Outstanding Student Representative of the Year

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Congratulations to LLB (Hons) Law student, Danielle Newton, for receiving the title of ‘Outstanding Rep of the Year’ for the Business and Law faculty. We caught up with Danielle about her journey as part of our Student Spotlight 2021.

Why did you want to become a student rep?

“My initial interest came after my first year at the university. Once my confidence grew, I wanted to be a voice for those who went unnoticed, the students who find it difficult to say how they feel and bring to light any issues they are having. I have been that type of student for years and I know exactly how it feels. I knew during a pandemic that the student representative programme could be the perfect asset for getting to know peers and staff alike. I felt the need to still maintain that contact irrespective of all the restrictions we were facing in the world. My hope was to make certain that my faculty’s year felt like a community!

Overall, Student representatives are of significant importance in encompassing the idea of acting on behalf of one body to promote change and success for all.”

What have you gained as a student rep?

“I have developed exceptional communication skills through volunteering as a student representative. The role itself relies on gaining feedback from peers to better establish a reliable working environment. Thus, I actively communicate with staff members and students to be a voice of reason and representation. All of this has been a great topic for conversation in recent interviews.

The most thoroughly rewarding part of the role was being able to make change for my cohort. Whether that be a deadline change, timetable change, teaching addition etc. Any small amount of change would bring with it great satisfaction. Alongside this, the programme gave me the opportunity to speak to various people. I have made many friends despite the virtual restrictions consequently adding to my university experience as a whole.”

What were the challenges you faced over the past year?

“It comes as no surprise that it has been an unprecedented year and with that came many challenges both in and out of university. I found adapting to virtual life hard. Communicating with lots of people in my role but never seeing faces was very strange! I recently came onto campus and have spotted a few of my lecturers who probably wouldn’t know who I am.

The main challenges lied with the shift in academic year dates. This change in schedule was difficult for students to adapt too – myself included. However, it has all been a learning curve and all the students and staff have worked exceptionally hard to try and get the most out of the academic year.”

What have you learnt?

“Foremost what I have learnt from my university experience is the power afforded to those who try hard and persevere to succeed. It may seem a silly concept but, what breaks away from those students who are academically gifted and those who try hard is that university doesn’t discriminate. One of my favourite quotes that I would think about when I competed in Athletics was “all men are created equal, some work harder in pre-season.” This concept is similar for university and you will be recognised for your efforts.

I felt like a slow burner here. I wasn’t academically gifted and I was so shy when walking onto campus for the first time. I had convinced myself I would drop out in the first 5 minutes. But I kept going and once I was ready, I was able to make the most out of my university experience. My advice would be, seize every opportunity given to you, don’t take life too seriously, enjoy the small things and most of all remember – fast success builds your ego but, slow success builds your character.”

Students launch legal directory to help aspiring lawyers

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Lawtask is an online legal directory designed to help future lawyers bridge the gap between leaving university and securing their first positions in their legal careers. Lawtask allows students to gain professional skills and experience, in their pursuit of a legal career. This is achieved through the consolidation of relevant and practical opportunities and resources.

Set up in 2020, Lawtask was founded by Alessia Cucciniello, recent UWE Bristol Law graduate, and Kieran Woodhouse, LPC LLM student at UWE Bristol. Both have ambitions of becoming solicitors and have also been involved with the UWE Bristol Law Society, with Kieran being elected Vice-President.

Formed during the Covid-19 pandemic, Lawtask was a response to the competitive legal sector that students are faced with when leaving University. Alessia and Kieran launched Lawtask to enable law students to stand out through providing knowledge sharing and useful tools to give students a great place to start in the pursuit of their legal careers.

“Our aim was to bridge the gap between graduating university and securing your first legal job. There are plenty of resources out there to choose from, and our aim was to collect them in an easily accessible platform that could help students gain essential skills to stand out.”

Alessia

They explored the concept of virtual learning and discovered the huge variety of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that applied to legal students. These courses demonstrate transferable skills and a drive to seek personal improvement that employers are truly looking for.

“One thing we realised when searching for these and other relevant experiences, was that there is no single place for law students to discover the opportunities open to them. This then sparked the concept for Lawtask.”

Kieran

The platform is still in its early stages, however, the pair have seen great success so far. The feedback they have received from both students and staff at UWE has been hugely positive and led to consistent audience growth and user interaction.

“Our hope for the future is to be able to grow and provide more opportunities for students. We would like to expand our platform and start offering real work experience that graduates can use on their job applications, in order to truly help them succeed. We are still working on this, but we hope that we will be able to do this very soon.”

