IS IT A BOY OR IS IT A GIRL…..IT’S BOTH: THE SOCIETAL CONDEMNATION OF INTERSEXUALS

July 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

It is predicted that 1 in 2000 babies in the world are born with ‘indeterminate’ genitalia, where doctors are unable to confirm whether the child is neither male nor female, they are intersex. There are many different conditions in which this takes place but this is generally seen in a variation of characteristics in the genitalia, gonads or female/male chromosomes.

I am writing this blog whilst sitting in my accommodation in Vancouver, Canada where I am participating in the ‘Law on the Edge’ conference. Over the last couple of days I attended a conference presentation and later a film screening of Intersexion, concerning the rights of intersex people.

As a fairly naïve participant I was shocked to hear how common intersexuality is (more prevalent than babies born with cerebral palsy) and frankly horrified at the social and medical response to these children, which seeks to ‘correct’ them and place them within the gender binary of either male or female. Surgeons suggest surgery should be carried out on such children as soon as possible to reduce scarring in later life and ease their passage into society as identifying within a gender. However the repercussions can include the loss of sexual stimulation, infection and gender identity confusion which leads to anxiety, depression and in some cases suicide. Some will undergo a sex change operation and later develop opposite identity traits when they hit puberty, further confusing their designated gender.

So why does society find it necessary to categorise these children into a gender binary? This issue was raised at the conference and the response was for common reasons such as school sport teams, toilets, changing rooms and perhaps more importantly because wider society does not accept those who live outside of male/female categorisation. But in light of the existence of intersex people and the recent changes to New Zealand legislation which legalised marriage between ‘persons’ as opposed to male-female or same sex, the necessity of gender within society is something which is becoming increasingly fractured, a topic I intend to explore in further research.

The documentary and narrative provided by Mani B Mitchell, an intersex person from New Zealand, illustrated the pain and resentment experienced by intersex individuals at having their freedom removed by surgical operations which leave many feeling mutilated, undertaken without their consent as babies. The emphasis of the film was that babies who are born intersex should be left alone and parents should be congratulated on the birth of their healthy and normal child as opposed to scare mongered into consenting to surgery to correct something society views as abnormal. Intersex individuals should be given the choice to identify with whichever gender they choose, either socially or surgically, or to live as neither once they reach a culpable age of consent.

Legally a fascinating point raised at the conference was whether this surgery would be considered an offence under laws prohibiting female genital mutilation (FGM). In the UK, the legislation governing FGM is the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 which states in section 1(1) that ‘A person is guilty of an offence if he excises, infibulates or otherwise mutilates the whole or any part of a girl’s labia majora, labia minora or clitoris’ bringing intersex surgery on infants into this remit.

An exception is stated at section 1(2) which makes an allowance for surgery where it is carried out by an approved person for the necessity of their physical or mental health. Where the physical health of an intersex child is at risk there was a general consensus that surgery should be undertaken, but it was recognised in the documentary that in the majority of cases, intersex children (and later adults) can live a happy and healthy life, free from the pains of surgery. In these cases, the physical health exception is removed which leaves the exemption on grounds of mental health.

In determining necessity on grounds of mental health section 4(5) states that:
‘For the purpose of determining whether an operation is necessary for the mental health of a girl it is immaterial whether she or any other person believes that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual.’
The obvious justification used by medical professionals is that societal transition would be easier if the child were physically changed to either male or female, but is this not classified as a Western custom, on the basis of what is socially acceptable? Custom is defined as ‘a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time’ a definition which seemingly places surgery on intersex infants within the context of FGM prohibition.

The Intersexion documentary was extremely touching and I recommend everyone to watch it as an education. As with most taboo subjects, ignorance can be combatted through education and increased knowledge of intersexuality. The anxiety and depression discussed within the documentary arose not from the groups existence as intersex but from the societal shame which arose from something which needs to be recognised as perfectly natural. After watching the documentary and hearing Mani’s personal narrative, it is clear that society should bare the shame for failure to recognise the position of those who are intersex and subjecting them to surgery which can only be described as amounting to genital mutilation.

