New AHRC Legal Materiality Research Network launches January 2018

Senior Law Lecturers Dr Hyo Yoon Kang and Dr Sara Kendall have been awarded a grant of more than £35,000 to establish an international Legal Materiality Research Network that will launch with an event in London in January 2018.

The Research Network Grant, from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), will help bring together a community of interdisciplinary scholars with a shared focus on studying and thinking about law’s matters and their materialities.

Dr Kendall said: ‘Law offers a particularly strong challenge to such object- and matter-based orientations because it is bound up with systems of meaning and is mediated by texts. Rather than taking physical objects as analogous materials of law, the Research Network seeks to untangle and question assumptions of legality as inherent and self-evident in objects or physical matter. It will also explore the distinctiveness of specific legal materials and techniques, such as texts, images, sounds, bodies, gestures, rituals, as well as the different sites of legal materiality, such as physical and digital spaces, in a detailed manner, cutting across research areas and disciplines.’

Dr Kang added: ‘Despite the importance of understanding law beyond its textual and interpretive forms, there has been limited legal scholarship addressing its material dimensions in sustained conceptual depth. Much of this work occurs in other disciplines, such as history, media studies, anthropology, literature, and sociology, yet opportunities for these different scholars to converse with one another have been rare. The AHRC Research Network seeks to fill this gap by bringing together scholars, artists and concerned publics to build and maintain conversations leading to enhanced and deeper understandings of how laws shape their matters whilst also being shaped in return.’

The network’s launch event will be a symposium on ‘Articulating Law’s Matters’ at The Warburg Institute on Friday 12 January 2018. The symposium will offer an overview and map some of the positions, approaches and tensions which the notion of ‘legal materiality’ has raised in contemporary legal scholarship. Attendance is free, but attendees are required to register online.

The Legal Materiality Research Network includes a broad range of members: from emerging junior scholars and research students to world-leading scholars who have studied the specificity of legal techniques and objects and have engaged deeply with questions of materiality and interpretation. Their disciplinary homes are in fields as diverse as anthropology, English literature, legal studies, media studies, politics, political theory, rhetoric, science and technology studies and sociology. The network also includes artists who are concerned with the force of law and its physical and virtual manifestations.

It builds on previous workshops and conversations that have explored the relationship between law, materiality, matters, different media and textuality over the past couple of years.

For questions and enquiry, please contact Dr Kang or Dr Kendall. Follow the network on Twitter @LawsMatters

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Dr Alex Magaisa a leading commentator on the developing situation in Zimbabwe

Dr Alex Magaisa, Lecturer in Law, and former chief advisor to Morgan Tsvangirai (then Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change), has been speaking to a variety of international news agencies about the developing situation in Zimbabwe. He has appeared on BBC Newsnight and Al Jazeera, has spoken with CNN, BBC News, and has written an extensive analysis of the situation on his blog the Big Saturday Read in a piece entitled ‘The End of an Era’.

From 2011 and 2012, Dr Magaisa was a technical advisor during the constitution-making process in Zimbabwe. From 2012 to 2013, he was, by invitation, appointed as the chief advisor to Mr Morgan Tsvangirai, the then Prime Minister of the Republic of Zimbabwe and leader of the pro-democracy movement, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). As chief of staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, he was responsible for overseeing staff and delivering support to the Prime Minister.

A well-known voice in Zimbabwean legal and political circles, Dr Magaisa has maintained a blog on constitutional and political issues in Zimbabwe and is regularly called by both domestic and international media for his opinions. He is also regularly invited to the African Commission’s High Level Dialogue events on governance.

Read Dr Magaisa’s expert comment on the current situation in Zimbabwe on the Kent website.

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Call for new law to protect tenants in their homes after Grenfell

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, a major new report calls for the introduction of a new Housing Act.

Research carried out at the universities of Kent (by Professor Helen Carr and Dr Ed Kirton-Darling) and Bristol (by Professor David Cowan and Dr Edward Burtonshaw-Gunn) for the housing charity Shelter found housing laws are ‘out-dated, complex and patchily enforced’. Tenants wanting to remedy defects face ‘numerous and often insurmountable’ barriers to justice.

The report, Closing the Gaps – Health and Safety at Home, recommends that the law needs to evolve: occupiers should no longer be treated as posing health and safety risks. Instead, they should be treated as consumers of housing with enforceable rights to ensure minimum standards are adhered to. The state needs to accept its role as the primary enforcer of those standards.

The report also calls a cultural change, so that those responsible for the health and safety of occupiers become pro-active in fulfilling those responsibilities.