Alessia

“My ultimate hope for Lawtask is that it becomes the norm for law students to consider looking outside the traditional scope of experience and learning and that Lawtask can be a place that can guide people to something beneficial for them.”

Kieran

We asked them both for their advice to current students and here’s what they said:

“My advice to current students is to make good use of all the resources and opportunities offered by UWE and engage with the societies. Not only this will enhance your student experience, but it might also give you essential skills that you will carry with you and shape your future career.”

Alessia

“In my personal experience, so many people emphasise their degree being the absolute evidence of their ability to do anything and so often people forget the importance of personal development. With that in mind, my advice would be to take the opportunities that you have available to you either within your subject or elsewhere because now is the time to explore them. Who knows, you may find a whole new career aspiration.”

Kieran

You can visit Lawtask here.

My student representative journey at Bristol Law School

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Blog by Sarah Barnes, Bristol Law School LLB (Hons) recent graduate, as part of the FBL Student Spotlight 2021.

Why I became a representative

I had always wanted to be a representative during my time at UWE Bristol but I felt a bit nervous to do so. However, when I saw the opportunity to become a Law Lead Department Representative I knew I had to apply. I enjoy helping people and I wanted to enable student voices to be heard throughout their time at UWE.

What I gained and learnt

I have learnt so much at UWE, more than I ever would have if I went anywhere else. Firstly, I gained a lot of confidence. I was always a little nervous to speak out for example in lectures, but being in this role I have had to overcome this as I have had to network lots. Luckily I have met lots of friendly and lovely people and such a variety of staff and students across the University.

I also gained team working skills by working with other Lead Department Representatives and staff, and was able to communicate news to them and resolve issues that arose.

On my course, I have learnt so much such as negotiation and mediation. I have also helped to advise real clients through the UWE Bristol Law Clinic. The experiences I have gained have been invaluable.

The challenges I faced

I have faced the challenge of studying from home over the past year. It was a big change from being in the lecture theatres and workshop rooms to being in your bedroom! I overcame this change by ensuring I organised my time, created a suitable study space and also tried to get more involved than I ever did before to ensure that being online did not negatively affect my studies.

The importance of Student Representatives

It is really important to represent students so that they feel that they are being listened to. Furthermore, by having this role, we are the middleman in speaking to lecturers about what students believe is working and what they feel may not be working as well. This role was highly important whilst having blended learning this year as new ways of learning had different levels of effectiveness.

As a Representative, I was able to communicate feedback from students to the staff and helped adapt the module to suit the students’ needs.

My advice

If you are considering becoming a representative, do it! Apply now! Fear can always try to eat you up, but you never know that you may get the role you really want. You have to be determined and resilient to achieve great things. Being a representative has really helped my leadership and team working skills in order to try my best and help the law students at UWE.

The staff here at UWE are always willing to do their best to help you. As a representative, I had meetings weekly with staff and that was truly invaluable. We were able to communicate what was happening on both sides and we would be able to resolve issues much quicker by working together.

Urgenda: A Turning Point in Climate Litigation- An Analysis of the Supreme Court Decision

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By Farzam Maleki, second year LLB student

The main question of law raised by the Urgenda case[1] is whether the Dutch government was acting unlawfully, in not meeting the internationally recognised climate target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% in 2020 compared to 1990.[2]

In this case, several matters were brought before the court to consider in order to reach the decision. First, the court was asked to decide whether the state had a legal duty to prevent dangerous climate change under European Convention on Human Rights[3] (hereinafter: ECHR) and whether the Urgenda as an NGO could bring a claim on behalf of Dutch residents before the court or according to article 34 ECHR claims could only be brought by the individuals who are direct victims of the violation of the rights mentioned in ECHR.[4]

Furthermore, the court had been asked to decide whether, despite the fact that the Netherlands’ share in global greenhouse gas emissions is insignificant, the Dutch government is still required to reduce their greenhouse gas emission as an individual country to comply with the ‘international consensus’.[5]

Another important question raised by the state is whether it is permissible for the court to issue an order on this matter and oblige the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or as the state claimed ‘it is not for the courts to make the political considerations necessary for a decision on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions’.[6]

On 20 December 2019, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands upheld both the District Court and the Court of Appeal’s decisions that the state is obliged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% in 2020 compared to 1990.[7]