Celebrating a decade of Clinical Legal Education in Nigeria: It is not yet Uhuru!

August 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

By Kevwe M. Omoragbon, Northumbria University, UK.

It has been ten years of the introduction of clinical legal education in Nigeria. It can be said that the country has benefitted from the tidal flow of the global clinical movement. There has been a steady growth in the number of law clinics bringing it to fourteen law clinics which are situated within the universities and some campuses of the Nigerian Law Schools. The main goals of the clinics are to train law students in the practice of law as well as provide free legal aid to less advantaged citizens. A recent legislative change to the Legal Aid Act now legally recognizes law clinics as being engaged in the provision of legal aid.

Despite the gains of CLE, several challenges are still being faced by the law clinics. The focus of this paper will be to address the legal impediment which prohibits anyone who has not yet been called to bar from appearing in any court of law, this out rightly excludes law students. This paper argues that the practical training of law students is incomplete without a measure of appearance in some courts and/or tribunals.

The methodology of the presentation will involve the use of an ethnographic case study to highlight these challenges, and then go on to discuss what can be done to address these problems especially through law reform as  well as identify who the actors and stakeholders are in the drive towards the reform.

Clamour for reform of legal education in Nigeria began after the return to democratic rule in 1999. Consequently, the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal studies organized an all-stakeholders conference to discuss the fundamental issues concerned in legal education in Nigeria. The conference resolved on the need to refocus legal education for the Nigeria of the twenty-first century. After the conference, the Nigerian Bar Association set up a committee on legal education to liaise with all legal education institutions with a view to improving legal training. Moreover, the Nigerian Bar Association Summit on legal education held in May 2006 passed a resolution calling for the adoption of clinical legal education for all law programmes in Nigeria.

In a bid to develop and institutionalize clinical legal education in Nigeria, the Network of University Legal Aid Institutions, Nigeria (hereinafter referred to as NULAI) was established in 2003 as a not for profit organization. Its membership is open to legal clinics/Legal Aid Institution of Nigerian Universities and Law schools. Its activities include, promoting clinical legal education, reforms of legal education, access to justice and legal aid by organizing colloquiums, training workshops and giving grants for the provision of financial and material resources to law clinics.

At the time of this presentation, there are fourteen law clinics located in Faculties of law of Nigerian Universities as well as campuses of the Nigerian Law School. Most of the law clinics started as general interest law clinics with the exception of the Women’s Law Clinic, University of Ibadan. Over time, they have become more specialist focused especially in the area of prison decongestion. For example, the ABSU Law Clinic, Maiduguri Law Clinic, Akungba Law Clinic, EBSU Law Clinic and UNIUYO Law Clinic who started by providing legal advice, ADR and human rights education, commenced a prison service in 2009 and presently are working to assist over 550 pre-trial detainees. The Women’s Law Clinic from inception started out as a specialist law clinic and deals with cases of domestic violence, matrimonial issues including divorce and child custody, succession, employee-employer as well as tenancy disputes. It has handled over one hundred cases out of which seventy-four were successfully concluded. All law clinics also benefit from grants, several capacity building workshops and participate in an annual client counseling skills competition.

The country has also seen a law reform which now legally recognizes law clinics as providers of legal aid. The Amended legal Aid Act (attached) recognizes law clinics.  The Legal Aid Act, 2011 (Part IV Section 17) provides that “The Council shall maintain a register of non-governmental organizations and law clinics that are engaged in the provision of legal aid or assistance to persons who are entitled to legal aid under this Act”.

Despite this feat, the clinics cannot rest on their oars as there are challenges militating against the access to justice which need to be urgently addressed. The following case study brings to light some of these challenges which hamper the provision of legal aid by law clinics.

