Twitter Bitcoin Scam

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By Henry Hillman, Lecturer in Law at UWE Bristol.

On 15 July 2020, numerous high profile Twitter users’ accounts were hijacked to display messages promising to return double the Bitcoin sent to a published Bitcoin address. Compromised accounts included Barack Obama, Elon Musk, and Kim Kardashian,[1] as well as accounts linked to high profile cryptocurrency service providers such as Coindesk and Binance.[2] The nature of the compromised accounts meant that the incident very quickly became headline news, and Twitter acknowledged the issue publicly through its CEO[3] and support pages.[4] Needless to say, nobody who sent the Bitcoins to the scam address received any Bitcoins in return. Responsibility for the attack has been claimed by ‘Cryptoforhealth’ which was registered on Instagram at the same time as the scam tweets. The account posted a statement claiming the attack was for charity and that the “money will find its way to the right place.”[5]

As further details have emerged, Twitter has revealed that 130 accounts were targeted, 45 had their passwords reset, and the account information for 8 accounts was downloaded.[6] While the identities of the compromised accounts is clear from the accounts the scam address was tweeted from, it is not known whose data has been downloaded. Twitter has stated that no ‘verified’ accounts have had their data downloaded, meaning no account with the blue tick, assigned to high profile assure the account is genuine,[7] and, understandably, Twitter will not reveal any further details on who has had their data downloaded.

The claims purporting the charitable nature of the attack cannot be corroborated, and the real identity of the perpetrators is still not known. The ‘CryptoForHealth.com’ domain name was created on 15 July,[8] the same day of the scam tweets, using a fake address and phone number.[9]  The name ‘Anthony Elias’ was used to register the website, but no genuine identity can be traced.[10]

How?

The exact methods employed by the perpetrators of the scam will likely never be known, as it is not likely an organisation would want to provide the details of how to breach its security, for fear of similar attacks. Twitter has been relatively open in recognising the security breach so quickly, and providing a public update on 18 July 2020 stating that “attackers targeted certain Twitter employees through a social engineering scheme.”[11] Social engineering is a broad term, which refers to obtaining sensitive information from an individual or group of people in possession of the information, or with access to it.[12] This could be as simple as phishing, or more complex by duping an individual using other relevant information to gain trust. Twitter state that the “attackers successfully manipulated a small number of employees and used their credentials to access Twitter’s internal systems,”[13] in order to post tweets from high profile accounts. Given the number of affected accounts, and the complexity of two-factor authentication,[14] it is likely to have been a complex operation, but it cannot be ruled out that the perpetrators were the benefactors of a slice of good fortune in obtaining their ‘all access pass’ to twitter accounts.

Analysis

While such a scam has not made headline news before, the nature of it has many similarities to previous scams, both in Bitcoin and wider internet scams. There are issues with the term hacking, the simplicity of the scam proposition, and the behaviour of the Bitcoin address in the scam being similar to that of ransomware attacks, such as Wannacry.

While a technical point, it should be acknowledged that this is not a hack, Twitter’s security infrastructure was not breached due to a weakness exploited by the attackers. The reason the attackers were able to post tweets from compromised accounts was due to human error, if Twitter’s statements are to be believed.

The scam was a very simple one, which relied upon the fame of the account holders, and the influence they may have on their followers, to provide veracity to the address and encourage victims to send Bitcoins. If the aim was to make money then the tactics used once the attackers had access appear unsophisticated. The premise should not cause many to believe they will get their sent Bitcoins doubled, and only 12.8652 Bitcoins were sent to the address, equating to around £94,000 based on the value of Bitcoin around the time of the attack. The simplicity of the tweets may be why only 44 incoming transactions can be seen for the Bitcoin address published.[15] The second way in which the attack was crude was in the victim twitter accounts chosen, and the tweets being posted in short order. By selecting high profile victims, and tweeting from all of their accounts on the same day, the attackers were always going to be detected quickly. The attackers would have been naïve in the extreme not to realise their attack would be detected very quickly, this has led to the attack being described as a “smash and grab” exercise.[16] The crudeness of the tactics suggest acquiring Bitcoins could have been a secondary aim for the attack, with publicity being the main goal.

The behaviour of the Bitcoin address published in the tweets follows a predictable path. The Bitcoins received were not kept in the address for very long, quickly being moved to various addresses, which in turn moved the Bitcoins on again. With patience the Bitcoins can be traced, as distributed ledger technology means all transactions are published on the blockchain, but the owners of the addresses remain unknown. These practices are similar to those employed by ransomware attackers once the ransoms are paid to their respective addresses. The biggest weakness from publishing a criminal Bitcoin address is that investigators have a starting point from which to follow transactions. This issue can be addressed by using ‘mixer’ services. These services allow users to disguise which addresses Bitcoins are being sent to by completing the transaction as part of a group of transactions. Bitcoin transactions can have numerous input address and numerous output addresses, a mixer service will gather large numbers of inputs and send them all in one transaction to the outputs, but it will not be possible for investigators to know which senders correlate to which recipients.

