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

ISA 2012 Glasgow Human Rights Conference

June 25, 2012 § 1 Comment

Last week I presented my paper ‘Where Blame Lies: State Responsibility and the Accountability of Non-State Actors’ at the International Studies Association (ISA) Conference. The event was held at the University of Glasgow. An abstract for the paper is provided below.

States are ultimately responsible for the abusive acts of non-State actors which violate human rights. The ability of non-State actors to threaten the enjoyment of human rights is of increasing concern, and as such there are many circumstances in which potential abuses can be said to arise from the actions of international organisations, transnational corporations, armed militias and opposition groups. As a result, legal debate has arisen concerning whether these non-State entities could, and indeed should, be held directly accountable in international law, or whether such measures would undermine the authority and responsibility of States.

This paper seeks to analyse the different legal approaches utilised in the regulation of non-State actors and the difficulties in extending direct liability, such as the inadvertent ascription of greater status to non-State entities. Moreover, it seeks to assess the argument that in the wake of globalisation, we have reached a stage where the liability of non-State actors is vital given the minimal, non-interventionist role played by States, and their diminishing economic and political capacity to protect. Would this shift in conception be a positive and necessary step forward, or undermine legal fundamentals of human rights protection?

It has been a long journey with this piece. I wrote this abstract in the second month of my PhD back in October on a whim and was somehow accepted to present. As I prepare for annual review this week it has been great to reflect on my progress over the past 10 months or so.

My experience at the conference was extremely positive in many respects. It has forced me to critically engage with some of the foundational legal and theoretical arguments around which I will centre my future doctoral research, and has provided me with a great deal of new knowledge and perspectives from the various other disciplines represented at the conference.

To be given the opportunity at such an early stage to speak alongside such established names and to learn from their research has been extremely motivational. I look forward to developing my research in new directions over the coming months.

– Lee McConnell

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

‘Critical Perspectives on Animals in Society’ Conference 2012

March 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

This weekend I presented at the Critical Perspectives on Animals in Society conference at Exeter University. My paper, ‘Animals as Property: The Adequacy of Current Legal Protection’ was delivered at a panel alongside prominent independent scholar and campaigner Kim Stallwood, chaired by Mark Gold.


[Question and answer session following my paper. CPAS 2012]

Below is the abstract for my paper.

“The current methods of legal protection for animals have been in development for around two hundred years, but the prevailing method of protection and all currently enforceable legislation is rooted in welfare, where animals are protected by virtue of their status as property rather than through the ascription of actual rights. This raises many questions about the validity of the legal rights movement, the capability of animals to possess such rights, and whether the current measures for protection are adequate.

By way of an introduction, the core domestic legal protections applicable to farm animals will be discussed briefly, with the intention of highlighting and critically discussing key issues for the benefit of a multidisciplinary audience. Having established these ‘black letter’ legal parameters, the central focus of the presentation will be the debate between the conflicting opinions of animal advocates – those who submit that supposed improvements to animal welfare via legislative provisions are an effective means of bettering the lives of farm animals, and those who attest that welfare campaigns orchestrated under the current legal system are trite, meaningless, bound by human/economic interests and fail to confront or provide adequate protection against the main sources of animal suffering.

Illustrative examples will be drawn from our own domestic system, as well as other world legal systems such as the United States and New Zealand in order to provide a measure of comparative analysis with systems that have made pioneering moves towards limited recognition of rights for some animals, as well as to highlight recurrent issues concerning customary husbandry practices, the economic motivations which may hinder or expedite legislative change, and the prosecutorial/sentencing systems generally.”

The handout that I distributed as part of my presentation is available here.

It was thrilling to speak before such a large and engaging audience, and I was genuinely touched that my paper was so well received. Though the subject on which I presented is entirely divorced from the subject of my doctoral research, I maintain both a strong personal and academic interest in the topic and look forward to developing my research in new directions in the future.

Many of the presentations were recorded on video and should be published online at some point. I will endeavour to update this post with the appropriate links in the future. My thanks go out to the conference organisers Jess Gröling, Nikki Shaw, Daniel Van Strien and my good friend Nathan Stephens-Griffin for assembling a thoroughly interesting programme of speakers and in creating an environment in which academics and activists could build dialogues and participate in constructive exchanges.

– 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