Time to be realistic about human rights?

Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights, University of Bristol Law School

The case of Phil Shiner, struck off by the solicitors’ disciplinary panel for the attempted procurement by financial inducements of spurious abuse claims against the British army in Iraq, sadly illustrates that the ‘post-truth’ era has penetrated even the noble cause of human rights (‘Review of Iraq war cases after lawyer struck off’, Guardian, 3 February 2017).

While this episode is, of course, a grotesque aberration, myth, misinformation, misrepresentation, and intellectual tunnel vision, coupled with excessive and unsustainable demands, are, nevertheless, increasingly prevalent in the contemporary movement, and not confined to its opponents as many might suppose. This not only devalues the currency, it also stokes the scepticism towards human rights currently sweeping western states and societies. Continue reading

Unequal political rights: the case for immigrant suffrage in the UK

Dr Sean Fox, Lecturer in Urban Geography and Global Development, University of Bristol

Dr Sean Fox, Lecturer in Urban Geography and Global Development, University of Bristol

The distribution of political rights in the UK undermines the assumption of equality that underpins democratic practice, writes Sean Fox. He makes the case for extending voting rights to all legal immigrants living in the UK – whose lives are affected by government decisions as much as those who, by virtue of their citizenship, get to have a say in elections.

The vote to leave the EU was fundamentally undemocratic. Theresa May’s clear determination to plough ahead with Brexit therefore compounds an act of injustice that reveals a basic flaw at the heart of Britain’s electoral system. If this seems a provocative opening salvo for a radical cosmopolitan polemic, you may be surprised by the current distribution of voting rights in the UK.

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‘Solidari-tea’ with Helen from The Archers

Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in The Centre for Gender and Violence Research, University of Bristol.

Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in The Centre for Gender and Violence Research, University of Bristol.

Dr Emma Williamson discusses how the current storyline in The Archers raises the question of what justice means when it comes to abuse.

Social media has once again been a-twitter with discussion about The Archers.

I wrote back in April about the domestic violence and coercive control storyline and how the producers had managed to shine a light on the often hidden aspects of abuse. As the story moves this week into the Courts, the media is once again gripped by the drama, with people posting their pictures of solidari-tea with the central character, Helen. The Mail Online even ran a story with Barristers discussing the fictional case .

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Multiculturalism can foster a new kind of post-Brexit Englishness

Tariq Modood is Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy

Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy, University of Bristol

The Brexit referendum result was a shock. Especially surprising – given that the whole exercise was as a result of the divisions within the Conservative Party – was the fact that about 30% of those who voted Labour in 2015 voted Leave. It is clear that the Leave vote disproportionately consisted of those without a degree and over the age of 45. Equally over-represented in the Leave vote in England were those who say they are more English than British or only English and not British.

There is some reason to suppose that this new and rising English nationalism is anti-immigration, and even worse – given that England is a highly diverse country – anti-multiculturalist. While it is worrying that the Brexit result seems to have led to an uptick in racial abuse and harassment, there is no reason to suppose that English nationalism and multiculturalism must be opposed to each other.

To many, multiculturalism as a political idea in Britain suffered a body blow in 2001. In the shock of 9/11 terrorism and after race riots in some northern English towns, many forecastthat its days were numbered. If these blows were not fatal, multiculturalism was then surely believed to have been killed off by the 7/7 attacks in London in 2005 and the terrorism and hawkish response to it that followed. But this is far too simplistic.

And today, a multicultural identity among some ethnic minorities could help to create more of a sense of “British identity” among the English.

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Let’s Take Back Control – Or Should We?

Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law, University of Bristol

Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law, University of Bristol

During the referendum campaign on the UK’s membership of the European Union, arguments focusing on democracy have tended to be the preserve of those advocating for a Brexit. The rallying cry to “take back control” of “our” laws and borders, has become Vote Leave’s mantra.

There is some force behind this message. There is no doubt that EU membership entails costs, and by joining the EU, states agree to be bound by EU treaties. Both the treaties and EU legislation – typically adopted in the form of regulations or directives – are supreme over national law.

This hierarchy is applied by national courts, who, across Europe, have found creative ways of ensuring that they give full effect to EU law. The House of Lords and Supreme Court have consistently held that where UK law conflicts with provisions of the EU treaties, it cannot be applied – though the UK courts are at pains to emphasise the qualified nature of the primacy of EU law.

The EU treaties also give the EU legislature a broad competence to act. For example, the EU has created an internal market in Europe and has imposed a range of social and environmental standards on its member states.

In addition, the judicial arm of the EU – the European Court of Justice – has held that a number of national rules breach EU law. This has had a significant influence on the regulatory landscape in the member states, such as strengthening equal pay laws.

So there is no doubt that EU law creates constraints which affect the ability of the member states to control their laws – and that Brexit would indeed enable the UK to take back some control. But, when we examine the way in which these constraints are imposed and consider the alternatives, the leave campaign’s case begins to take on a different hue.

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Some thoughts on European and national non-discrimination law and Brexit

Dr Jule Mulder, Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

Dr Jule Mulder, Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

European non-discrimination law is a great example of how legal ideas travel around the globe and are modified and improved in the process.

As well demonstrated by Fredman[1]and Schiek,[2] non-discrimination law did not originate in Europe nor can the European influence be negated.

For example, the concept of indirect discrimination can be traced back to international law and was also pioneered in the US case of Griggs v Duke Power,[3] which challenged under the Civil Rights Act 1964 employment practices that required High School diplomas in order to access specific jobs.

This US legal development then inspired European Common Law jurisdictions—most notably the UK—to incorporate similar concepts in their national law (see e.g. Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Race Relations Act 1976), and the concept of indirect discrimination finally reached the EU in the early 1980s when the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) explicitly referred to the Griggs in its Jenkins Judgment,[4] a case which also originated in the UK.