Case study

This case study is an example of the type of case the law clinics will deal with and the common problems they encounter. Yetunde is a mother of four children ages 11, 8, 5 and 8mths. The first three children are female while the last baby is a male child. Her marital problems started after the birth of her third female child. Cultural values are attached to male children as an average Nigerian man wants an heir who will bear his name and take over his inheritance after his demise. Yetunde was sent out of her husband’s house shortly after the birth of the last child having being accused of adultery and witchcraft which is a clog in his progress. Her husband also denies the paternity of the last child and won dissolution of their marriage from a customary court who awarded custody of the first three children to her husband and a monthly maintenance allowance of N1,500 (which is equivalently £6) for the last child. This dissolution was done in a customary court despite being married under statutory law after traditional marriage. In Nigeria, there are three legally recognized types of marriages- the statutory marriage or marriage under the Act, the marriage under native law and customs or the traditional marriage and the Islamic marriage. Many couple combine at least two of these types of marriages creating the practice of ‘double deck’ marriages. Double deck marriage is rife but so long as there is a statutory marriage after the celebration of a traditional marriage, the statutory marriage takes precedence and can only be dissolved in a High Court and not a customary court. A customary court only has jurisdiction over marriages which are solely conducted under local native law and customs.

Yetunde had to rent a studio apartment with her savings as a yearly tenant but just six months into her tenancy, she was issued a notice to quit the property within six months. She was informed by reliable sources that her husband had mounted pressure on the landlord to evict her whilst also accusing the landlord of committing adultery with his wife. Yetunde then approached the law clinic for legal aid in respect of two main issues:

  1. Custody and maintenance of her first three children which she claimed are being maltreated by her husband’s new wife.
  2. Reversal of the notice to quit given by her landlord as she is of good character and has paid her rent in full for one calendar year.

The clinic immediately swung into action by conducting further investigation which showed that as regards the first issue of divorce and custody, Yetunde was statutorily married under the Marriage Act and therefore only the High Court had jurisdiction to dissolve the marriage. The clinic gathered that Yetunde did receive the court summons but due to fear of being arrested and detained, she did not attend. However, the customary court went ahead to issue a verdict in her absence and a copy of the judgment was sent to her by post which stated that her husband will have custody of the first three children while she takes care of the baby until his 6th birthday, she is not allowed any access to her daughters and is also barred from going to their school or the locality where they reside. The allegation of adultery was not proven beyond reasonable doubt and a monthly maintenance award of N1,500 (which is equivalently £6) was insufficient to meet the baby’s needs, neither had she received any in the last three months.

The clinic first attempted to mediate between Yetunde and her husband although this proved problematic. Though he ignored the letter of invitation twice, he however honoured the third letter but still maintained his initial stand of upholding the divorce and adding that he has now re-married and his new wife just had baby boy. He also informed the clinic never to write anymore letters.

The clinic needs to institute an action in the High court to declare that the customary court has no jurisdiction over statutory marriages and, to file for custody and maintenance for all her children and herself. However, law students in Nigeria have no rights of appearance in any tribunal or court, the clinic is finding it difficult to find a pro bono lawyer within reasonable time who will take up the case and there is also slow progress in finding a suitable agency to refer a case of this nature.

As regards, the second issue on her tenancy, the clinic confirmed that being a yearly tenant, Yetunde is entitled to six clear calendar months notice. However, the notice to quit is three days less than the required six months which makes the notice of ineffective. Despite writing to the landlord to explain this legal requirement, he went ahead to re-issue a seven days notice of owners intention to recover possession of his property at the expiration of the notice.

The clinic needs to institute an action with the rent tribunal in order to get an injunction restraining the landlord from recovering possession. However, as there are no student practice rules in Nigeria, students have no right of appearance in any tribunal or court. The clinic was unable to find a pro bono lawyer who will take up the case within the seven day time frame. The landlord employed the use of bailiffs to recover possession at the expiration of the seven days notice. Yetunde was assaulted in the process and is disappointed that the clinic could not do anything to stop the landlord from throwing out her stuff.  

Cases such as this are rarely concluded as the client looses interest in the case and seldom shows up afterwards. This clearly shows an example of some of the cases where the clinic’s hands are tied by the law which restricts law students from appearing in any court or tribunal. It is apparent that students would have learned much more if they had the opportunity to prepare further paper work, file a case in the relevant tribunal or court and represent their clients. The reputation of the clinic is also sometimes at stake as clients find it difficult to understand these legal requirements. For instance, some of the cases before the Women’s Law Clinic are never concluded due to setbacks such as this.

