’s Student Teaching and Representation (STAR) Awards were held in the Sturtridge Suite of the Northampton Saints ground, Franklin’s gardens.

The STAR awards are run by the Student Union, and student are given the chance to nominate staff in a ranger of categories.

This year, the Law team was well represented, with four people featuring on the shortlists (out of 25 shortlisted candidates in all). This means that law garnered  16 per cent of the shortlist, despite comprising less that 2 per cent of the academic staff of the University, which is a fantastic showing.

The full shortlist was:

NILE Best Practice Award

  • Alaisdair Gordan Finlayson
  • Mark Johnson
  • Melanie Cole
  • Simon Sneddon (Winner)
  • Toby Purser

Innovative Teaching Award

  • Anita Ruddle
  • Brendan Greene
  • Diepiriye Kuku-Siemons
  • Mark Johnson (Winner)
  • Nick Cartwright

Contribution to Outstanding Support Award

  • Katie Weidmann
  • Gemma Boaden
  • Kevin Deane
  • Grant Timms (Winner)
  • Stuart Mousir-Harrison

Support Staff of the Year

  • Liam Norton
  • Emma Grove (Winner)
  • Madie Patel
  • Paul Talon
  • Wei Zhao

Outstanding Lecturer of the Year

  • Mark Johnson (Winner)
  • Sarah Willis
  • Shawky Arif
  • Jo Downton
  • Wendy Bannerman

Simon, Brendan, Nick and Sarah would like to pass on their thanks to the student or students who nominated them (we don’t know the details ourselves yet), and we appreciate the effort you put into the nominations.

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Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

The initial results of the grade impact have been worked out.

This blog post looks at the impact so far on pass rates and grades in the modules which are the focus on this project. As you will remember from previous posts about the project, Kate Exall and I are looking at the impact on staff and students of the trialling of “concentrated” delivery of Level 4 modules. The delivery change sees a standard 20-credit module delivered in one trimester, rather than two, with no reduction in contact hours – moving from Model A to Model B:


As the teaching and assessment on both modules 1&2 is complete, barring a handful of pieces of resit coursework, we are able to give interim results on the student performance on these modules,and a tentative comparison again the 2015/16 results. This is slightly artificial for Module 2, which is a new module, so the comparison will be made with the similar module which it replaced.

Module 1 saw a 5 per cent rise in pass rates, and an 11 per cent rise in A/B grades. The average grade on the module increased by one grade.

Module 2 saw a 7 per cent rise in pass rates, and a 14 per cent rise in A/B grades. the average grade on the module increased by one grade.

There are many other variables that may have influenced this improvement in performance – the specific cohort, the increase in the use of blended learning which was triggered by the revised delivery, and so on. However, the initial results are looking promising, and are certainly worthy of more investigation.

We will be continuing trial the concentrated delivery idea in 2017/18, and so a follow-up project is already being considered to examine the impact in a more longitudinal fashion.

This is the 5th is a series of posts about this project. The previous post can be found here.

Posted by & filed under Featured Lecturer, News.

Karen Lawson, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

Employment Tribunals were introduced with the aim of allowing employees to resolve their employment disputes in a forum which was “easily accessible, informal, speedy and inexpensive”.[1] As part of this aim, and in contrast to other courts, there was no fee for issuing a claim in an Employment Tribunal.

However in July 2013 the government introduced fees for issuing a claim. The fees are significant – for claims such as unpaid wages or a redundancy payment the total fee payable is £390 and for claims of unfair dismissal and discrimination the total fee payable is £1200.[2]

Following their introduction the government ordered a review into the fee system and their long awaited report was published in January 2017. Did they conclude that fees were a barrier to claimants being able to access justice?

Why were fees introduced?

Before looking at the government’s conclusions on fees in their review report, it is worth examining some of the key reasons why the government decided to introduce fees in the first place.

(i)            To recoup the costs of running the Employment Tribunal system.

The introduction of the government’s review report begins by stating that “few would argue with the principle that those who use the Employment Tribunals should make some contribution to the costs of the service”.[3]

However, the Employment Tribunal fee system is not  based on a ‘polluter pays’  principle that those who have caused the system to be used in the first place should contribute to its running costs.  Instead the burden of paying fees falls entirely on claimants (i.e. employees and former employees) who have to pay the fees upfront before they can issue the claim and then again before proceeding to a hearing. This is still the case even when their claim, and therefore use of the Tribunal system, is arguably caused by the employer who has failed to pay their wages or dismissed them for a discriminatory reason. It costs the employer nothing to defend a claim.