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands in their decision consolidated the Court of Appeal’s Human Rights approach to climate change and concluded that although according to Article 34 the Urgenda cannot bring a claim to ECtHR, in accordance with Article 3:305a of the Dutch Civil Code, Urgenda could bring a claim before the Dutch court on behalf of an interest group who in this case are the residents of the Netherlands.[8]

The court rejected the state’s argument that the Netherlands’ share in global emission is not significant by stating that:

This duty is not diminished by the fact that the Dutch contribution to the present global greenhouse gas emissions is currently quite minor. Given that at least the 450 ppm scenario is required to prevent hazardous climate change, the Netherlands should take measures to ensure that this scenario can be achieved.[9]

The Supreme Court also rejected the state’s argument that the greenhouse reduction targets set out in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4)[10] were meant to be achieved by Annex I countries[11] as a group, not by each country individually. The court within its reasoning states:

However, as shown by the considerations in 5.7.3 and 5.7.4 above, the UNFCCC[12] and the Paris Agreement[13] are both based on the individual responsibility of states. Therefore, in principle, the target from AR4 also applies to the individual states within the group of Annex I countries.[14]

Regarding the permissibility of issuing an order by the court on this matter, the Supreme Court concluded that the court’s decision is an order to reduce emissions rather than interfering with the legislative process and the judiciary must judge whether the state is following the law in making their political decisions.[15] Therefore, this case is considered a benchmark for the influence of domestic courts in enforcing governments to comply with internationally recognised environmental goals.


[1] State of Netherlands (Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy) v. Stichthing Urgenda, Supreme Court of the Netherlands, 20 December 2019, ecli:NL:HR:2019:2006, English translation ecli:NL:HR:2019:2007. (hereinafter: Urgenda).

[2] UNFCCC Decision 1/CP.16, para. 8, fccc/CP/2010/7/Add.1 (2007).

[3] Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (adopted 4th November 1950, entered into force 3rd September 1953) ETS No.005.

[4] Urgenda (n1), para 5.9.1-5.9.3.

[5] ibid, para 4.3 and 7.1-7.3.6.

[6] ibid, para 3.5.

[7] ibid, para 9.

[8] ibid, para 5.9.1-5.9.3.

[9] ibid, para 2.3.1.

[10] S. Solomon, D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K. B. Averyt, M. Tignor & H. L. Miller (eds.), Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge University Press 2007).

[11] ‘Annex I Parties include the industrialized countries that were members of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in 1992, plus countries with economies in transition (the EIT Parties), including the Russian Federation, the Baltic States, and several Central and Eastern European States.’

[12] UNFCCC Decision 1/CP.16, para. 8, fccc/CP/2010/7/Add.1 (2007).

[13] Paris Agreement UN Doc. fccc/CP/2015/L.9/Rev.1 (2015).

[14] Urgenda (n1), para 7.3.2.

[15] ibid, para 8.1- 8.3.4.

UWE Students Participate in Vaquita Conservation Hackathon

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Written by Ethan Franks (in collaboration with James Pettipher and Bethany Foster).

On December 12 to December 13, the world’s first dedicated Vaquita conservation Hackathon took place. A Hackathon brings a large group of people together to work tirelessly for a 48-hour time period to address separate issues that threaten a cause. The people that take part in the project come together from different countries and different career backgrounds that all relate to the issue at the base of the Hackathon. The Vaquita conservation project is a complex multi-faceted issue that spans many fields, from criminal law to biology. The aim of this Hackathon was to develop a brighter future for the Vaquita, of which the methods and lessons learned can be incorporated into other complex conservation and criminology problems. UWE Bristol Law students proudly represented almost all the United Kingdom within the ‘criminal law review’ sector of the Hackathon.

The criminal law review aimed to try and combat the issues that Mexico is having in enforcing the law against illegal Totoaba Cartels fishermen and meeting its treaty obligations. This is to be done by all the groups, collaboratively developing a white paper. The hope is that by publishing a white paper and then implementing its recommendations the Vaquita and other marine wildlife in the Gulf of California will be sufficiently protected by the Mexican government.

Each individual group comprising a small number of students was set up with a mentor. Groups worked together to suggest their solution and then go away to work on small tasks that worked towards a final solution. This process would take place repeatedly over the weekend reinforcing the solution before the closing ceremony at midnight on the Sunday.

