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Law and Climate Justice: film screening and Q & A at global law firm Simmons and Simmons

The learning never stops in our programme, and we continuously link our students with relevant events in central London (in addition to embedding field trips to legal institutions, law courts and law firms in London as part of curricular activity). We invited our students to attend a film screening, Q & A and launch of a Legal Empowerment project at global law firm Simmons and Simmons, on October 25. We were delighted to hear that a few of them managed to attend in person, while others watched the livestream.

The event was put together by Lawyers Against Poverty (LAP), Simmons & Simmons, The Alliance for Lawyers at Risk, Action4Justice and Peace Brigades International UK. The wider project aims to bridge the gap between the climate justice and human rights movements and the international legal community, and asks the question of whether tackling climate change can be seen as a human rights issue (we asked the same question in our annual human rights lecture 2021, with the UK Judge at the European Court of Human Rights, Tim Eicke QC).

Year 3 student, Olivia Burns, who attended the event from the offices of Simmons and Simmons, explained that the event “drew a parallel between human rights and climate justice” that would be “useful to reference in work [she] will be submitting in the Human Rights Law & Clinic module this year”. Olivia added that the event “raised some interesting discussions about the realities/difficulties of enforcing human rights rulings in isolated and exploited communities – particularly when your fight is against states and powerful corporations”, and that it also “looked at our spiritual connection with land and how that may impact how ownership is viewed by indigenous communities versus the corporations trying to use the land”.

Q & A with our new Lecturer in Legal Practice, Dr Sally Adams

This academic year we appointed Dr Sally Adams as our first Lecturer in Legal Practice, Law Clinics and the SQE (to cite the full title, which shows the breadth and depth of this exciting new role).

In the Q & A below, Sally speaks about her prior experience, and reflects on her ambitions in the new role.

You’re joining the Law department as the first Lecturer in Legal Practice, with special responsibility for Law Clinics and the SQE, a particularly wide-ranging and ambitious role. Tell us a little bit about how the role appealed to you, and specific elements of your professional and research experience that you’re seeking to bring to Goldsmiths in performing this role?

I was excited by the opportunity to join Goldsmiths’ Law department.  As Goldsmiths’ law degrees have been designed from the outset with a focus on experiential learning and an eye to the SQE, the Lecturer in Legal Practice role seemed a perfect fit with both Goldsmiths’ approach and my background and interests.

Where did you work, and where did you study, before joining Goldsmiths?

For the past year, I have been a visiting lecturer at the University of Law teaching law and sociology to undergraduates.

In 2019 I completed a PhD in Law at King’s College London.  My thesis considered how immigration law regulating high-skilled migration to the UK informed and was informed by mainstream migration narratives and how, in turn, these narratives contributed to highly skilled migrants’ identity formation.

Before starting my PhD, I was a solicitor in practice. I completed my training contract at a legal aid firm in Newcastle upon Tyne and stayed with the firm post-qualification to specialise in immigration law.   I subsequently joined the Immigration Department at London firm Kingsley Napley where I worked for some ten years, initially as a solicitor and then as a partner.

The Department of Law is very passionate about connecting legal theory with legal practice. What are the key challenges and opportunities in doing that?

In my experience of legal practice, law was understood almost exclusively as an instrument or tool to be used to achieve client objectives. In the academy however this instrumental view of law is but one of many ways to conceptualise law. Nevertheless, the practice of law and academic law or legal theory are closely connected. Indeed, the links and tensions between theory and practice and the extent to which one informs the other was something that I only appreciated fully when undertaking my doctoral research.

Integrating theory and practice is challenging.  Concepts of morality for example may seem far removed from litigating a claim in negligence. However, by studying legal theory alongside aspects of practice, that is, by ‘doing’ law with reference to contemporary real-life issues, not only helps to highlight the connections and ruptures between specific laws and their theoretical underpinnings but also helps to encourage students to interrogate commonplace legal and social assumptions and practices.

What would you advise students joining Law School right now? How can they strike a good balance between pursuing academic excellence, on the one hand, and building a solid CV, demonstrating close engagement with the external world, on the other?

There is no right answer to this. We each have strengths and weaknesses, different needs and priorities and competing demands on our time. Noting that there is no single approach to studying law, I think students should understand what they most want to achieve during their time at Goldsmiths and try to allocate their time accordingly.  This should not be a one-off exercise but rather an on-going conversation between students and staff in recognition that students’ focus and aims and therefore the balance of their activities can and undoubtedly will change over time.

Year 1 LLB students participating in a debating exercise during welcome week (September 2021). The SQE2 module enables students to practice legal skills central to the examination for qualifying as a solicitor.

Goldsmiths Law takes a very proactive approach to the SQE, embedding some preparation for this radically different new examination for qualifying as a solicitor into the degree. This includes a Year 3 specialist module, SQE2 Practical Legal Skills in Context, that you’ll be leading on. Tell us about your plans for this module.

The SQE 2 module will not stand alone but will build on the substantive and practical skills that students will have already developed during their time at Goldsmiths. My aim is for the module to support students in developing some of the key skills and know-how that lawyers need to succeed in their professional lives. The module’s content and methods of assessment will be closely aligned to those of the SQE 2 itself to enable students to prepare for the real thing. The emphasis will be very much on ‘doing law’: students will practise their skills – client interviewing, legal drafting, case analysis and so on – with reference to scenarios similar to those encountered in practice.