However, this initial influence from the UK and other common law jurisdictions did not halt in this development. Rather, what started as a relatively insignificant equal pay provision in the Treaty of Rome (Article 119 EEC) and a political compromise between Germany and France,[5]has developed into a large equality framework protecting the characteristics of sex, race and ethnic origin, religion and belief, age, disability, and sexual orientation (e.g. Directives 2000/43, 2000/78 and 2006/64) and goes beyond employment discrimination by also tackling sex and race discrimination within the access to and supply of goods and services (Directives 2000/43 and 2000/113).

The 2000 directives expanding the personal scope of EU non-discrimination law were particularly affected by Anglo-Dutch intellectual thought and influence,[6] as jurisdictions that had most significant experience with non-discrimination law covering a wide number of protected characteristics. These new directives, alongside the CJEU interpretation of all the directives and equal pay provision (now Article 157 TFEU), then in turn influenced the law of the Member States including the UK legal framework.

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Amendment to earlier blog post: Are the Conservatives ‘now the Party of Work’? The Trade Union Bill suggests not…

Professor Michael Ford QC joined the Bristol law School in 2015 and specialises in labour law, human rights and public law.

Professor Michael Ford QC joined the Bristol law School in 2015 and specialises in labour law, human rights and public law.

Tonia Novitz is Professor of Labour Law, specialising in labour law, international trade and human rights.

Tonia Novitz is Professor of Labour Law, specialising in labour law, international trade and human rights.

Since Tonia and Michael’s last blog of 12 October 2015, the Government has now abandoned proposed restrictions on unions’ freedom of protest away from the workplace, probably because even the police did not identify a problem with the existing legal framework (see the response to consultation). But the government still wishes to amend the Code of Practice on picketing to cover e.g. intimidation on the picket line and the ‘responsible’ use of social media in strikes, with uncertain legal effect. No wonder the Trade Union Bill has been opposed not only by trade unions, such as Unison and Unite, but also by human rights NGOs. See for example the Joint Statement by Liberty, the British Institute of Human Rights, and Amnesty International.

The original blog follows.

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Are Conservatives ‘now the party of work’? The Trade Union Bill suggests not…

 

Professor Michael Ford QC joined the Bristol law School in 2015 and specialises in labour law, human rights and public law.

Professor Michael Ford QC joined the Bristol law School in 2015 and specialises in labour law, human rights and public law.

Tonia Novitz is Professor of Labour Law, specialising in labour law, international trade and human rights.

Tonia Novitz is Professor of Labour Law, specialising in labour law, international trade and human rights.

On 5 October 2015, George Osborne declared that the Conservative are ‘now the party of work, the only true party of labour’. The Trade Union Bill presented to Parliament in July 2015 demonstrates the hollowness of this claim. This proposed legislation has had little attention from the media but promises to place alarming restrictions on the rights of workers and their trade unions, probably in anticipation of deep budgetary cuts affecting the public sector which are, of course, likely to generate protest…

The measures in the Bill include: changes to the already very strict balloting requirements on strikes; new restrictions on peaceful picketing; new rules on the political activity of trade unions; restrictions on trade unions’ facility time in the public sector (with check off also in the Government’s sights); and greater controls on trade unions by the Certification Office. At the same time, the Government has published draft regulations allowing employers to hire agency workers as strike-breakers, and proposes further restrictions on protests organised by trade unions.

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‘Made in China’ vs. ‘made in the EU’: what’s the difference?

Dr Rutvica Andrijasevic, Senior Lecturer in Management

Dr Rutvica Andrijasevic,
Senior Lecturer in Management, University of Bristol

Foxconn, a Taiwanese-owned firm best known for being the main assembler of Apple products and for harsh working conditions at its Chinese factories, is the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer. While Foxconn also operates in Europe, it is from its factories in mainland China that we hear of militarised disciplinary regime, excessive and unpaid overtime, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions and forced student labour.

Just how different is the situation in Europe? I set out to answer this question three years ago along with my colleague Devi Sacchetto from the University of Padua. We conducted 63 interviews in the Czech Republic and 29 in Turkey with current and former Foxconn workers and managers, trade union representatives, government officials and NGOs.

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Refugee crisis: Ten practical ways to help

How can we respond to the refugee crisis? Ten practical ways.

Dr Naomi Millner is a lecturer in human geography at the University of Bristol. She is also part of Bristol Hospitality Network - an organisation which helps support and house refugees.

Dr Naomi Millner is a lecturer in human geography at the University of Bristol. She is also part of Bristol Hospitality Network – an organisation which helps support and house refugees.

In the past couple of weeks, an issue that has long been an issue has hit a ‘tipping point’ in terms of public awareness. It’s strange when this happens. Suddenly the language of ‘crisis’ proliferates. Suddenly everyone wants to know what they can do to help. Historically, it’s often been images of suffering children that either provoke such tipping points, or channel them to a wider audience.

Perhaps it is the powerlessness of a baby in the face of indifferent natural or political forces that brings this rise out of us. Or perhaps it makes a far-off struggle suddenly feel very near.

Personally, I find it problematic that, first, we are (almost) only moved to action by such images and second, that the action we are moved to is largely motivated by pity or sympathy. I wish we were as easily moved by the struggle or suffering of any person. Still more, sympathy can unwittingly depoliticise what are extremely political situations. If I feel sorry for you and want to help you, I am largely ignoring the fact that I have, and am, part of creating this situation that you are in. Better to be angry, outraged, repentant, about it.

Perhaps it would be better if, for once in our long history, we actually did nothing. But we still want to act. It’s also true that systems, attitudes and policies need to change, if people seeking liveable lives are to be able to do this within our current world. So what will we do? How can we respond?

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