UWE law student James Pettipher and I worked under our mentor Volcy Boilevin, forming group six of the Hackathon. We were tasked with supporting the law enforcement efforts of the Mexican government. We decided that the best approach to take to impact Mexico was to try and use Mexico’s agreements with neighbouring countries to help impose pressure on Mexico. The pressure was implemented with the intention of encouraging the Mexican government to value its environmental obligations, without using the ineffective environmental law.

Additionally, group four included another UWE student, Bethany Foster who under the guidance of Daniel Marsh and alongside other professionals and students, worked on a proposal addressing the weak judicial framework that operates in Mexico that fails to deter the illegal totoaba trade. The suggested solution was twofold: introducing a judicial exchange programme between the UK and Mexico and assisting Mexico in implementing sentencing guidelines to ensure consistent sentencing of wildlife criminals. These proposals involve mutual co-operation between the UK, Mexico and industry experts and success is largely determined by Mexico’s willingness to co-operate. However, these proposals were inspired by the work of international criminal barrister Shamini Jayanathan whose efforts have focused on judicial reform where jurisdictions have weak judicial processes. Her work has been incredibly successful which provides a blueprint for the potential success of these propositions.

The entirety of the event will be concluded this year when a decision is made as to the best legal solutions to be put forward and incorporated into a white paper. Though it is not the motivation of any of the participants, there will be a prize awarded to the best proposed solution as well.

The Hackathon was organized by the Conservation Project International, a platform dedicated to supporting and mentoring young conservationists and future leaders, in collaboration with Earth League International, Earth Hacks and the Countering Wildlife Trafficking Institute. The event was financially supported by the two research groups of the Bristol Law School (the Global Crime, Justice and Security Research Group and the Environmental Law and Sustainability Research Group).

Course Connect partnership with LexisNexis Risk Solutions

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The Course Connect partnership between LexisNexis Risk Solutions and the University of the West of England (UWE) is an academia-industry collaboration that aims to bring together cutting-edge academic knowledge with leading commercial practice, for the mutual benefit of students, academics, researchers and practitioners. We caught up with Professor Nic Ryder to find out more.

What’s the aim of this partnership?

It’s a platform, in essence, for information and knowledge sharing. A formal partnership like this one makes it a great deal easier to share thinking and analysis of financial crime and compliance, financial risk management and anti-money laundering regulation, between organisations, for the benefit of both sides.

How does each side benefit?

Working with industry partners allows us access to valuable resources we’d otherwise not have. From real life case studies that can be implemented into the curriculum, to offering students the opportunity to work with the latest commercial information, trends and practices, as if they were already operating in the industry. This is not only highly motivating for them, but puts them in the driving seat following graduation. With support from commercial partners, we can set students in-depth challenges that often develop into dissertation projects, student internships and placements where they gain first-hand work experience.

In return, LNRS gains access to fresh insights and a rich seam of graduate talent they can offer placements and evaluate their potential for full-time employment opportunities, in many cases making an offer after the placement ends. LNRS also benefits from first-hand access to academic expertise and cutting-edge research outputs which can develop into webinars and round table style events that marry the academia and commercial worlds and provide a platform for healthy and insightful debate of current trends and topics surrounding the financial crime and compliance industry. Students’ input into these debates is a great way to identify the opinions of the future experts in these fields.

How important is industry collaboration in preparing graduates for the practical experiences they will face in industry?

UWE prides itself on providing students with the opportunity to study commercially-relevant subject areas where career paths are quite clear. We work closely with the commercial sector on embedded placements (sandwich years), consultation projects where students are set real-life industry challenges to solve, guest lectures from industry experts, and others – all opportunities for students to better understand how the theory they learn in class translates into the real world.

What does success look like for this partnership?

Success is long-term partnership resulting in a plethora of opportunities for both UWE Bristol and LNRS to work together. That can range from straightforward guest lectures, to student projects, competitions and dissertation projects, all the way through to internship opportunities that ultimately lead to graduate employment. As academics, we’re ultimately focussed on preparing these young people for their careers.

How many other Course Connect partnerships do you run?

We have 20 partnerships at present with a mix of public and private sector organisations ranging from large nationals like Lloyds Banking Group and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, to local and regional SMEs.

What do your other partners think of this process?

“We want young people to get a great start to their working life – sharing our experiences, knowledge and skills is a great way to make that happen. This approach supports our own organisational drive to ‘Help Britain Prosper.’” Lloyds Banking Group

“We are genuinely excited about the opportunity to share knowledge and learn from each other.” Nationwide

“This initiative… promises institution-wide recognition of our brand, as well as offering an opportunity to address known skills gaps in our industry.” Enterprise Rent-A Car

What does the future hold?

