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Liberty’s Martha Spurrier to LLB class: “We must keep the Human Rights Act intact”

Martha Spurrier to Goldsmiths’ LLB Law students: “Rules affecting our human rights can sometimes be unfair and the law inadequate. You must be prepared to challenge unfair rules and campaign for their change”

In line with our approach of teaching Law in its socio-political context and exposing students to key players in the legal and political process, we had the great pleasure of hosting Martha Spurrier in the Year 1 ‘Public Law and the Human Rights Act’ module, coordinated by Goldsmiths’ Dr Virginie Barral.

Martha was appointed earlier this year Visiting Professor in Law at Goldsmiths. She is the Director of the UK’s leading human rights NGO Liberty and a human rights lawyer specialising in questions of access to justice, freedom of expression, children and women’s rights, and the rights of prisoners and immigration detainees.

In her lecture, Martha discussed how the Human Rights Act had changed the way civil servants and judges make decisions on a day to day basis, noting that a remarkable undocumented impact of the Act has been on the way public servants have integrated the concepts of rights in the way they interact with people.

Confronting students with current debates about updating the Human Rights Act (in line with the Conservative government’s 2019 election manifesto), Martha brought to light the inadequacy of the common law to protect fundamental rights effectively and insisted on the importance of keeping the Human Rights Act intact.

She also pointed out that rules can sometimes be unfair and the law inadequate. She encouraged students to be prepared to challenge unfair rules and campaign for their change.

Martha also deplored the lack of attention and interest paid in the UK to economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to food, shelter, or health whilst the financial crisis and deepening socio-economic inequalities have brought these in sharp relief with more families unable to feed themselves decently. She called for more radical thinking about socio-economic rights and drew from the work of Andrew Fagan to show that poverty and destitution often mean lack of access to civil and political rights. A higher level of protection of socio-economic rights was thus necessary to ensure fuller civil and political rights protection.

Martha predicted that alongside the climate crisis, which raises obvious fundamental rights questions, the future direction of rights protection and campaigning in the UK will focus on socio-economic rights and that Liberty was certainly thinking very hard about this.

We are delighted with Martha’s appointment as a Visiting Professor in Law at Goldsmiths, and are very excited to be working with her and Liberty, in our attempt to confront our students with major socio-political and economic challenges that we’re facing in the UK today.

Mock murder trial at the RCJ: defendant “guilty” and “sentenced to life imprisonment”

LLB Law cohort at the Royal Courts of Justice (January 2020)

29 January 2020

Goldsmiths Law students in Year 1 of the LLB Law programme took part in a mock murder trial at the Royal Courts of Justice today, during the second RCJ visit of the LLB Law cohort this year.

The mock trial concerned a joint enterprise murder case. Students undertook the roles of judge, barristers, witnesses, clerk and jury, and were provided with background to the case and scripts to work from.

With a little prompting from the National Justice Museum facilitator, mock barristers questioned and cross-examined eight witnesses to establish the chain of events that led to the killing, the relationship between co-defendants and victim, and the specifics of the crime scene.

Jurors were provided with evidence of CCTV footage of the co-defendants fleeing the scene, and were asked to assess witness testimony on the basis of whether it helped establish whether the offence of murder had been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The defendant was found guilty by the jury and was duly sentenced to life imprisonment.

The study visit and mock trial were part of the ‘English Legal System in a Global Context’ Year 1 module which introduces students to key legal institutions and concepts, and to relevant institutional parties and practice. Goldsmiths Law’s Dr Alex Dymock offered guidance to the students during the trial.

We are thankful to the National Justice Museum, for coordinating the mock trial and study visit, and our continued collaboration.

Counsel to the Joint Committee on Human Rights teaches Public Law class, on Parliament’s relationship with human rights

Eleanor Hourigan

In line with Goldsmiths Law’s continuous effort to teach Law in its socio-political context, exposing students to key players in the legal and political process, the department had the great pleasure of hosting Eleanor Hourigan in the “Public Law and the Human Rights Act” module in Year 1 of the LLB Law programme, coordinated by Dr Virginie Barral.