It is the position of this paper that a mere ‘recognition’ of law clinics by the Legal Aid Council and their inclusion in a register as provided by the amended Legal Aid Act 2011is not enough to ensure access to justice. Therefore, it is my recommendation that the way forward for law clinics’ in Nigeria, is to have Student Practice Rules which will give students limited rights of appearance in some courts and tribunals. Nigeria, through networking in a conference like the IJCLE, can learn from other developed jurisdictions where this has produced better equipped law graduates in countries such as here in the UK as well as the US. This willalso ensure access to justice for citizens whilst fulfilling the objective of training law students in the ‘practice’ of law.

It is also my recommendation that there needs to be an increase in the number of law clinics. The present 14 law clinics’ is still a far cry out of over 40 public and private Universities in Nigeria. In order to achieve the desired law reform, many more universities need to embrace clinical legal education. The National Universities Commission as well as the Council for Legal Education in Nigeria should make it mandatory for all universities to have law clinics attached to their law faculties or have other forms of clinical programs such as street law or externships. This would replace the ambiguous NUC drafts benchmarks and minimum academic standards in law of 2005 which prescribed as mandatory the introduction of a community based course in the fourth year LL.B programme.

There also needs to be more student and faculty engagement in this regard as many clinics all over the world emerged through student activism and their demand to participate in roles similar to the ideals and vision of law practice. This can be done through the Law student societies in the universities as well as the student union and the National Students Association.

If all these machineries are put in place, there will an enabling environment as well as a learning opportunity for students whilst ensuring access to justice for the less advantaged Nigerians. I welcome comments from colleagues in other jurisdictions with or without student practice rules to share their experience on how they have overcome some of these challenges.

Thank you.

Gardens of Justice – Critical Legal Conference 2012

July 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

At the beginning of June I took a four week holiday to travel through California. Just before I left I received the fantastic news that my abstract ‘Asylum Seekers and the Welfare State: A Social Dystopia?’ had been accepted for the Critical Legal Studies Conference in Stockholm, in September, a conference that I was particularly keen to attend.

To put my abstract into context, I will present my paper in the welfare stream, the theme of which is the ‘welfare state as a social utopia?’  When I initially read the stream information for the conference I was excited at the prospect of entering an abstract as the ideas floated by the stream organiser’s mirrored topics I wished to explore in my thesis. The stream itself is heavily focused on ideas of solidarity, exclusion, equality and the utopian ideal to which the welfare state can aspire.

Despite gaining experience of presenting conference papers at the SLSA and Queen Mary Postgrad conferences, each conference is unique and presents its own challenges, which continues to test my confidence! Though this is a relatively new area of examination for me, I am enjoying exploring postmodern ideas within literature and forming nihilistic arguments of laws which I find arbitrary, ineffective and inhumane.

After four weeks of Californian sunshine, exhilaration and discovery, returning to research is both exciting and daunting, but I am grateful for the opportunity to present my ideas at such a fascinating and interesting conference. For now, the reading continues and then begins the formidable task of translating my thoughts and ideas into a conference paper.

The abstract for my paper is cited below and I will update the blog with a reflection after the event.

‘Asylum Seekers and the Welfare State: A Social Dystopia?

The redistribution of resources through the English welfare State is fundamentally an expression of national solidarity, which provides for the indigent members of society. However this form of solidarity is stratified on the basis of immigration status which, it will be argued, overlooks social need in defining the responsibilities of the welfare State. As a result, a hierarchy of entitlement and rights exists.

Despite international and European legal verification for the occupancy of asylum seekers within the sovereign State, NGO studies show that this group including those whose applications have been refused, suffer from systematic poverty, prejudice and inadequacy and in some instances abject destitution.