It’s important to see this as an evolving partnership. This first year is very much a ‘toe in the water’ for both sides, allowing us to understand what activities we are comfortable collaborating on and what won’t work for us. As time progresses, we very much hope that the relationship will develop to offer a much greater variety of activities and benefits for both sides.

Get involved. Contact us at courseconnect@uwe.ac.uk.

Rights redacted – a global view

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By Ezinwa Awogu – BA philosophy graduate, current GDL Law student at UWE Bristol and aspiring solicitor 

With the UK’s announcement of approval for the Pfizer vaccine, a cautious sense of hope and optimism has been restored as the public dares to envision an end to a year rife with uncertainty and confusion. However, as technology and science leap forward in their red capes as the saviours of the day, democracy around the globe takes several staggering steps back. A combination of draconian restriction implementation, global confusion, economic downfall and, widespread fear, has created the perfect storm for abuse of power and democratic regress to take place throughout the world. Under the thick cover of chaos, oppressive legislation and disgraceful abuses of power have been able to take place largely un-reported. Due to the unrelenting dominance that COVID-19 has wielded over the news headlines this year, regressions and oppressions have been able to thrive, unchallenged by the usual scrutiny of the public eye.

According to this year’s annual global report on political rights and civil liberties from Freedom House, democracy has worsened in 80 countries so far. Particular areas of decline seem to be freedom of speech, democratic elections (especially in countries declaring a state of emergency), and freedom of religious practice. Whilst true that a lot of false and misleading information was spread about COVID-19 and how to treat it, some governments have used the excuse of limiting inaccurate information to go above and beyond to restrict journalistic rights and push political agendas by silencing anti-government voices. Democratic elections have been postponed or discarded altogether and government opposition parties have been systematically attacked under the excuse of the pandemic.

Earlier this year in Algeria, legislation aimed to reduce media and curtail freedom of expression were reportedly passed with ‘minimal discussion mechanisms’ in parliament. Further to this, the sentencing of three government critics took place in May due to their choice of social media activity. Amongst these was Yacine Mebarki, a pivotal member of the Hirak anti-government protest movement, arrested on September 30th and sentenced to 10 years in prison. An expression of concern has been published by Reporters Without Borders, over the zealous tightening on freedoms of expression in Algeria. However, no change seems imminent, as currently the scheduled Algerian 2020 constitutional referendum has been announced as ‘no longer a priority’ by President Tebboune.

Similarly, according to published interior ministry statements from Turkey, on the 25th of March over 400 people were arrested under charges of ‘provocative’ social media posts concerning the virus. A report by Human Rights Watch four months later in late July displayed evidence suggesting Turkish police involvement in torture and ill-treatment of citizens. In terms of parliamentary democracy, the revocation of status was implemented for three deputies in the opposition party on the 4th of June. All three were then arrested the very next day. Electoral law reformations that may prevent future opposition parties from entering parliament at all are currently under discussion. Should this move forward, it would mean that without opposition in parliament, the government (and legislature passed by the government) goes unchecked and unchallenged, thus, an already fragile democracy suffers another critical blow.

In Hong Kong, The pandemic has been sighted as justification to delay elections by a year, however, this decision is widely viewed as an attempt by Beijing to buy more time to solidify the eradication of certain remaining freedoms and autonomies. In Sri Lanka, the arrest of critics of the official government line of the pandemic has been authorized by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. In Nigeria since the start of restriction implementation and curfews, up to 18 people have been killed in the hands of security forces reportedly enforcing COVID-19 restrictions with minimal reported penalties against the individual offending security officers. Meanwhile, the Nigerian democratic by-elections for the senatorial districts in Bayelsa state, Imo state, and Plateau state have been indefinitely postponed with no new date announced. In the USA, although the scheduled presidential elections have taken place, the incumbent Trump administration consistently and embarrassingly attempts to discredit the result of the democratic election in an attempt to cling to a fading political spotlight.

In Russia, a combination of laws implementing drastic penalties on individuals and media organizations who spread ‘knowingly false information’ was approved by President Vladimir Putin, on top of the already existing prohibition of ‘false information’. In practice, however, it would seem that said ‘false information’ happens to include anything that may highlight failings and present criticisms of the government’s handling of COVID-19. Most worryingly, this year’s referendum – originally set for April but rescheduled for the 1st of July – was approved by a 77% majority and includes provision amendments allowing President Putin to remain in power until 2036.