It recommends a new Housing (Health and Safety in the Home) Act which is tenure neutral, modern and relevant to contemporary health and safety issues, and which encourages and provides resources for pro-activity by statutory authorities.  In particular, the Act should:-

  • Strengthen duties on local authorities to review housing and enforce housing health and safety standards
  • Introduce a legal duty to review and update all guidance relating to health and safety in the home every three years
  • Provide routes for occupiers to require local authorities to carry out housing health and safety assessments
  • Remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing enforcement action being taken against local authority landlords and remove unnecessary procedural barriers which undermine the current regime
  • Consolidate and up-date existing law
  • Place clear responsibilities on bodies for breaches of fire and building regulations
  • Provide routes for occupiers to hold landlords and managers to account for fire safety provisions
  • Strengthen remedies against retaliatory eviction

The report says the Act, either working alongside or incorporating a Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, would not only improve health and safety outcomes for occupiers, it would signify also that society accepts responsibility for those standards.

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Environmental law seminar series continues with talk on Blean Woods

Kent Law School’s Environmental Law Seminar Series continued this month with a talk by RSPB Warden Michael Walter on ‘Blean Woods: Amid Changing Climate and Attitudes, Where Does Responsibility Lie?’

Michael Walter, who studied zoology and botany, with a particular interest in woodlands and monitoring wildlife, spent most of his forty-year career with the RSPB as a warden at Blean Woods.

The first part of the talk reflected on the issues derived from the privatisation of natural habitats. The Victorian solution to the tragedy of the commons has led to many natural habitats being restricted to the general public. This process has gradually led to a different relationship between nature and society, which raises important questions: Can someone own habitat? Who owns the species and ecological processes within a privatised habitat?

The RSPB, as lawful owners of Blean Woods, focus their efforts in conserving the precious biodiversity as well as offering access to the public. But as the public uses of the woods, such as cycling and dog-walking, clash with each other and affect the wildlife, should the RSPB strictly regulate the public use? Does the public conceive them as the rightful owners? Does the RSPB own the Blean’s environment?

The second part of the talk focused on the anthropogenic effects on the wildlife, mainly due to climate change and agriculture. While many species decline, some even disappear, and a few appear, they all have to adapt to an environment of unpredictable ecological patterns. Management is key to ensuring the population of species. However, there is a limit to management as biodiversity is affected by global processes. Thus, while species in Blean Woods decline due to human activities happening elsewhere, such as desertification in Africa, expansion of agriculture and greenhouse gas emissions across the globe, who is ultimately responsible for protecting the wildlife?

In a nutshell, the talk illustrated from the perspective of management of Blean Woods, the contemporary society-environment issues, which raises important questions for law students regarding how to legally approach our shared responsibility for the current threats to natural habitats.

Report by Kent LLM student Salvador Camarón Klarwein (who co-organised the seminar with fellow Kent LLM students Em Veeravatanathikula, and Kanthanat Wee).

The Environmental Law Seminar Series has been designed specifically for students with an interest in the environmental law modules offered within the School’s one-year Master’s in Law programme, the Kent LLM.

Kent LLM students can graduate on either the Environmental Law or International Environmental Law pathway by (i) opting to study at least three (out of six) modules from those associated with the pathway of their choice and by (ii) focusing the topic of their dissertation on their chosen pathway.

More information about environmental law research, events and academics at Kent can be found on the Environmental Law mini-site. More information about studying the Kent LLM (and choosing your pathway) can be found on our postgraduate pages.

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Conference on surrogacy law reform at Kent on 17 November

Surrogacy law expert Dr Kirsty Horsey is hosting a conference on surrogacy law reform at Kent on Friday (17 November).

The conference, entitled ‘Regulating Surrogacy: Problems and potential solutions’ includes contributions from:

  • Dr Noelia Igareda, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain – Socio-legal arguments to legitimize surrogacy and obstacles and criticisms to its regulation: different national laws but common problems
  • Dr Pamela White, Kent Law School – “Desperately seeking surrogates”: Thoughts on Canada’s emergence as an international surrogacy destination
  • Dr Julie McCandless, London School of Economics – De-ciphering parenthood law for surrogacy: moving beyond two?
  • Natalie Smith, trustee of Surrogacy UK and parent via surrogacy – The view from the ground: surrogacy in the UK and the need for legal reform
  • Andrew Powell, barrister, 4 Paper Buildings, Temple, London – The view from the Bar: surrogacy in the English courtroom

The conference, sponsored by both the Kent Centre for Law, Gender and Sexuality and the Kent Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Reproduction (CiSoR), is free to attend but registration is required online. Sessions begin at 3pm in the Moot Room in the Wigoder Law Building.