There is also an argument that it is the duty of the state to provide a court system out of general taxation that can be accessed by all citizens, rather than expecting those who have to seek justice to bear the costs.

In any event, this aim of fees significantly contributing to the costs of running the Tribunal system has not been met as only 9% of the running costs are currently covered by the fees.[4]

(ii)          Encouraging settlement.

Another aim of introducing fees was to encourage parties to settle their claim. This partly explains why the fees are paid in two stages – the first fee in order to issue the claim and then a second larger hearing fee in order for the claimant to proceed to a Tribunal hearing.

However the evidence is that Employment Tribunal fees are doing exactly the opposite of this intended aim. The Law Society in its response notes that before fees were introduced in 2011/12, 33% of cases were settled through ACAS, but by 2014/15 this had fallen to only 8% of cases.[5]

The reason for this fall in settlements was outlined by the House of Commons Justice Committee’s report into Courts and Tribunal fees which noted that “there was no incentive for an employer to settle in cases where the claimant might have difficulty raising the fee”.[6]

Even the government’s review report acknowledged that “anecdotally,…..some employers ….were delaying any negotiations to see whether the claimant would be prepared to pay the fee”.[7]

(iii)         To ‘weed out’ unmeritorious claims.

The government claimed that by having to pay a fee, those individuals with poor and unmeritorious claims would be discouraged from bringing a claim. It repeats the logic behind this view in their review report which states that the requirement for claimants to pay a fee “provides a financial discipline, encouraging people… to weigh carefully the strength and merits of the claim against the financial outlay required.”[8]

However the Law Society notes that the number of claims in the Employment Tribunal which were successful fell from 18% in 2011/12 to 4% in 2014/15.[9] In addition, the statistics in the government’s own review report show that there has been an increase in the number of unsuccessful claims since fees were introduced from 19.8% in 2012/13 to 29.8% in 2015/16.[10]

In other words, since fees were introduced the number of unsuccessful claims has gone up and the number of successful claims has gone down. This is the opposite of what should happen if fees were really discouraging individuals with unmeritorious claims from bringing them to the Employment Tribunal.

What has been the effect of fees?

The main effect of Employment Tribunal fees is that the number of claims being brought to the Employment Tribunal has fallen by 70%.[11]

The Law Society refers to this reduction as “dramatic and persistent”.[12] The House of Commons Justice Committee says that the fall in claims is “undisputed and precipitate”.[13] Even the Government’s review report itself describes the reduction of claims being brought as being “sharp, significant and sustained.”[14]

Despite the link between the drop in claims and the introduction of Employment Tribunal fees being clear, the government’s review concluded that “While there is clear evidence that ET fees have discouraged people from bringing claims, there is no conclusive evidence that they have been prevented from doing so.”[15]

The government does not unfortunately enlighten us on what would provide them with ‘conclusive evidence’.

Neither does the government’s review report explain what the difference is between people who are ‘discouraged’ from bringing a claim and those who are ‘prevented’ from bringing a claim.

Nothing to see here.

An insight into how the government came to this counter- intuitive conclusion is given at paragraph 5 of their review report when they note that evaluation by ACAS of their early conciliation scheme confirmed that there were between 3,000 and 8,000 people who did not resolve their dispute with their employer through conciliation, but did not then bring a Tribunal claim. The reason given for this by those individuals was that they could not afford to pay the fee. However the government concludes that this does not mean that those people “could not realistically afford to pay the fee”.[16]

The government then helpfully points out that what they mean by ‘realistically’ not being able to pay the fee, is that individuals could have afforded to pay the fee if they had instead decided to reduce “non-essential spending.[17] What the government views as ‘non –essential’ is not explained in the review report however and neither does the government point to any evidence to support its assertion that individuals are choosing to spend their money on ‘non – essential’ items, rather than sensibly deciding to spend £1200 on Employment Tribunal fees at a time when many have just lost their job.

The Law Society notes in its response that “There is no good reason to suppose that, when these individuals said that [they] could not afford to pay the fees, they did not mean it”.[18]

A barrier to justice?