This paper will examine the welfare provision for asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers within this context.  The paper will use a hypothetical case study to outline the current support system for asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers, whilst at the same time accounting for the experiences, history and consciousness of applicants. It will stress that applicants are not only discriminated against in their exclusion from the national welfare framework but also experience the detrimental and compounded effects of intersectional grounds of discrimination, which can then impact further upon rights.

It aims to consider the boundaries of ‘solidarity’ within the current welfare system and whether those boundaries should be extended to include asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers. With reference to the case study, human rights and cosmopolitanism I will consider how  and why this is necessary even within ‘the factual reality of given society’.

Katie Bales

Photo Credit:

SHARPSHOOTA.com – NYC street photography

The Embassy and International Law

July 2, 2012 § 1 Comment

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Utilised in numerous Hollywood blockbusters in recent years, from Robert Langdon’s dash to the U.S embassy in Paris in ‘The Da-Vinci Code’ to Jason Bourne’s run in with the consulate officials in ‘The Bourne Identity’, the position of the embassy in international law could be mistaken for the setting of the latest cinematic release rather than a fundamental instrument in diplomatic relations. Events in the past two months however have illustrated that the inviolability of the embassy is much more than a plot device in the latest Bond film, and instead is one of the oldest and most sacrosanct principles of international law.

In late April 2012 Cheng Guancheng, a Chinese dissident activist, escaped house arrest and fled to the U.S embassy in Beijing. Arriving days before a planned visit from U.S Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, his residence in the U.S embassy sparked a brief diplomatic crisis between the United States and China. This crisis was seemingly reconciled in May 2012 when Mr Guancheng flew with his family to the United States to take up a position at a U.S university.

In developments much closer to home, wikileaks founder Julian Assange appears to be avoiding his imminent extradition to Sweden by residing in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Mr Assange faces accusations of sexual assault in the Scandinavian country but has sought the sympathy of Ecuadorian officials to prevent the extradition which could see him further transferred to the United States. Mr Assange’s primary fear is that if extradited to the United States he could face the death penalty in relation to charges concerning his dissemination of confidential information.

Drawing on examples from these two recent cases, this post intends to set out the position of the embassy in international law and provide a brief uncritical explanation of why individuals wanted by a forum State have sought protection in the diplomatic premises of other nations.

The emergence of the embassy in international law

The relevant law which has led to the UK Foreign Office informing the Metropolitan Police that Mr Assange is out of their reach so long as he resides in the Ecuadorian embassy is found in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR). As highlighted by the preamble to this international treaty, the provisions contained within the Convention were not new in 1961 when the treaty was formally created, but are a codification of principles which have been followed for hundreds of years in relation to the diplomatic official:

‘Recalling that peoples of all nations from ancient times have recognized the status of diplomatic Agents’

Writing in 1924 Korf highlighted that even in ancient civilizations the position of the diplomatic official was given a protected status:

‘[i]t was recognized everywhere that the envoy had a specially privileged position; his person was inviolable and sacred, his status abroad was protected by the principle of extraterritoriality; he was exempt from municipal and local laws and taxation’

By providing an individual with a special protected status tribes, kingdoms and other large groupings could negotiate differences and conduct trade without the fear that their envoy or messenger would be the victim of attack or imprisonment. The system was mutually beneficially between different parties as if an envoy of one kingdom was endangered or imprisoned while conducting his role in a receiving kingdom, his contemporary in his own kingdom would be at risk of direct retaliation. In effect, according to Dixon, the diplomat was seen as a representative or alter ego of the sovereign and was thus entitled to all of the immunities which he or she would have enjoyed.

Eileen Denza has stated that even before the congress of Westphalia in 1648, where international law is commonly seen to have emerged into its modern Sovereign State form, permanent legations were accepted as the normal way of conducting international business between different kingdoms or tribes. This is evident in that France’s permanent representation abroad began as early as 1522 when King Francis I sent a delegation to the Swiss.

Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

In the period immediately following WW2, when international law was arguably at its most fertile and the concurrent demise of colonialism saw the creation of numerous new nations, the decision was made to codify the customary provisions which had previously regulated the law on embassies. Listed in the preamble to the treaty the purpose of the VCDR was for the ‘the maintenance of international peace and security, and the promotion of friendly relations among nations,’ and ‘to ensure the efficient performance of the functions of diplomatic missions as representing States’.