Conclusions

This incident will fade out of the public consciousness very quickly, and it is unlikely the full details of how the attack was conducted will ever be made public. It is also unlikely that any Bitcoins sent to the scam address will be retrieved, and equally unlikely that the attack was a charitable one. For investigators, it provides an opportunity to view the behaviour of the attackers and it also serves as a very public lesson in basic financial intelligence; do not send your money to random locations on the internet, and if a deal sounds too good to be true, in invariably is.


[1] BBC News, ‘Major US Twitter accounts hacked in Bitcoin scam’ (16 July 2020) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53425822> accessed 20 July 2020.

[2] Cameron Winklevoss, ‘Twitter Status’ (Twitter, 21:18 BST 15 July 2020) <https://twitter.com/winklevoss/status/1283493640287989760?s=20> accessed 20 July 2020.

[3] Jack Dorsey, ‘Thread’ (Twitter, 02:18 BST 16 July 2020) <https://twitter.com/jack/status/1283571658339397632?s=20> accessed 20 July 2020.

[4] Twitter Support, ‘Thread’ (22:45 15 July 2020) <https://twitter.com/TwitterSupport/status/1283518038445223936?s=20> accessed 20 July 2020.

[5] BBC News, ‘Twitter hack: FBI investigates major Twitter attack’ (17 July 2020) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53439585> accessed 21 July 2020.

[6] Twitter, ‘An update on our security incident’ (18 July 2020) <https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/an-update-on-our-security-incident.html> accessed 20 July 2020.

[7] Twitter, ‘About verified accounts’ <https://help.twitter.com/en/managing-your-account/about-twitter-verified-accounts> accessed 20 July 2020.

[8] Whois Domain Tools, ‘Whois Record for CryptoForHealth.com’ (created 15 July 2020, last updated 21 July 2020) <https://whois.domaintools.com/cryptoforhealth.com> accessed 21 July 2020.

[9] Samuel Haig, ‘Who Owns the ‘CryptoForHealth’ Domain Behind the Twitter Hacks?’ (CoinTelegraph, 16 July 2020) <https://cointelegraph.com/news/who-owns-the-cryptoforhealth-domain-behind-the-twitter-hacks> accessed 21 July 2020

[10] BBC News, ‘Twitter hack: FBI investigates major Twitter attack’ (17 July 2020) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53439585> accessed 21 July 2020.

[11] Twitter, ‘An update on our security incident’ (18 July 2020) <https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/an-update-on-our-security-incident.html> accessed 20 July 2020.

[12] F. Mouton, L. Leenen, and H.S. Venter, ‘Social engineering attack examples, templates and scenarios’ (2016) 59 Computers & Security 186 at p187.

[13] Twitter, ‘An update on our security incident’ (18 July 2020) <https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/an-update-on-our-security-incident.html> accessed 20 July 2020.

[14] Twitter, ‘How to use two-factor authentication’ <https://help.twitter.com/en/managing-your-account/two-factor-authentication> accessed 20 July 2020.

[15] BitInfoCharts, ‘Bitcoin Address bc1qxy2kgdygjrsqtzq2n0yrf2493p83kkfjhx0wlh’  <https://bitinfocharts.com/bitcoin/address/bc1qxy2kgdygjrsqtzq2n0yrf2493p83kkfjhx0wlh> accessed 21 July 2020.

[16] Joe Tidy, ‘Major US Twitter accounts hacked in Bitcoin scam’ (BBC News, 16July 2020) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53425822> accessed 21 July 2020.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

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By Professor Nicholas Ryder, Head of Research, Global Crime, Justice and Security Research Group

In its 2018 Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) of the United Kingdom’s (UK) level of compliance with its Recommendations, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) concluded that the UK’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regimes were “effective”. In order to implement the FATF Recommendations and achieve this unprecedented endorsement, the UK has adopted an aggressive and, at times, holistic strategy towards tackling financial crime. For example, the UK Government has published two National Risk Assessments (NRA), one in 2015 and the second in 2017. These were followed by the publication of the Economic Crime Plan, which outlined seven strategic priorities and 52 action points. Collectively, these measures have gone some way to address the shortfalls identified in the FATF 2007-2008 MER and they have contributed towards the highest rating ever provided by the FATF. 

In particular, the MER praised the aggressive stance towards investigating and prosecuting money laundering cases, the adoption of Unexplained Wealth Orders, how the UK disrupts terrorism financing, preventing the misuse of companies and trusts and how it works with its international partners. John Glen, Economic Secretary to the Treasury and City Minister said, “I am incredibly proud that today’s report confirms that the UK has one of the strongest regimes in the world for deterring these criminals”. Ben Wallace, Minister for Security and Economic Crime said, “I’m delighted with today’s report which shows our efforts are being recognised, and sends a strong message to criminals that we will come for them, their assets and their money”. However, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) stated that “in PR terms at least, the government’s efforts [to tackle financial crime] seem to have paid off, with the UK receiving the highest aggregate scorings under the revised FATF evaluation methodology to date”.  RUSI added that “the UK has achieved top-of-the-class marks from the FATF – government officials will be both surprised and relieved.  However, the fact that the UK remains central to global money laundering schemes brings into question the relevance of this evaluation”. 