The government’s review was an opportunity to undertake a serious evaluation of the impact of Employment Tribunal fees on the ability of ordinary working people to access justice when they are owed wages or holiday pay, have been discriminated against in the workplace or have been unfairly dismissed.

Instead the government’s review has come to conclusions which are not supported by the evidence presented to it; based their conclusions on assumptions rather than evidence and drawn an artificial distinction between people who say they cannot afford the fees and those who ‘realistically’ cannot afford the fees.

Perhaps in order to assess whether Employment Tribunal fees are a barrier to justice we should look instead to the report by the cross-party House of Commons Justice Committee who also heard evidence from many involved in the Employment Tribunal system, including the Senior President of Tribunals and Employment Lawyers who represent employers and employees.

They concluded that “the regime of employment tribunal fees has had a significant adverse impact on access to justice for meritorious claims.”[19]

Karen Lawson


[1] Dickens, L. Jones, M. Weekes, B. and Hart, M. Dismissed: A study of Unfair Dismissal and the Industrial Tribunal System, Basil Blackwell Limited, 1985,  page 8

[2] Smith, Alex ‘Does access to justice cost too much?’, published 10th March 2017, available from https://wearecitizensadvice.org.uk/employment-tribunal-fees-is-access-to-justice-too-much accessed on 11th April 2017

[3] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at page 3

[4] The Law Society, ‘Law Society Response to the Ministry of Justice’s review of the impact of employment tribunal fees’, published March 2017 at paragraph 2.

[5] The Law Society, ‘Law Society Response to the Ministry of Justice’s review of the impact of employment tribunal fees’, published March 2017 at paragraph 4.

[6] House of Commons Justice Committee, ‘Courts and tribunal fees’, published 16th June 2016, available from www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmjust/167/16707 accessed on 10th April 2017 at paragraph 64

[7] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at paragraph 167

[8] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at paragraph 27

[9] The Law Society, ‘Law Society Response to the Ministry of Justice’s review of the impact of employment tribunal fees’, published March 2017 at paragraph 3.

[10] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at Table 8 page 78

[11] The Law Society, ‘Law Society Response to the Ministry of Justice’s review of the impact of employment tribunal fees’, published March 2017 at paragraph 1.

[12] The Law Society, ‘Law Society Response to the Ministry of Justice’s review of the impact of employment tribunal fees’, published March 2017 at paragraph 1.

[13] House of Commons Justice Committee, ‘Courts and tribunal fees’, published 16th June 2016, available from www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmjust/167/16707 accessed on 10th April 2017 at paragraph 61

[14] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at paragraph 4

[15] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at paragraph 8

[16] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at paragraph 5

[17] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at paragraph 5

[18] The Law Society, ‘Law Society Response to the Ministry of Justice’s review of the impact of employment tribunal fees’, published March 2017 at paragraph 8.

[19] House of Commons Justice Committee, ‘Courts and tribunal fees’, published 16th June 2016, available from www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmjust/167/16707 accessed on 10th April 2017 at paragraph 69

 

Posted by & filed under Featured Lecturer, News, Student Voice.

Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

This is the fifth is a series of blog posts about my ILT-funded project investigating the student views of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra (and latterly Kaltura) as alternatives to face-to-face, in-class lectures.

This month, I have asked students to fill in the final questionnaire, which dovetails nicely with the one completed at the end of term 1. The first questionnaire asked students to rank the face-to-face, in-class lecture sessions on content, accessibility, speed, and their perceived ability to interact. The second questionnaire asked essentially the same questions, but of the two online alternatives.

I was genuinely surprised by the results – the view that had been (vocally and repeatedly) expressed to colleague on other modules was that “student hate the online sessions” but the questionnaire results simply don’t back this up.

Attendance at the face-to-face lecture sessions, according to SEATS, averaged at around 55% in Term 1, and students asked, again on average, perhaps one question per session, although it was usually at the end.

Of the 69 students who completed the questionnaire, 55 had engaged with the Kaltura sessions, and 61 with the Collaborate sessions, either live or at a later date. As an asynchronous podcast, Kaltura does not lend itself to questions, though the attendance at the seminars which linked to the sessions was about par. The Collaborate Ultra sessions were designed to include a pause for questions every 10-15 minutes, and for each session, there were five or six questions. Although this is still relatively low, it does represent a marked rise compared to the in-class sessions.