Eleanor is counsel to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, which scrutinises every Government Bill for its compatibility with human rights, including the rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) protected in UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998, common law fundamental rights and liberties and the human rights contained in other international obligations of the UK.

In her guest lecture, Eleanor discussed the role that Parliament has in respecting and enforcing human rights in the UK, with a focus on the work of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.  She asked students to consider the extent to which UK legislation has to comply with domestic and international human rights and how Parliament can ensure this is the case.

Confronting students with the historic debate on the potential creation of a UK Bill of Rights or wider effort to update the Human Rights Act and review existing constitutional structures underpinning and defining the government’s human rights obligations (in line with the Conservative government’s 2019 election manifesto), Eleanor also asked whether there is an “ownership” issue in the UK with human rights due to the method of drafting of the Human Rights Act compared to other State’s Bills of Rights.

Eleanor was previously the Deputy Permanent Representative and Legal Adviser at the UK Delegation to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg (2016-2018), representing the UK in Council of Europe negotiations concerning justice matters and human rights matters – including the “DH” (Droits de l’Homme) meetings on the execution of ECtHR judgments.

In term I in Public Law and the Human Rights Act, students had another fascinating encounter with legal practice in Parliament, when the Counsel for Domestic Legislation, Daniel Greenberg, delivered a lecture on drafting legislation in the House of Commons.

LLB Law students gain invaluable work experience in North London commercial set

Students on placement

Year 1 LLB Law students, Larah Otoo and Henry Norman, have just returned from a short placement with Darlingtons Solicitors LLP, a dynamic commercial set in North London.

The students had written the two essays in the 21st Century Legal Skills module – about modern legal practice in solicitor firms – which were awarded the placements.

LLB Law student Henry Norman, doing work for the Property department

Henry worked with the property team, dealing with Land registry and HMRC, and the Litigation team, where his tasks included looking at commercial property underleases and agreements to lease, going through a leasehold checklist and extracting a ‘break clause’, a ‘Rent Review clause’ and an ‘LTA 1954 s24-28 exemption clause’, with the purpose of inserting them into a new lease for a commercial property; the lease was sent out to the client and Henry received thanks for his hard-work.

In reflecting on the short placement experience that he hugely enjoyed, Henry said:

“Having worked at Darlingtons for the past week; being immersed into the community life of a small law firm, where everyone knows everyone, where people walk between floors to ask the advice of their colleagues, where everyone works to the betterment of themselves and those around them for the common goal of furthering their career but also representing the firm they work so tirelessly for; I am so intrigued by the thought of, upon completion of the remainder of my degree, working in a firm like Darlingtons, a small family-like firm, where despite the stress of clients and other firms, you still get up every day to do better, and be the best lawyer you can be”.

Larah Otoo, on placement at Darlingtons

Larah Otoo said:

“My week at Darlingtons has been an enriching and unforgettable experience. The environment of the firm was close-knit and supportive, which was immediately evident from the moment I arrived. All members of staff were willing to spend time with me answering any questions and giving great advice which allowed me to feel like part of the community.

I learnt so much in my week there from spending time in the property department and litigation department, as well as reading a variety of cases relating to employment law and settlements. A highlight would include drafting a contract for a client which allowed me to apply knowledge I have learnt in the Contract Law module.

This placement has allowed me to gain an accurate representation of what working in the world of law is like and the positive experience has encouraged me to pursue a career as a solicitor in the future.”

Craig Sharpe, business development manager at Darlingtons, praised the students for their open mindedness and eagerness to learn: “both demonstrated a very mature approach, willingness and openness which are key traits of modern lawyers; and were credit to themselves and to Goldsmiths”.

Goldsmiths Law offers its students a wide range of opportunities to gain professional insights and is appreciative of the collaborations, such as with Darlingtons Solicitors LLP, that enable this.