These sixth leaked published by the ICIJ since 2012/2013 (Offshore leaks; Luxembourg, Swiss, Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers), alleges that HSBC, JP Morgan, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and Standard Chartered were involved in a variety of related transactions. The FinCEN leaked reports suggest several of the world’s largest banks allowed criminals to move approximately $2tn via illegal financial transactions. The report also suggests that the UK is a ‘higher risk jurisdiction’ and compared to Cyprus. This is due to the number of UK registered companies (over 3,000 according to the BBC) that appears in the suspicious activity reports submitted to FinCEN. If the leaked reports are accurate, they represent a significant blow to the UK’s efforts to tackle financial crime, especially since the ‘glowing’ end of term report from the FATF. The leaked report tells us that despite the rhetoric from the UK government that very little has changed in how the global financial operates.

In the short-term, ‘profound apologies’ will follow, there will be condemnation, the accused financial institutions will receive the customary bad media coverage and share prices will be affected. Financial regulatory agencies will insist that the financial sector improves its levels of compliance, and fines could follow. Prosecutions? Unlikely if previous efforts are anything to go by. In the long term, nothing will change, it never changes.

Superfast Scout software could put more cyber criminals into jail

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Experts at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are working with a technology company to develop software that is set to drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to identify financial crime. The two-year project, which is co-funded by the UK’s Innovation agency, Innovate UK, could help tackle money laundering and financing of criminal activities, as well as potentially lead to more convictions.

UWE Bristol’s Professor Nicholas Ryder, an expert in financial crime, Dr Phil Legg, who specialises in cybersecurity, and Henry Hillman (cryptocurrency) are working with the team at Synalogik, an SME based in Tewkesbury that develops systems that automate intelligence-gathering and investigation.

Together they are developing Scout™, a system that can detect suspicious online money transfer activity extremely fast and therefore potentially save hours of laborious police work. The program locates financial activity that could be fraudulent, scores it in terms of risk, and does all this in minutes rather than the hours or even days it could take police analysts to sift through data.

The subsequent effect is creating an environment where investigators or analysts have more capacity to conduct immediate lines of enquiries and are significantly more productive than when operating previous obsolete criminal investigation procedures manually.

Professor Ryder said: “This is an exciting project to be involved in and is ground breaking when it comes to tackling activist financing as it will massively speed things up and will therefore save valuable time in tracking down criminals or activists. It has never been done before in this way and the quicker the intelligence comes through, the better.”

He explained that previously it was compulsory for financial institutions to provide data around potentially fraudulent activity to the National Crime Agency (NCA) and this could cause delay in identifying cyber criminals because, in many cases, these were false leads.

“One of the major problems of reporting allegations of financial crime has been that financial institutions have been obligated to report it. That system is flawed because people feel they have to report allegations of money laundering, even when there is no evidence. This has led to too much reporting that’s not necessarily accurate,” said Professor Ryder.

Scott Coughtrie, who is Head of Strategic Operations at Synalogik, said: “Our innovative software is disruptive because the operational capabilities and applications in the differing investigative sectors in which Scout is deployed provide real time investigation and live analysis opportunities which never existed until very recently.”

“The expertise provided by UWE Bristol’s Research and Global Crime, Justice and Security Research Group is essential to understanding criminal methodology, processes, operational practices and patterns of behaviour to enable a complete insight into the risk associated with criminal activity and how we predict, identify, prevent and, in the cases of prosecution, evidence all material and actions.”

Innovate UK drives productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of new ideas. Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation. For more information visit www.innovateuk.ukri.org

Case study: UWE Bristol Law Alumni

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My name is Miriam C Nkomalago, a UWE Bristol alumni from the graduate year of 2018. I transferred to UWE Bristol in my last year of LLB from HELP University, Malaysia, through the UK Law Degree Transfer Program offered at HELP University.

Moving and studying at UWE Bristol was very life changing for me. I enjoyed the hospitality shown to me by my flat mates at the Hollies, where a lot of good memories were created with them.  The career fairs hosted by the University enabled me to network with individuals creating great impact in their communities and helped me get a volunteer opportunity at Nilaari Agency.

Nilaari was home to me. Everyone was keen to help me learn about their work and participate in their decision meetings and events. Through Nilaari, I was able to learn a lot about their efforts in dealing with mental health in Bristol and the whole of UK. I was able to understand the harsh living conditions and the impact it has on the mental health of the immigrants and people in BAME communities. My time at UWE gave me the chance to explore a leadership position as the Vice President of the East African Society. This position taught me about the different personalities and characters we associate with and how to communicate and cooperate with one another positively.

Another thing that made my time at UWE worthwhile was the 24 hour access to the library facilities at Frenchay campus. I never liked studying or working in the library because I preferred my own space; but when I moved to UWE, a lot of my work was done in the library because of the options like the ‘silent floor’ which was rarely fully occupied and there were no distractions when working.

Once I returned back home, I founded a legal database for law students and lawyers in Tanzania, Lex Scripta. The platform provides vital legal resources to legal scholars and practitioners in Tanzania. It currently provides access to cases, Acts and student written articles for free. Moreover, I work closely with law students by teaching them ways to navigate through law school and other practical skills they need in order to catch up with the changes of the legal field.