Denza notes that, even despite the diplomatic problems caused by the Cold War, the treaty was relatively straightforward to negotiate. This was partly because the States who negotiated the treaty had generally followed the rules they were negotiating for hundreds of years until the point of codification, and also because States had a common interest in the successful creation of the treaty. Just as with the tribes and kingdoms of centuries before, States may have had enormous gripes and ideological differences with one another, however as the sanctity of diplomatic channels benefitted all parties, they could agree on the sovereign immunity of their diplomats abroad and safety of their embassies.

Entering into force in April 1964, the treaty currently has 60 signatories and 187 parties making it one of the most universally accepted provisions in international law. Dixon highlights that in the US Diplomatic and Consular Staff in Tehran Case the Court has indicated that a great part of the VCDR now also makes up customary international law as well as international treaty law.

The inviolability of the embassy

The reason why Mr Guancheng fled to the U.S embassy in Beijing, and why Mr Assange is currently residing in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, is because it is not only the position of the diplomat but of the embassy premises which are out of reach of the authorities of the forum government.  The inviolability of the diplomatic premises are a natural extension of the protection provided to diplomats. In theory it enables diplomatic staff the freedom to carry out their duties and functions conscious that they will not be harassed or intimidated by officials of the receiving State.

Their sanctity is provided for by Article 22 of the VCDR which states that:

1. The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.

2. The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.

3. The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.

It is the blanket inviolability of the embassy, visible here in section 1, which creates this loophole in international law. Intended seemingly to protect ambassadors, staff and their sensitive materials it is this provision which has the capacity to protect individuals within embassy premises also. Signed by both Ecuador and the United Kingdom in 1961, this safeguard is what is currently preventing the Metropolitan Police from gaining entry to the Ecuadorian embassy and arresting Mr Assange for breaching his bail conditions.

Although there is a certain irony in Mr Assange availing himself of embassy protection when his organisation undoubtedly caused diplomatic headaches for embassies all over the world, he will be safe within the Ecuadorian Embassy for as long as the mission is willing to accommodate him. Although it is likely that his visit to the embassy will be over in a matter of days, as Ecuadorian officials consider what approach to take on his case, it is not unheard of for individuals to spend long periods of time living in another State’s embassy. For instance, the Hungarian Priest Jozsef Mindszenty spent 15 years of voluntary confinement in the U.S Embassy in Budapest.

Thus, it is the right afforded to the Ecuadorian State under international law which is currently protecting Mr Assange. My next blog post will consider the responsibility of the Embassy State (the ‘sending State’) when an individual claims refuge there from human rights abuses.

– C. Mallory

CPAS Conference Videos

April 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

Earlier this year I presented my paper ‘Animals as Property: The Adequacy of Current Legal Protection ‘at the Critical Perspectives on Animals in society conference at the University of Exeter. As I mentioned in my previous post, many of the sessions at the conference were captured on video and have recently been made available online via the CPAS YouTube page. Below is an embed of the session at which I spoke. Kim Stallwood speaks first, and I’m on at around 29:50.

My thanks again to the CPAS team, especially to Chris and Jess who have put a lot of extra work into producing these excellent videos.

– Lee McConnell

Trials of Dissenters at ALT Conference, Oxford

April 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

This week, Sarah Mercer and I presented a paper that we had written together titled ‘Trials of Dissenters: Student and Staff Assessment of an Innovative Module’ at the ALT Conference at Lady Margret Hall, Oxford. The paper was delivered in a session on Tuesday morning, alongside Allison Bone from the University of Brighton.

Our paper served as an update and response to a presentation by Sarah and Chris Rogers at the ALT two years ago which described the early development of a module, the remit of which was to analyse instances of legal dissent demonstrable in historic trials through teaching methods which themselves departed from traditional educative practice. Having studied the first run of the module in the final year of my undergraduate degree, we both agreed that it would be interesting for me to contribute first hand, qualitative data to supplement the views that had been collected by Sarah and Chris in the form of questionnaires.