Dr Horsey is a Reader in Law at Kent Law School. She has published widely on issues relating to the regulation of human reproduction and has been actively researching surrogacy law – and advocating reform – for 20 years. She has written a number of articles and book chapters on surrogacy in the UK, including publications in Child and Family Law Quarterly and the Medical Law Review.

A landmark report, written by Dr Horsey in conjunction with Surrogacy UK was published in November 2015. The report, ‘Surrogacy in the UK: Myth busting and reform’, provided an unprecedented insight into how surrogacy is practised in the UK and dispelled a myth that a high proportion of potential parents from the UK go overseas if they need to use surrogacy.

At a previous conference organised by Dr Horsey in May 2016 – Surrogacy in the 21st century: Rethinking assumptions, reforming Law, Baroness Mary Warnock (author of the 1984 Warnock Report – a Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology) revealed she no longer regarded surrogacy as unethical.

More recently, surrogacy law reform championed by Dr Horsey was featured in a special edition of the Journal of Medical Law and Ethics (JMLE) and was the subject of a debate held in the House of Lords in December 2016.

Dr Horsey is a member of the advisory committee for the Progress Educational Trust (PET), a charity that works to inform debate on assisted conception and genetics. She is also a Contributing Editor for BioNews, a free news and comment digest published by PET. More details of Dr Horsey’s work on surrogacy are available on the Surrogacy Law Reform Project website.

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Law students reflect on skills gained through international mooting

Three Kent Law students who competed in this year’s LAWASIA International Moot Competition in Tokyo have been reflecting back on the skills they gained as a result of taking part.

Maariyah Baig, Cara Hall and Keegan Adsett-Bowrin travelled to Japan in September accompanied by Kent Law School’s Deputy Director of Mooting Johanne Thompson.

Together the team was required to tackle a complex moot problem concerning the termination of a partnership agreement for a multimillion dollar jade-mining business in Myanmar. Working within the jurisdictions of Japan and Myanmar, the students had to research intellectual property law, international trade, commercial law and contract law. They were competing against 16 teams from China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cara said: ‘It was really interesting learning the law of countries (Japanese and Myanmar law) for the moot and made me realise that practicing abroad would be interesting and possible. It was exciting to work on such a massive and complex moot problem – taking part has definitely improved my confidence in my mooting ability and legal skills as well as my argument and networking skills.’

Maariyah said: ‘The moot problem challenged me to go beyond what I learned in first year and helped me to enhance my research skills. The opportunity to travel to a new country and try a different style of mooting, broadened my mind and humbled me at the same time – I discovered strengths I didn’t know I had but I also realised there’s a lot yet to learn!’

Keegan: ‘Having to learn two new legal systems with little to no pre-existing knowledge was exciting and incredibly nerve-wracking. But that is what was so great about this experience and mooting in general; we are often forced to jump into the deep end where it is sink or swim. It is this pressure that pushes us to excel and ultimately what makes us stronger advocates.’

Johanne Thompson said the competition had been invaluable in terms of the skills the students had developed: ‘They have gained an insight into an increasingly globalized world, learning different styles, cultures and approaches to legal practice. They were able to observe and perform against some of the best mooting teams from across Asia. Not only did they gain skills professionally and personally, but they were also able to forge links (via social media) with students and legal professionals globally – this in turn will improve their employability status among fellow lawyers in an increasingly competitive profession.’

The annual moot is organised by LAWASIA, an international organisation of lawyers’ associations, individual lawyers, judges and legal academics in the Asia Pacific region; the chair of its Moot Standing Committee is Kent alumnus Raphael Tay, a partner at Chooi & Company in Kualar Lumpur.

It is the third year a team from Kent have entered the competition; in 2015, final year Law LLB students Orestis Anastasiades, Elena Savvidou and Lizzie Virgo secured a top ten finish in the 10th LAWASIA International Moot Competition held in Australia; and in 2016, Melanie Lafresiere, Jas Cheema and Tom Bishop competed in the 11th LAWASIA competition held in Sri Lanka.

Kent Law School runs an intensive and wide-ranging mooting programme based in a purpose built moot room in the Wigoder Law Building; in recent years the Law School has entered teams in the: OUP/BPP Moot; English Speaking Union Moot; Jessup International Law Moot; Inner Temple inter-varsity moot; Landmark Chambers moot (property law); inter-varsity medical law moot at Leicester University; Southern Varsity Shield; and inter-varsity Mackay Cup (Canadian Law).

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New Postgraduate Seminar Series launched by Centre for Critical Thought

Kent Law School’s Centre for Critical Thought (CCT) has launched a new Postgraduate Seminar Series.

The fortnightly seminars provide an opportunity for postgraduate students from across the University (and beyond) to present their research on political, critical and theoretical questions.