I am a strong believer that an individual’s personal development and career growth can be positively enhanced through the accessibility and affordability of the right studying and working resources. With this platform, I get to work closely with law students and lawyers in my country by enhancing their research and practical skills through short online sessions and workshops.  In the short period of working with them, students have reached out to me with positive feedback that Lex Scripta has been of help in their studies by being able to research and access case laws, having ease in attempting and answering exam questions because they now understand what answers to give the examiner and more. So far, I already see myself creating the difference I envisioned for Lex Scripta and I am looking forward to reaching out and helping more law students and lawyers.

To stay in touch with UWE Bristol and access news and benefits for alumni, visit our Stay Connected web page.

Pre-trial detention decision-making during the COVID-19 crisis: the urgent need for open justice

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In April 2020, Tom Smith, Senior Lecturer in Law at UWE Bristol, published a short article for criminal justice NGO Fair Trials, discussing the use of pre-trial detention during the Covid-19 emergency. The full post was written by Tom Smith and was first published on the Fair Trials website.

Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has the majority of the world confined to their homes on lockdown, vital public services – most visibly healthcare – continue to operate in very difficult and risky circumstances. The criminal justice system is one such public service. Whilst most jurisdictions have made significant changes to their working practices in response to the pandemic, work must continue to ensure that justice is delivered fairly and effectively. An essential element of doing so is ensuring justice is seen to be done; this principle of open justice is crucial to a fair and effective justice system, but is currently under threat. In England and Wales (E&W), this is particularly so in relation to cases involving pre-trial detention (PTD), which are, at present, the main work of the criminal courts. The vast majority of cases deemed non-vital are currently not being heard, most notably in magistrates courts (in which all cases start and most cases conclude). HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), which has been publishing daily operational updates, identifies ‘overnight custody cases from police stations’, ‘productions from prisons’, and ‘applications to extend custody time limits’ as the only work currently being conducted by the Crown Prosecution Service (which prosecutes most criminal cases). All involve PTD. Overnight custody cases are, in effect, the first appearance at court of someone charged with an offence. If detained by the police after charge, this must happen the next working day. Productions from prisons will also normally relate to a relevant time limit on PTD, such as the requirement for a defendant to be returned to court within 8 clear days after their first detention. Custody Time Limits (CTLs) apply to all cases involving PTD, and vary depending on the seriousness of the charge. If the limit expires, the defendant must be released on bail – hence the need to return them to court to extend a limit (which courts have the power to do). Other work is identified as continuing in magistrates courts, but the above will be the main case load currently being dealt with – and all involve, exclusively, PTD decision making. 

This is important for several reasons. There are no new jury trials; the Crown Court (the higher criminal trial court) will only cover urgent work. The senior courts, such as the Court of Appeal (which cover a fraction of the cases dealt with in trial courts) are similar. Therefore, dealing with PTD decisions are and will represent the primary day-to-day activity of the criminal courts system as a whole for the foreseeable future. This makes sense in the current situation, but raises questions about pre-existing issues related to PTD. For example, concerns have been raised about the brevity of PTD decision-making, lasting on average a few minutes. Set against a general atmosphere of ‘urgency’ both outside of and within the courts, this may be exacerbated. Similarly, previous concerns about limited reasoning for PTD decisions may be affected by the desire to work swiftly in the current circumstances. Both of the above may also be impacted by the now pervasive use of video link technology (VLT) to avoid the attendance of all parties at court. This is clearly justifiable for public health reasons and the safety of all involved; but this has also been implemented very quickly. VLT has been criticised in the past for not facilitating proceedings adequately in terms of quality, reliability and engagement of all parties involved (particularly defendants). In terms of speed and reasoning, one would hope that more time would be taken over VLT to ensure decisions are thorough and clear. But it might be argued that technology tends to enable and encourage us to do things more quickly. There is a risk this could deepen the problems above. 

The same might be said of disclosure of information and evidence in advance of PTD hearings. Defendants and their lawyers have previously reported consistently failing to be given full information prior to consultation and representation before a court on PTD matters. Lawyers would often receive such information shortly before or even during hearings, sometimes by physically being shown material in court. This may be even more problematic in the current circumstances if none of the parties are actually present in the same room. One must wonder whether remote conduct of PTD hearings will help or hinder defence lawyers in this regard; after all, sharing of evidence prior to the pandemic was done entirely electronically, and yet has consistently been a problem. It is also worth noting that it appears that most PTD decision making in the courts is currently being made by District Judges (DJs, professional judges) rather than a bench of lay magistrates (ordinary, legally untrained citizens). Previous research  has suggested distinct modes of practice depending on the decision-maker, with DJs tending to be quicker, but better in terms of reasoning. Some research has also shown a tendency of DJs to be more willing to detain defendants, though this has varied. Again, this factor could have some impact on PTD decision-making over the coming months. 