I am still processing the data, but the graph below shows the overall student reaction to each type of delivery. All three types of delivery follow the same pattern, but it is interesting to note that a higher percentage of students selected “like a lot” or “like a bit” for the Collaborate Ultra sessions.

It raises some interesting questions which (spoiler alert). I will address in the conference papers which are coming out of this research.

Posted by & filed under Events, Featured Lecturer, News.

Dr Melanie Crofts, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

I have been teaching in Higher Education for 16 years and during this time it has struck me that in recent years many more students are disclosing to me instances of domestic abuse, sexual violence, sexual harassment and rape.  I am not sure why this is, although I guess that factors such as increased media attention, a reduction in support services for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence and the fact that I am a female lecturer teaching areas such as consent and equality law, may play a role.  However, although I have some knowledge of support services available (those which are left!) and I have some idea of the law relating to these issues, I still feel completely under equipped to offer effective support to the students who disclose their distressing and horrific experiences.  I find that a number of factors contribute to the inability to provide the support which is necessary, including stretched mental health and counselling services (internally at the University and externally), the demands on my time which mean that I often cannot spend as much time as I would like with students who disclose and the fact that I can only provide limited support as I am not a trained counsellor/adviser.

I fear that I am not alone in feeling that I am letting students who have experienced gender based violence down.  The issue has been reported quite widely in the media over recent years and months, see for example, “One in three UK female students sexually assaulted or abused on campus” reported in Jan 2015 and “London students leave underwear around university campus to protest sexual violence” reported only last week.  As far back as 2014 (building on a report from 2010), the National Union of Students issued a report “That’s what she said” which explored the impact of lad culture, sexism and harassment on campuses.  In October 2016 Universities UK published their Taskforce Report “Changing the Culture” which examined the issues of violence against women, hate crime and harassment against students.  It concluded that “Universities need to be encouraged and supported to take an institution-wide approach which draws together activities across the university from promoting positive behaviours through to ensuring that appropriate support is in place for students. In adopting such an approach, it is vital to ensure that there is effective data collection, appropriate governance, robust risk management and regular impact assessments.” (p4)

Following the UUK’s Taskforce Report, HEFCE released £2.45 million to fund projects to address some of the issues which were identified in the report. This was an opportunity not to be missed and I was thrilled when the bid we had put together was one of only 60 across the country which was accepted.  Our project, New Spaces: Safeguarding Students from Violence and Hate, is a cross Faculty and collaborative project which has been created in partnership with Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council and Rape Crisis, the University’s Institute for Public Safety, Crime and Justice, students and former students and experts from Psychology.  The aims of the project are to:

  • develop existing and new institutional policies and strategies to support students in reporting harassment, sexual abuse, sexual violence and hate crime
  • develop a student led collaborative initiative to identify what currently happens when disclosures are made, what good practice exists and how existing practice can be enhanced
  • use the insights to produce a robust policy and training for staff for when disclosures take place and to develop a package of support for staff to enable appropriate and effective responses to the disclosures of harassment, hate crime, sexual abuse and sexual violence
  • ensure that the frameworks and training packages developed are suitable for delivery at the university’s new urban campus, in particular taking into account a new campus environment and changes to the accessibility of staff.

The project will be informed by, and created with, students who wish to participate and act together with staff members.  Students’ perspectives and experiences will constitute valuable contributions throughout the duration of this project.  It is intended that the support package will be embedded in the policy frameworks of the institution for both staff and students.  This would also be accompanied with ongoing training for existing staff and appropriate induction for new staff.  Information relating to the support package would also be contained in both staff and student handbooks and it is intended that activities and information connected to the support package would be embedded in activities in student induction in Welcome Week.

We have our first project planning meeting next week and I am excited to be part of something which has the potential to really impact on the student experience at the University of Northampton.

For more information about the project, please contact: Dr Melanie Crofts, melanie.crofts@northampton.ac.uk

Project Team:

Sarah Armstrong-Hallam (Institute for Public Safety, Crime and Justice)

Becky Barrick (Law Graduate)

Professor Jane Callaghan (Psychology)

Dr Melanie Crofts (Law)

Dr Kimberley Hill (Psychology)

Foster Mukhwapa (Student Law Society)

Stephanie Nixon (Student’s Union)

Dr Evangelia Prokopiou (Psychology)