 More broadly, what are you looking forward to the most being at Goldsmiths?

I am really looking forward to engaging with students and members of the department to both support and learn from them. Although I enjoyed teaching online last year, perhaps more than I expected, it will be good to be back in the classroom face to face.

What hobbies are you leaning into?

After 18 months of intermittent lockdowns, I am tentatively rediscovering London’s cultural riches. I have also just started a wine tasting course so hope to be able to distinguish between red and black fruit aromas by the end of the year.

Other than that, I enjoy walking – both hiking across fields with the dog and strolling around unfamiliar parts of London and other cities.

Why the Draft Online Safety Bill is cause for concern

By Aysem Diker Vanberg 

On 12 May 2021, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports published the Draft Online Safety Bill. The Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill has initiated an inquiry and called for evidence on to scrutinise it. Dr Aysem Diker Vanberg (Lecturer in Law at Goldsmiths), Dr Kim Barker, Dr Guido Noto La Diega and  Dr Ruth Flaherty have given written evidence on the proposed Draft Bill on behalf of Bileta (The British and Irish Law Education Technology Association).

In our submission, we raised concerns over the proposed Draft Online Safety Bill (OSB), both in terms of its substantive aim,but also its likely practical implications.

Scope is too broad 

First, the draft Bill is very broad in scope, and it is likely to have dire consequences on free speech. Section 46(3) of the Draft Bill defines legal but harmful content as “content having, or indirectly having, a significant adverse physical or psychological impact on an adult of ordinary sensibilities.”

This is a very vague definition and creates the danger of censoring a vast amount of content that is neither illegal nor harmful. Due to the hefty fines and other liabilities introduced in the Bill, platforms and service providers are likely to take down content without fully investigating whether it is harmful or not, overzealously to protect their own interests. This will have serious consequences for freedom of expression and on media plurality, encouraging the silencing of controversial and minority (opposition) opinions which are much needed in society.

Unprecedented powers to private companies 

Second, the draft Bill gives unprecedented powers to private companies in terms of moderating and censoring content which is neither desirable nor sustainable in the long run.

OFCOM ill-suited to regulate 

Third, the choice of OFCOM as the likely regulatory body for the proposed regime is concerning. OFCOM is sorely lacking in staffing, and the requisite expertise to competently undertake the required regulatory role in the context of online safety.

In the light of above, the provisions of the Draft Bill need to be amended to avoid ambiguity and over-censoring. Furthermore, given the need for a bespoke and nuanced approach to regulating online content, there is a need for a new regulatory body.

Welcome to Goldsmiths Law, Year 1 students!

We were delighted to welcome our new year 1 students to University last week. ‘Welcome week’ activities started with students spending a whole day with our academics and administrative staff, who introduced them to central elements of the learning and student experience at Goldsmiths Law.

The event started with a warm welcome from our Head of Department, Prof Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, who, upon congratulating the students for their success in relevant examinations, and the resilience they had shown in confronting the challenges inherent in the pandemic, spoke to them about the values that underpin the Law programme at Goldsmiths – human rights, fairness, equality, the rule of law – and attributes that the programme aspires to instil in them over the course of their degree as well as opening up to them an outstanding range of opportunities, from learning through continuous visits to legal institutions in London to engaging with experiential learning activities, clinical legal education and community-based voluntary work.

Dr Dagmar Myslinska, Dr Plamen Dinev and Mr Jean-Michel Villot spoke next, about student welfare and student support, with a focus on our dynamic personal tutoring system, examinations and progression as well as negotiating their journey into the degree through technology – what apps to download to ensure they’re up to speed with announcements and opportunities advertised by the department; how to communicate with the team; where to access their learning materials…

After a welcome lunch break where the students had a wonderful opportunity to mingle and get to know each other, the afternoon session kicked off with the Year 1 teaching team introducing their modules. Dr Alex Dymock highlighted how Criminal Law is a research led module informed by her expertise in sexual offences, offences against the person and obscenity law.

Dr Virginie Barral explained how recent political events such as the prorogation of Parliament provide exciting case studies for the study of Public Law and the Human Rights Act.

Dr Dagmar Myslinska spices up Contract Law through a Law in context approach while Dr Sheri Labenski infuses the study of the English Legal System with feminist and critical legal perspectives.

Last but not least, in 21stCentury legal skills, Dr Miranda Bevan brings her professional expertise as a barrister to ensure students learn to master legal research and writing, case analysis and advocacy in this highly practical module.

It was now time for the students to get involved, and our guest speaker, Michael Olatokun, who is a Research Leader in Citizenship and the Rule of Law, and the Head of Public and Youth Engagement, at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, gave the cohort an outstanding opportunity to discuss and reflect on what makes them passionate about studying law and a consensus quickly built on how law is such a crucial tool to drive change and bring about social justice. Michael first passionately recounted his personal story and what brought him to pursue a career as a barrister, no doubt inspiring many along the way. He then led a highly interactive session, with students involved throughout, on the importance of the right to protest as a fundamental human right.

Our new year 1 cohort can be very proud of themselves, and we certainly are! They proved highly engaged, contributing many valuable reflections on how to balance individual human rights in a proportionate way in the face of the collective needs for safety and security.’