Aside from aggravating existing problems in PTD practice, the current situation creates new issues. It has been pointed out by many that it is imperative to reduce the use of detention generally (including PTD) for public health reasons. Keeping defendants out of custody where possible and lawful should be a priority. As such, decisions need to be well considered and not relapse into habitual ways of approaching cases. Previous research has shown PTD practice stubbornly resistant to change in many respects (with some exceptions); we must therefore hope that the long-term issues highlighted above do not restrict this important need to think differently about detention in light of Covid-19. It is hard to say how much of a problem the issues above will be; these suggestions are purely speculative, but that is for good reason. At present, in E&W, it is almost impossible for a researcher or the public to observe PTD decision-making in the courts: they are effectively inaccessible. HMCTS has announced ‘a range of measures to support the principle of open justice’, including: 

  1. access to open hearings if a public gallery is available 
  2. remote access for a third party 
  3. transcripts (if available) for any party or interested person 
  4. audio recording which can be listened to in a court building 
  5. notes of a hearing to be made available on request 
  6. access for accredited media  

On paper, this looks to be a good range of access to PTD decision making in the current difficult circumstances. In reality, they are arguably unfeasible. Numbers 1 and 4 are almost impossible in light of strong guidance to the public not to leave home unless it is essential. Number 2 will, effectively, depend on the goodwill and engagement of particular court staff to facilitate such access. Transcripts may not, in fact, be made and if requested, will depend on definitions such as ‘interested party’. Number 5 may not provide useful information to an observer since notes will not necessarily be comprehensive or reflect their interests. It is also worth noting that for none of the above is further information available on how one might pursue these routes of access. 

Number 6 is the only route that appears to be currently operational, but only to some extent. Some journalists have reported good access to proceedings via remote links. For example, Tristan Cork of the London Evening Standard reported on the bail hearing of Julian Assange (who had a bail request denied on the basis he might flee – a questionable decision in light of the extreme travel restrictions presently in place in the UK). However, this was a high profile case, likely to attract attention – unlike most PTD hearings. Moreover, most of the journalists reporting good access are London-based. It might also be added that many – including Cork – will now be on furlough due to Covid-19, like many members of the working public, and will therefore not be reporting on cases. As such, at present, it is unclear how accessible PTD decision-making is to the media, the public, or researchers. We might therefore ask – beyond the lawyers involved in cases, who is checking current practice? PTD decision-making directly affects the liberty of unconvicted persons and this will (and should) continue despite the various restrictions currently in place. However, the latter fact creates potential for lengthy delays to trials since none are being listed, and therefore much longer periods of detention for unconvicted defendants. It is very important to be able to properly scrutinise such decision making; a lack of scrutiny in any discipline enables (and in some cases encourages) poor practice to flourish.

All the above might be dubbed an overreaction, but the conviction of Marie Dinou has already proven the risks to be real. Dinou was approached by police at Newcastle Central train station and asked to account for her presence. She did not do so and was arrested on suspicion of an offence under the new Coronavirus Act 2020. She spent two days in custody before being brought to a court hearing; after failing to confirm her personal details, she was returned to the court cells, and was convicted in her absence without a lawyer. Dinou allegedly did not say a word on arrest; to her lawyer at the police station; or at court. It appears no mental health assessment was made of her, nor was it confirmed whether she spoke English. After persistent inquiry by journalists and lawyers via social media, it transpired that Dinou had been charged with a non-existent offence under the legislation, and therefore wrongfully convicted. This has now been set aside. As has been pointed out by lawyer Robin Murray, there appear to have been a catalogue of breaches of the Criminal Procedure Rules (which govern criminal court proceedings) and legislation relating to disclosure, compounded by a lack of legal representation and failure to confirm the defendant’s ability to comprehend proceedings. This case, however, bucks the trend of invisibility for most; it was a minor offence dealt with in a lower court, which are generally paid little attention. Yet Dinou spent two days in PTD, to be convicted incorrectly. This raises the very real possibility that this may already be happening across E&W (a jurisdiction with a comparatively robust PTD framework), and beyond; and with very limited access to the courts for external observers to scrutinise and question poor practice, there is real risk of not only unnecessary and excessive detention of unconvicted persons, but wrongful convictions. It is therefore imperative that access to external observation be realistically operationalised as soon as possible; and that practitioners ensure that thoroughness and care is taken in PTD decision-making in the admittedly very difficult – but, equally, medium-term – circumstances in which criminal justice now functions. 

From prisoner to paralegal: Morris Kaberia tells his story

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Lawyer and activist, Morris Kaberia, recently came to visit students at UWE Bristol to speak about his story of justice. After suffering an unwarranted 13 years, 5 of which were spent on death row, in Kamiti High prison, Morris was set free. With help from African Prisons Project, a programme that UWE Bristol Law students support through our Pro Bono unit, Morris studied for a Law degree whilst he was in prison and was able to use his newly learnt knowledge to fight his case for which he was wrongly accused.

Morris visited the University on Monday 10 February 2020 to deliver a talk to our students about his journey, experiences and advice. You can listen to the full talk recorded as a podcast.

Kathy Brown, Senior Law Lecturer, oversees the student participation in the African Prisons Project programme. She said: “Studying for a law degree has enabled the prisoners to gain a higher level of education, act as paralegals for other inmates and represent themselves in court. Many of them are given extreme sentences for relatively small crimes, such as being given death penalty for aggravated burglary, and are on remand for several years.”