[Lady Margret Hall, University of Oxford. Photo Credit: Lee McConnell]

Below is the abstract for the paper that we presented:

“In 2010, in a paper presented at the ALT conference in Cambridge, a new module on the trials of dissenters was discussed and the research to be carried out on student perceptions of it described.

In the module various historical trials are examined by the students with an emphasis being placed on the necessity to see them within their historical, social, economic and political context and where the use of non traditional sources such as literature and art are encouraged. In this paper the first year of the module will be reviewed, particularly in relation to how qualitative data received from student feedback has informed changes that might be made to the module for future years. The paper will be co-presented by a lecturer who helped to devise and deliver the module, and by a former student who studied the module in its first year of delivery. As such, it can provide an unusually rounded analysis of the reception of an innovative course.

The paper will be situated within the current academic discourse on pedagogy and assessment and will present information regarding the structure of the module, its reception and its mode of assessment. The delivery of the module was by means of 4 workshops and 4 presentations by students, with no lectures. This mode of delivery was chosen because of the recognition of the need for innovative methods of pedagogy and delivery in innovative courses. The paper will address how effective those delivering the module perceive this to have been, and will also provide evidence of the student experience, to determine whether both lecturer and student formed similar impressions of the reception of the mode of delivery and the extent to which this could be used to inform any subsequent change in the mode of delivery.

The paper will also consider the mode of assessment as it is particularly in relation to assessment that changes have subsequently been made.  Initially, it was decided the module should be assessed by the more traditional means of a 3,500 word essay although one where students chose for themselves the trials to be considered.  However, during this first year, the lecturers involved in delivering the module became concerned that this mode of assessment was not the best means of assessing students’ engagement with the module outcomes. Consequently, it was decided to change the mode of assessment for the following academic year. The paper will address the reasons for doing so, and what is sought from the altered form of assessment. The paper will also consider the somewhat limited evidence of the reception of this revision.”

The PowerPoint slides that we utilised during the presentation are available here.

The paper was delivered in a ‘call and response’ manner, with Sarah describing the issues encountered from a lecturer’s perspective on the module generally, group formation, functional issues, and assessment past and future. My contribution offered a critical angle on the module from the viewpoint of a student, and attempted some suggestions on the problematic issue of assessment of a module built almost entirely on group work and presentation.

My thanks to the delegates and to the ALT organisers, particularly Richard Owen and Amanda Fancourt.

– Lee McConnell

The Growth of Law Clinics as a Vehicle for Legal Empowerment in Nigeria

March 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

I will be presenting a paper titled, ‘The Growth of Law Clinics as a Vehicle for Legal Empowerment in Nigeriaat the 12th Annual Africa Conference, 2012, at the University of Texas at Austin, USA. Dates: March 30- April 1 2012. This is the abstract for my paper:

The Growth of Law Clinics as a Vehicle for Legal Empowerment in Nigeria

Despite over ten years of democratic rule in Nigeria, the gains of democracy are very slow in realisation which could be partly due to over thirty years of previous military regimes plagued by numerous human rights violations, abject poverty and disintegration of the judicial system.

Poverty reduction and human rights have shared values and overlapping objectives some of which include non-discrimination, liberty and security of the person. Legal empowerment is a right-based approach which uses legal services to help the poor learn and take actions to alleviate poverty through information, education as well as organization and legal representation.

The introduction of law clinics in Nigerian Universities has made impressive progress in training law students in the practice of law as well as providing free legal aid to less advantaged citizens. This has gone a long way to improve access to justice, protect citizens’ constitutional rights and has the effect of reducing poverty.

This paper examines the growth of law clinics in Nigeria and achievements so far recorded, arguing that without law reform, they cannot achieve their full potential. It will start by giving a brief background from an international perspective, their root in Africa,  and the antecedents that led to the founding of law clinics in Nigeria. It will evaluate their accomplishments and provide recommendations to further strengthen access to justice and improve law clinic sustainability.

– By Kevwe Omoragbon

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