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International study trip: visiting the ECtHR, Council of Europe and European Parliament, and Paris, in just over 48 hours

As part of our commitment to give our students a taste of legal journalism, we invite them to contribute pieces on their experience at Goldsmiths Law. Here is one on our recent visit to Strasbourg:

The Law Department’s Trip to Strasbourg to the European Court of Human Rights, Council of Europe and European Parliament

By Sophie Whitlock (Year 1, LLB)

This March, a group of 21 law students visited the European Court of Human Rights, as part of a trip to Strasbourg and Paris. Here, they had the opportunity to witness a Grand Chamber hearing of the case Ships Waste Oil Collector B.V. and Others v. the Netherlands1, as well as a presentation by ECHR Lawyer, Emily Soteriou.

The case involved the legality of the transmission of data obtained via telephone tapping by the Competition Authority of the Netherlands. Leading to the questioning of whether Articles 8 and 13 of the European Convention of Human Rights had been violated because of such interference.

Law students at the ECtHR

Soteriou’s presentation was equally enlightening, where students learnt more about how the ECHR safeguards rights, freedoms, and security. She spoke to the students about how judges are elected for each state, how an application process works, and how one can become an ECHR lawyer. She also reflected on how the ECHR is a “victim of its own success” due to the increasing workload of applications, as reflected by the 68,500 by the end of last year.

“Seeing a live European Court session was really aspiring and it was surreal to be so close to the ECHR judges”, Amran, a 1st year Law Student, commented after the visit.

The next morning, we toured and had a workshop at the Council of Europe (CoE), led by Ms Angela Garabagiu, a member of the Committee of the Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons. Ms Garabagiu explained to the students the CoE’s fundamental role in protecting human rights, promoting democracy, and applying the Rule of Law, among the 46 member states. We discussed the abolition of the death penalty, tackling the climate crisis, safeguarding democracy and the rule of law, as well as the urgent questions raised around the compatibility of the Rwanda scheme with international law and the urgency of PACE measures for the children of Ukraine.

Last, but not least, we went on a brief visit to the European Parliament and reflected on the ramifications of the UK no longer being a member of the EU.

Before getting to Strasbourg, we were also able to stop for a few hours in Paris, a surprise element added to this year’s trip, and went on a legal walk which took us to the constitutional and supreme administrative courts of France (the Conseil constitutionnel and Conseil d’État) first before visiting the breath-taking salle ovale at the National Library and even spending some free time in the majestic streets of Paris near the Louvre.

On our Eurostar back to London, with all these unique experiences in mind, I was discussing the trip with our Head of Department, Professor Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, who noted:

“To have had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a Grand Chamber hearing at the European Court of Human Rights, then obtain a holistic view of how the Court operates from within the Council of Europe, and engage with the broader mission of the latter, with a timely focus on migratory policies and human rights, while also quickly immersing in the life of the European Parliament, was nothing short of extraordinary.”

On behalf of the Law students that attended this trip, we are very grateful to have had such an experience and have gotten to know each other and the lecturers better. This is a trip which will stay with us.

The Strasbourg trip is an annual feature at Goldsmiths, where the Department of Law subsidises Eurostar tickets to and from France as well as student accommodation and means, and organises all other details of our many visits and encounters with leading professionals, so that we can be given the opportunity to learn about the ECHR, at the ECHR. Not only is this an excellent opportunity for immersive legal education, it also allows us to interact with each other and our lecturers informally.