In his impactful visit to UWE Bristol, Morris spoke about the importance of the project and how it inspired a new lease of life within himself and his fellow prisoners. He greeted current Law students to enforce the need for students to continue working with this project, and he also reconnected with students who helped him whilst he was in prison which was extremely powerful and emotional.

Morris was interviewed after his talk which you can watch below. Please note: Morris went to Kamiti prison, not community prison as mentioned in the subtitles.

If you would like to know more about our Pro Bono Unit please contact fblclinic@uwe.ac.uk.

Using as the Starting Point the Article ‘WTO Rules against EU “Anti-Dumping” Duties on Indonesian Biofuel’ by Natasha Burton in New Economy on 26 January 2018, Discuss the Use of Anti-dumping Measures by the EU on Biofuels

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Written by Chloe Barratt

This post (edited for publication) is published on our blog as part of a series of work produced by students for assessment within the module ‘Public International Law’. Following the blogging success over the last couple of years, we decided to publish our students’ excellent work in this area again in this way. The module is an option in the second year of Bristol Law School’s LLB programme. It continues to be led by Associate Professor Dr Noëlle Quénivet. Using innovative learning and teaching methods, Noëlle developed this module to include the use of online portfolios within a partly student led curriculum. The posts in this series show the outstanding research and analytical abilities of students on our programmes. Views expressed in this blog post are those of the author only who consents to the publication.

Anti-dumping duties are additional charges imposed by a state in response to the dumping of products into the ‘commerce of another country at less than the normal value of the products’ (Article VI GATT). They are a means of neutralising unfair trade practice, allowing states to protect their domestic industry if the dumping is having a negative effect on their economy. This blog will discuss how the European Union (EU) imposes anti-dumping measures on biofuels, a renewable source of energy that until recently was seen as an attractive alternative to fossil fuels. I will discuss how the issue that lies at the heart of the dispute with anti-dumping measures is, as Burton’s article highlights, how the extent of dumping is calculated. After examining the implications of anti-dumping measures, I will conclude that they are necessarily used to neutralise unfair trade practice and maintain economic and social stability within the EU.

Process of Bringing an Anti-dumping Measure

To ensure anti-dumping duties are imposed to counteract unfair trade practice, the process of imposing duties is heavily regulated. Accordingly, Article 1 of the  Agreement on Implementation of Article VI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 (ADA) requires all investigations to be initiated and conducted in accordance with the provisions of the ADA. Whilst the World Trade Organisation (WTO) does not regulate the initial act of dumping, it is responsible for regulating the process a state must follow when initiating an anti-dumping measure. If, for example, the EU believes products are being dumped into its market it must first be able to show that the dumping is taking place. In doing so it must be able to calculate how much lower the export price is in comparison to the home market price and show that it is causing injury or threatening to do so. The high threshold for establishing the injurious effect of the dumping accompanied by an investigation (see Article 5 ADA) seeks to ensure that anti-dumping duties are used productively.

Why Calculations of Anti-dumping Measures Have Proven Problematic

Whilst the process of imposing an anti-dumping measure is well regulated, the element of calculating the extent of dumping was highlighted as problematic in Burton’s article. As the EU explains in the Commission Implementing Regulation 2018/1570, following the rulings in Indonesia and Argentina (see para 8), the method of calculation has now been clarified in light of the ADA (for the original reports of the dispute settlement body, see Indonesia (DS480) and Argentina (DS473)). 

The dispute between the EU on the one hand and Argentina and Indonesia on the other (see history here) follows a number of WTO challenges to anti-dumping measures (see discussion in Crowley and Hillman, ‘Slamming the Door on Trade Policy Discretion? The WTO Appellate Body’s Ruling on Market Distortions and Production Costs in EU-Biodiesel (Argentina) (2018) 17 World Trade Review 195-213) where the underlying issue was how authorities adjusted the prices of exporting producers. For example, when constructing a home market price for Argentine biodiesel, that is the price of which biodiesel was sold in Argentina, the European Commission chose to alter the price of soybeans to compensate for the distortion in soybean prices, caused by an export tax imposed by the Argentine government (see Crowley and Hillman, at 2).  The price was adjusted based on the fact that soybeans, the primary input of biodiesel, were considerably below the international price and the Commission reasoned the adjustment was what ‘would have been the price paid… in the absence of the export tax system’.

The dispute with Indonesia was similar in the sense that it also involved a problem with  calculations: the EU had replaced the actual price of crude palm oil that was within the producers’ records with an international reference price. The price of the palm oil was lower than international prices, which meant the EU imposed higher duties on Indonesia in response to what they calculated the extent of dumping to be. When deciding on the trade disputes in the cases of Indonesia and Argentina, the Dispute Settlement Body for the WTO found the EU had indeed acted inconsistently with both GATT 1994 and ADA.

Therefore, whilst there has been a period of uncertainty in calculating the extent of dumping, this imperfection has now been clarified by the WTO. The clear guidance now states that countries are not legally permitted to take government manipulated price control into account.