Restrictions on freedom of religion have been more evident this year with instances of faith-based discrimination and religious targeting in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Serbia, and India. In Pakistan COVID -19 has been renamed ‘the Shia virus’ and there have been reports of Christians forced to recite the kalima in order to access help and aid. Hindu communities in Lyari have been rejected from receiving essential rations and Muslims in India have been labelled as “super spreaders” in a bid to use the pandemic as a weapon of religious prosecution.

This is of course simply a snapshot exposing only a fraction of the hidden pandemic of global rights redaction taking place. Fragile democratic advancements – some of which took over a decade or longer to instil – have been swiftly and devastatingly destroyed by opportunistic governments all over the world, using the tragedy of this year as an advantageous edge in disgraceful power-play dynamics. Meanwhile, citizens are stripped of hard-fought rights and left more vulnerable than ever before. As an end to COVID-19 seems to become more of a reality, we must not forget that for many around the globe, things will certainly not return to ‘business as usual’. Perhaps, with the potential of COVID-19 soon no longer dominating the media platform, the scrutiny of the public eye can return to where it is desperately needed most, and assist each of the 80 countries through the steep uphill climb to the restoration of civil liberties and democratic progression.

Useful Reference links

  1. https://freedomhouse.org/report/special-report/2020/democracy-under-lockdown
  2. https://freedomhouse.org/article/new-report-democracy-under-lockdown-impact-covid-19-global-freedom
  3. https://www.idea.int/gsod-indices//#/indices/countries-regions-profile?rsc=%5B770%5D&covid19=1
  4. https://www.economist.com/international/2020/10/17/the-pandemic-has-eroded-democracy-and-respect-for-human-rights
  5. https://www.idea.int/news-media/news/malawi-victory-democracy-after-euphoria-long-hard-work
  6. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/turk-evacuated-sweden-coronavirus-treatment-70361281
  7. https://english.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2020/10/8/algeria-sentences-activist-to-10-years-for-inciting-atheism

The contagion of disinformation

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By Ezinwa Awogu – BA philosophy graduate, GDL Law student at UWE Bristol and aspiring solicitor 

More connected than ever, information spreads instantaneously, and amongst that information, none seems to spread quite as viciously as disinformation. To be distinguished from misinformation, disinformation, as defined in 1952 by the great soviet encyclopaedia, is information deliberately designed to spread falsehoods for the deception of the public, usually with an underlining agenda for political, social, or economic gain. Disinformation is often more entertaining, and attention-grabbing than reality, and there it finds its strength over real news. Between the COVID-19 health crisis and the highly influential USA presidential election, we have seen myths, conspiracy theories, and disinformation erupt like wildfires. As the global pandemic has forced increased digitization, a higher rate of IT reliance, and an increased online presence, people are liking, sharing, re-tweeting, and subscribing more and more. The conditions are prime for the contagion of disinformation to spread within the algorithm networks of our social media and news provider outlets.

Battling disinformation in democratic countries is a delicate task, often fraught with debate and controversy. The right of freedom of expression under the common law was incorporated into domestic law in 1998 from the European convention, and the right to freedom of expression (subject to certain formalities, conditions, restrictions, and penalties) was ratified by Article 10 of the Human rights act (1998). Many of these restrictions, however, are intentionally broad and appear to have a high degree of subjectivity making them difficult to apply strictly. This broadness can make it hard to police media content, which on one hand rightly protects freedom of expression but on the other makes it more difficult to identify and combat disinformation. Section 127 of the communications Act (2003) criminalizes the use of an electronic communications network to put out messaging that is ‘grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character’. However, in practice, enforcement is largely absent, as we all know, offensive and obscene content has flooded electronic communication networks for a long time with few criminal actions brought forward.

COVID-19 conspiracy theories, such as the idea that the virus is part of an elaborate government plan to increase observations and curtail rights, started around January and has culminated in mass no-mask protests with many swearing that the pandemic is fake. Whilst true that the response to the virus has been confusing and unclear on many accounts, the deliberate efforts of some to persist in the spread of conspiracy disinformation works to distract from the reality of the inequalities that the virus had illuminated. Realities such as the disproportionate effect on BAME communities and the worldwide devastating disparities in social welfare and healthcare that the virus has exacerbated are therefore pushed to the wayside with attention-grabbing disinformation headlines taking the spotlight.