The series began with a seminar on ‘Stupidity and Study in the Contemporary University’ last month by Conor Heaney from the School of Politics and International Relations at Kent. It continued this month with a seminar by Swastee Ranjan from the University of Sussex on ‘Considering Immaterialism: Revisiting Materialism for Critical Legal Engagements’.

The next seminar will be held at 2pm on Wednesday 6 December in Templeman Seminar Room 2 with a talk by Paolo Santori from the University of Rome Lumsa on ‘Gift, Trade and Common Good in Aquinas. The Dawn of Civil Economy’.

Further events in the series planned for next term include seminars led by: Kent Philosophy PhD student James William Hoctor on Wednesday 31 January; Kent Law School PhD student Gian Giacomo Fusco on Wednesday 14 February 2018; and Kent Law School PhD student Ed Fairhead on Wednesday 28 February 2018.

The CCT aims to consolidate, sustain and develop cutting-edge research on critically-oriented theory within the humanities and social sciences. Research within the CCT focuses on the nature and scope of critical thought from an intrinsically interdisciplinary perspective.

Founded on a shared interest in contemporary continental thought by staff at Kent Law School, the School of Politics and International Relations, and the School of European Culture and Languages (Italian), the CCT provides a platform for seminars, workshops and lectures that explore the frontiers of, among other disciplines, modern European philosophy, critical legal theory, political and social thought, psychoanalytic theory, theatre studies, film studies, and social anthropology.

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CeCIL talk: Prosecuting the Prime Minister over Trident

Professor Nick Grief, Kent Law School and Dean for Medway, is one of the barristers instructed by citizens groups who want to prosecute the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Defence for conspiracy to commit a war crime.

During a debate in Parliament in July 2016, when asked if she was ‘personally prepared to authorise a nuclear strike that could kill 100,000 innocent men, women and children’, the Prime Minister replied: ‘Yes. The whole point of a deterrent is that our enemies need to know that we would be prepared to use it.’

PICAT, Public Interest Cases Against Trident, involves five citizens’ groups from across the United Kingdom who claim that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence have committed a criminal offence contrary to section 51 of the International Criminal Court Act 2001 and section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977.  Their case requires the consent of the Attorney General, the chief legal adviser to the Crown, if it is to proceed.

PICAT instructed its lawyers to submit legal arguments and a draft indictment, along with supporting material, and is still awaiting the Attorney General’s decision.

The case is the subject of the first of this year’s talks organised by the Centre for Critical International Law (CeCIL), entitled: Trident and the law: will the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary be prosecuted for conspiracy to commit a war crime?

Professor Grief will discuss the legal issues and explain how people are trying to use the criminal law to hold the Prime Minister and Defence Secretary to account for threatening to use nuclear weapons.

The lecture takes place in the Friends Meeting House, 6 the Friars, Canterbury CT1 2AS on Monday 27 November at 19.00. Doors open at 18.30 with light refreshments available.

The second speaker in the CeCIL series is Dr Jastine Barrett, Kent Law School, whose talk centres on her research work on children’s rights after the genocide in Rwanda. Entitled What a difference a day makes: Child Perpetrators of Genocide in Rwanda it will be held on Monday 5 February 2018 at 19.00.

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The impact of the ‘war on drugs’ for female ‘mules’

Research by Law School Lecturer Dr Nayeli Urquiza Haas on women working as drug ‘mules’ has found they aren’t victims of their sex but of the trade, and its illegal status.

Dr Urquiza Haas compared different legal developments and strategies in Europe and Latin America.

Globally, women who traffic drugs across borders are over-represented in prison in relation to their limited role in the trade. Dr Urquiza Haas found attributing victim status to women who traffic drugs is used to minimise prison sentences if they are arrested and charged.

But she suggests this legal bias, born from pre-conceived judgments and expectations about women’s behaviour, distracts law and policy-makers from paying attention to the negative effects of punitive drug control laws and the so-called ‘war on drugs’.

Her research examined how courts fail to consider how drug mules, among other participants in the drug trade, endure precarious work conditions in foreign countries; disregarding the conditions which make them more vulnerable to exploitation.

Dr Urquiza Haas says gender does play a role but only in the same way as in any other ‘workplace’ where sexism and poverty may restrict women’s access to safe working conditions.

Dr Urquiza Haas presented her research at a workshop bringing together international researchers, activists and practitioners from the field of global drug policy reform in Budapest, Hungary, earlier this year.

Vulnerability Discourses and Drug Mule Work: Legal Approaches in Sentencing and Non-Prosecution/Non-Punishment Norms is published in a special issue of The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice dedicated to international advances in research and policy regarding drug mules and couriers.

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