Social and Economic Stability 

Since the WTO cannot regulate the act of dumping, the ability for a state to impose ‘remedial and not punitive’ measures in response to dumping are essential to nullify unfair trade practice. The measures imposed by the EU on biofuels have been used to counteract the great harm that dumping poses to the economic and social stability of the EU. 

Biofuels being dumped into the commerce of the EU not only disrupts the trading of the fuels but also distorts the standard value of the commodity. EU producers are faced with unfair competition and in considering the vast difference in Indonesia’s access to the raw materials used for biofuels (i.e. palm oil) in comparison to the EU’s access,  the EU could not physically be expected to meet the competitors’ low price without a substantial economic loss. The subsequent effect on the domestic economy could see a closure in business and vast unemployment, which the EU is able to avoid with anti-dumping measures.

Conclusion

In summary, anti-dumping measures by the EU have been imposed to minimise the economic disruption caused by the dumping of biofuels. Whilst the EU was found to have miscalculated the extent of dumping, this was recognised and rectified by the WTO dispute settlement mechanism which in turn acknowledged the lawfulness of anti-dumping measures as such. Overall, these measures have been used productively to counteract unfair competition. 

‘Who Cares?’ play comes to Bristol Law School

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The play ‘Who Cares’ was performed in the Faculty of Business and Law at UWE Bristol on 28 January 2020. It was a piece of social theatre which depicted a family in crisis and the delicate and difficult issues and decisions that might lead to a young child’s adoption.

Following the eight scenes, there was a question and answer session with the cast in role, and a facilitated discussion between the actors and the audience. This allowed the audience to interact with professionals and actors alike, helping them to gain a fuller understanding of the issues and the consequences of family proceedings for the family and professionals involved. Many of the audience were students, parents and grandparents. Many were family justice professionals. Others represented charities supporting people in the midst of a family crisis, facing homelessness or trying to address such issues as drug and alcohol misuse, and domestic abuse.

The engaging script was written by His Honour Judge Stephen Wildblood QC, the Designated Family Judge for wider Bristol area comprising 5 local authorities. He also took on the role of the Judge in the play. The performance and discussion highlighted the vital work of the Family Court, aiming to ‘show not tell’ the audience the kinds of issues that were considered there every day and how they might be resolved. HHJ Stephen Wildblood QC explained the impact of austerity and the current lack of funding on families and suggested that a preventative approach could help to avert family crises and court intervention. He pointed out the benefits of networks and charities such as The Nelson Trust which supported this production.

The play was presented in collaboration with The Nelson Trust and Gloucestershire Children’s Services’ Social Work Academy. The production was sponsored by Albion Chambers, Family Law Week and Bristol Resolution and it was performed by professional actors at ‘What Next Theatre’.

The play was brought to UWE Bristol by Senior Lecturer in Law, Emma Whewell, who is also on the steering committee of a Family Law Theatre initiative. Emma is one of two academics to sit on the Local Family Justice Board in Bristol and is currently in the process of organising a conference for the Local Family Justice Board to take place at UWE Bristol on 14th May 2020.

Insights from the UK’s Implementation of Key Anti-Money Laundering Obligations

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Blog written by Samantha Bourton, Lecturer in Law at UWE Bristol.

Photo: Samantha Bourton

Money laundering refers to the process used by criminals to conceal or disguise the profits of their illegal activities and is known to have devastating effects on society, national security, the economy and the integrity of financial institutions. This is because money laundering potentially enables criminals, such as drug traffickers, terrorists, and tax evaders, to remain undetected and to channel their profits into further illegal activities. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that 2-5% of global GDP is laundered each year, while the National Crime Agency estimates that hundreds of billions of pounds are laundered annually in the UK alone. Accordingly, an international legal framework has been developed to combat this financial crime, with almost all countries globally committed to implementing the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Recommendations on Combatting Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism.

The EU has implemented the Recommendations via a series of directives and has introduced its own measures to combat money laundering in the wake of the Panama Papers and recent terrorist attacks in Europe. One of the main innovations of the EU directives is the requirement for Member States to set up registers of the beneficial owners of legal entities and trusts. The fifth EU anti-money laundering Directive requires the information contained in the register of legal entities to be available to the public, while the register of trusts should be available to law enforcement authorities and those who can demonstrate a legitimate interest in the information. The aim of such registers is to reveal the identities of those who use companies to launder money and carry out illegal activities.

On Friday 29th November, I delivered a paper titled ‘Insights from the United Kingdom’s Implementation of Key Anti-Money Laundering Obligations’ at the CFE Tax Advisers 12th European Conference on the Tax Advisers’ Professional Affairs in Paris. The Conference aimed to examine the impact of the fifth European Union (EU) Anti-Money Laundering Directive, which Member States were required to transpose by the 10th January 2020. The speakers included representatives from the CFE, OECD, and the BASEL Institute on Governance, as well as legal practitioners and academics from several Member States.

My paper examined the UK’s implementation of some of the key obligations contained in the 4th and 5th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directives, including the inclusion of tax evasion as a predicate, or underlying, offence to money laundering and the introduction of beneficial ownership registers. The paper focused on the UK as a case study, as these measures were part of its legal framework long before they became an obligation within the EU; tax evasion has been a predicate offence to laundering in the UK since 1993 and the UK established the first publicly accessible beneficial ownership register in the G20, the People with Significant Control (PSC) Register.