The efforts in the summer months by the outgoing Trump administration, amongst other world leaders, to spread disinformation, hailing hydroxychloroquine as a ‘miracle cure’ based on insufficient evidence and inadequate testing, served the political ulterior motive to use hope and optimism as a distraction from criticisms of poor handling of the pandemic. We can see similar attempts to capitalize on the pandemic when we observe the Russian disinformation campaign labelling the Oxford vaccine as the ‘monkey vaccine’ in favour of the Russian vaccine, conspicuously named Sputnik. Most recently, the current saga of electoral fraud claims during the recent USA elections attempts to delegitimize the incoming Biden presidency and stoke the fire for social and political upheaval.

In England and Wales, Law aiding the efficient battle of disinformation is scarce. Ofcom, established under the Communications Act (2003) is a regulatory body set up to enforce certain content standards across TV and radio broadcasting, ensuring accuracy and impartiality, but there is currently no regulatory body set up for social media and online content in the same way, which has become a major source of information communication. There have been proposals to change this, and introduce more regulation and accountability in online platforms, namely in the 2019 Cairncross Review report. Nothing concrete has amounted from this as of yet. Social media outlets have recently been taking it upon themselves, in response to public pressure, to internally implement regulations on the content published on their sights. During the ongoing voter election disinformation campaign, Twitter has been flagging up tweets from outgoing president Donald Trump as misleading. Other popular social media sights such as Facebook and Instagram have displayed instances of some resistance to disinformation, but this has been limited and certainly not widespread enough to effectively battle the contagion of disinformation.

A strong argument can be made in favour of social media giants exercising more of their social responsibility and offering more content regulation. However, constitutional protection of freedom of expression limits the allowance for online content restriction, and admittedly, the more content policing happens, the less freedom is available. Finding the delicate line between personal liberty and public interest is an age-old dilemma that has not appeared to be solved as of yet, so it would seem for the moment that the responsibility lies largely with us the audience. In an age where information is so easily weaponized, it is important to be conscientious consumers with regards to the plethora of information flooding our screens. More than ever, active engagement, independent research, and a degree of critical analysis must be essential activity when choosing which information to accept and which sources to trust. We can no longer afford to be passive recipients of information that may harbor active ulterior agendas.

Useful Reference links

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/05/technology/donald-trump-twitter.html
  2. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/russians-spread-fake-news-over-oxford-coronavirus-vaccine-2nzpk8vrq
  3. https://www.loc.gov/law/help/social-media-disinformation/uk.php
  4. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zyt282p/revision/2
  5. https://www.statnews.com/2020/06/15/fda-revokes-hydroxychloroquine/
  6. https://www.kcl.ac.uk/investigating-the-most-convincing-covid-19-conspiracy-theories
  7. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/21/section/127

The Polluter Pays Principle: The only Principle that can limit aviation emissions (if we do it right)

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This blog was written by Mandy Beck, an LLM in Environmental Law and Sustainable Development student at UWE Bristol.

Today, an airplane takes off approximately every 0.8 seconds somewhere around the globe.[1] The impact of the aviation sector on the climate is enormous. Stefan Gössling, professor for sustainable transport at Lund/Linnaeus University, Sweden, even states that ‘on an individual level, there is no other human activity that emits as much over such a short period of time as aviation’.[2] Globally, the aviation sector contributes a total of 2.5%[3] to all anthropogenic[4] CO2 emissions, making it a significant contributor to global warming. Often undiscussed, however, are the non-CO2 effects, meaning those effects resulting from e.g. particles, water vapour, and nitrogen oxides. Together with these non-CO2 effects, aviation contributes to global warming by 5%.[5]

The International Air Transport Association estimates that the demand for flights is going to double by 2037.[6] The decision-makers in the aviation sector thereby face the challenge of making aviation climate-neutral. In 2012, former European Commissioner for Climate Action in the European Commission, Connie Hedegaard stated that the ‘Polluter pays is the only principle that can limit aviation emissions’.[7]

The Polluter Pays Principle (PPP) reflects an idea that is taught to us since our childhood: ‘Clean up after yourself’.[8] Due to this principle, the costs of pollution should be allocated to the actor who caused them.[9] The PPP is implemented by using market-based measures (MBMs), such as levies, emission trading (such as the EU Emission Trading System EU-ETS), and offsetting schemes. Implementing a MBM is necessary, as technical progress and operational measures alone will not be sufficient to limit climate emissions sufficiently in the aviation sector in the near future.[10]