The paper highlighted the benefits generated by these developments in the UK. Under the anti-money laundering legal framework, professionals in the regulated sector are required to submit reports, known as suspicious activity reports (SARs), to the National Crime Agency when they know or suspect that a client is engaged in money laundering. With the inclusion of tax evasion as a predicate offence to laundering, in the UK, professionals are required to submit SARs when they know or suspect that their clients are engaged in tax offences. This has led to a significant recovery of revenue, with the intelligence generated by the reports supporting the collection of over £40.2million in tax revenue from civil enquiries in 2018-19. The paper also highlighted research undertaken by the NGO Global Witness on the benefits of the UK’s PSC Register in detecting and preventing criminal activity. For example, Global Witness found that there has been an 80% reduction in the rate of incorporation of Scottish Limited Partnerships (SLPs) since SLPs have been subject to beneficial ownership requirements. SLPs are often associated with financial crime and were used in the Russian and Azerbaijani Laundromats.

However, the paper also cautioned against the implementation of these measures without appropriate resources devoted to their enforcement, or guidance provided on their operation. The information contained in the UK’s PSC register is not currently verified, leading to the inclusion of inaccurate and misleading information. This has caused some law enforcement authorities in the UK to refrain from using the register in investigations, effectively defeating its objective. In addition, the paper identified the difficulties professionals face in complying with the obligation to submit SARs for tax offences in the UK and stressed how these problems are likely to be exacerbated when these obligations are imposed at a European level.

I concluded the paper by recommending that the EU should define tax evasion for the purposes of the EU anti-money laundering directives and should provide further guidance on how Member States should verify the information contained in beneficial ownership registers.

Karl Brown: My legal life

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This blog was originally posted by the Law Society Gazette. UWE Bristol Law School alum and Faculty of Business and Law advisory board member, Karl Brown, speaks about his career to date.

At school my best and favourite subjects were English and history. I quickly realised that I would like a career which would involve analysing documents and using communication skills. In the sixth form I got a short work experience placement at a local law firm. This confirmed to me that I would like to study law at university and then go on to a legal career.

I found it very difficult to get a training contract. I did not secure one until four years after I had finished my degree, following more than 100 applications. I eventually obtained a contract with Porter Dodson in Somerset and my training was in its Taunton office. My seats were commercial property, litigation (a combination of civil and family litigation), residential conveyancing and private client.  

Many of the titles I had to review as part of my commercial property seat were large bundles of unregistered title documents or complicated titles related to rural properties. Despite this steep learning curve, I really enjoyed it and my confidence increased rapidly. My seat in residential conveyancing helped me fully understand each step involved in the property buying/selling process and also confirmed to me that I would ultimately want to specialise in property law.

I am a passionate believer in diversity, inclusion and social mobility. Working every day with the Bristol property industry I saw the fantastic opportunities available for anyone who would like a challenging and rewarding career, but I was concerned that not all young people in Bristol were aware of these opportunities. To address this I set up and launched the Bristol Property Inclusion Charter. This involves firms, companies and organisations working in the Bristol property industry signing up to pledges which aim to make the industry more diverse and inclusive. It is the UK’s first city property inclusion charter. I have been heartened by the enthusiastic response and to date have secured more than 15 signatories, including social housing associations, corporate building and architectural firms, estate agents and the University of the West of England. 

I saw the fantastic opportunities in the Bristol property industry available for anyone who would like a challenging and rewarding career, but I was concerned that not all young people in Bristol were aware of them

The Bristol Junior Chamber (BJC) is a business group for people under the age of 40. I joined the BJC in 2008 and from 2009 spent four years as its chair of education and skills (which included coordinating mock interviews at local schools), one year as vice-president and then in 2014 I became its first-ever black president. I had three main objectives: (a) organising speakers and events to help members become future leaders; (b) promoting products made or industries located in Bristol (for example, I organised a tour for BJC members of Bottle Yard Studios in Bristol, which has been the location for some major films and TV series); and (c) promoting the importance of social mobility to the business community in Bristol. Among other things, I arranged for the then deputy chair of the Social Mobility Commission, Baroness Gillian Shephard, to give a speech on social mobility at an inaugural BJC President’s Lecture.

In 2015 I was invited by the mayor of Bristol to sit on the new Bristol Learning City Partnership Board. Bristol was the first learning city in England. The aim of the board was to promote the idea that learning is for everyone regardless of age or background and should not stop when a person concludes their formal school/university education. 

It is clear that the legal sector has recognised the importance of diversity and social mobility. This can be seen when you look at firm websites and when you read articles from law firm leaders. I do think, however, that it is also recognised that law firms have not only to confirm that they have a diversity/social mobility agenda, but also demonstrate results. I am sure that if law firms do adopt procedures such as name-blind CVs and contextual recruitment, more firms will, in time, be able to demonstrate results from their social mobility objectives.  

Karl Brown, Senior Associate, Clarke Willmott. Image: Law Society Gazette.