The first international offsetting scheme for aviation, CORSIA[11], will be implemented step by step starting 2021. Doubts, however, remain as to the effectiveness of this MBM in the light of reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement.[12] Overall, the PPP could hold more potential in curbing aviation-caused climate emissions. The following improvements must, however, be made:

Inclusion of non-CO2 effects and removal of subsidies

Climate damages resulting from non-CO2 effects must be included in a MBM. Despite the major importance of non-CO2 effects, these effects are not included in CORSIA nor the EU-ETS. Secondly, the subsidies in the billions granted to airlines must be removed (e.g. grants for Etihad Airlines by Abu Dhabi; grants by the European Commission to Air Malta). Subsidies have an opposite effect than the PPP, as they falsify the costs that must be borne.[13] Also, due to subsidies, aviation has a competitive advantage over other – more sustainable – means of transport.

Full payment for all environmental costs until 2050

The polluter must fully pay for all environmental costs by 2050 to reach the 1.5°C Goal (2085 at the latest for the 2°C Goal). The price for one ton of CO2 in 2019 including all climate costs (CO2 and non-CO2 effects) is 371 Euro/ton CO2.[14] The price set under the EU-ETS today is much lower at approx. 30 Euro/ton CO2.[15]To achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, the PPP can be implemented gradually (with increasing CO2 prices over time), however, the above-mentioned full payment to the given deadlines must be reached.

Implementation of the PPP at the beginning of the value chain

Currently, all MBMs that have been implemented address the airlines. However, making the fuel suppliers pay for subsequent environmental damages, holds one significant advantage: fossil fuel suppliers would lose their competitive advantage, due to not paying for climate damage, over renewable energy providers. If all suppliers include environmental damage in their pricing, the market conditions would be equal.


[1]Statista, ‘Number of flights performed by the global airline industry from 2004 to 2020’ (2020) <www.statista.com/statistics/564769/airline-industry-number-of-flights/> accessed 24 February 2020.

[2] Arthur Sullivan, ‘To fly or not to fly? The environmental cost of air travel‘ (2020) <https://www.dw.com/en/to-fly-or-not-to-fly-the-environmental-cost-of-air-travel/a-42090155> accessed 24 June 2020.

[3] Umweltbundesamt, Umweltschonender Luftverkehr: lokal – national – international (Umweltbundesamt Publikationen, 2019), 30.

[4] man-made.

[5] Malte Niklaß, Benjamin Lührs, Robin Ghosh, ‘A Note on How to Internalize Aviation’s Climate Impact of non-CO2 Effects’ <www.researchgate.net/publication/311788948_A_Note_on_How_to_Internalize_Aviation%27s_Climate_Impact_of_non-CO2_Effects> accessed 15 Mai 2020; equal conclusion reached in Jörg Larsson, Simon Matti, Jonas Nässén, ‘Public Support for aviation policy measures in Sweden‘ (2020) <https://doi.org/10.1080/14693062.2020.1759499> accessed 20 August 2020.

[6] IATA, ‘Annual review 2019’ (2019) <https://www.iata.org/contentassets/c81222d96c9a4e0bb4ff6ced0126f0bb/iata-annual-review-2019.pdf> accessed 11 February 2020,16.

[7] The Guardian, ‘Polluter pays’ is the only principle that can limit aviation emissions’ (2012) <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/apr/04/polluter-pays-aviation-emissions> accessed 15 February 2020.

[8] David Boyd, ‘Clean up after yourself’ <www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/clean-up-after-yourself/article773567/> accessed 10 February 2020.

[9] Philippe Sands, Jacqueline Peel, Adriana Fabra, Ruth MacKenzie, Principles of International Environmental Law (Cambridge University Press, 2018) 240.

[10] ICAO, Environmental Report 2019 – Chapter: Climate Change Mitigation: CORSIA (ICAO Publications 2019) 236.

[11] Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation.

[12] That is holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

[13] Stefan Gössling, Frank Fichert, Peter Forsyth, ‘Subsidies in Aviation’ (2017) 9(8) Sustainability 1295, 1295.

[14] Umweltbundesamt, Methodenkonvention 3.0 zur Ermittlung von Umweltkosten Kostensätze Stand 02/2019 (Umweltbundesamt Publikationen, 2019). UBA recommends the use of a multiplier of 2.0 for the transfer of the CO2 price to aviation emissions to include the non-CO2 effects.

[15] Michael Holder, ‘EU carbon prices surge to 14-year high’ <www.businessgreen.com/news/4017770/eu-carbon-prices-surge-14> accessed 23 July 2020.         

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.