Translating collective international climate goals into adequate individual state contributions

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By Marcus Liedtke, member of the Environmental Law and Sustainability Research Group

The recent Glasgow climate conference (COP 26) once again highlighted that the international community falls far short of its ambitious collective goals set out in the Paris Agreement[1] (PA), especially to limit global warming ‘to well below 2°C’[2] and possibly 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.[3]

‘Individuation’ as a central and urgent challenge in international climate change law

A crucial but often neglected question in this regard is how to effectively translate collective international mitigation goals into adequate individual state contributions in order to ensure as far as possible that the collective goal is met.[4] Such a translation – or ‘individuation’[5] – is not only of political but also of legal importance, given that considerable voices[6]  assume that the PA’s long-term temperature goal creates a collective obligation.[7] While 2°C arguably constitute the desired minimum mitigation outcome, the 1.5°C goal forms a mere obligation of conduct.[8] Whether COP 26’s attempts to encourage enhanced immediate collective and individual state action towards closing the emissions gap and limiting global warming ideally even to 1.5°C will prove successful in practice, remains to be seen.[9]

An ‘individuation mechanism’[10] to bridge the gap between individual state ambition and the collective temperature goal should strike a careful balance between competing demands both in terms of practical effectiveness and conceptual design, especially between bottom-up and top-down approaches.[11]

Shortcomings of the Paris Agreement

The PA, recognising different national circumstances, attempts to achieve its long-term objective primarily based on bottom-up nationally determined contributions (NDCs).[12] However, despite some improvements resulting from the supplementary 2018 Paris Rulebook,[13] the current rules are insufficient to incentivise states to closely align state-level ambition with the collective temperature goal.[14] The PA especially contains only vague self-differentiation criteria[15] and does not ensure appropriate comparability, reliability and reflectiveness of NDCs, so that these tend to be self-centred and uncoordinated.[16] The transparency framework[17] and compliance mechanism[18] are unable to compensate these deficits in the bottom-up architecture.[19] The rules governing the global stocktake[20] which is to take place every five years,[21] by contrast, offer some potential to use it as an individuation mechanism.[22] This would, however, only lead to ex-post adjustments of individual state contributions and depend on the political willingness of states.[23]

Previous approaches

While the PA so far falls short of its collective goals in practice,[24] both the Framework Convention (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol (KP) at least partly effectively achieved their key targets.[25] This did, however, not result from a convincing individuation mechanism. On the contrary, the UNFCCC’s predominantly bottom-up approach[26] and the KP’s top-down emission reduction targets[27] – unlike the PA –[28] display a strong bifurcation between developed and developing countries and thus address only a small share of global emissions.[29]

Lessons from the European Union

To resolve its joint contribution under the PA into member state commitments, the European Union (EU) has to conduct a similar exercise to the one required at global level.[30] It relies upon a comprehensive legal framework to ensure adequacy, coherence and achievement of its ambitious collective and member state-level climate goals.[31] As the EU approach – balancing top-down[32] and bottom-up[33] elements of individuation – has enabled it to so far mostly effectively meet its collective targets,[34] it can in many regards inspire an individuation mechanism for the PA. Under the Effort Sharing Regulation, for instance, the collective EU 2030 mitigation target enshrined therein is broken down into individual minimum state contributions.[35] While it is upon EU member states themselves to decide how to achieve these,[36] the regulatory framework also envisages corrective action plans[37] and a critical dialogue with the European Commission on individual mitigation action.[38] Further lessons from the EU include enhanced individuation over time,[39] transparency,[40] depoliticisation of the process,[41] and well-designed flexibilities.[42]

Designing an effective individuation mechanism

A key feature of an effective individuation mechanism for the PA should therefore be a regular constructive dialogue on the consistency of the states’ individual mitigation ambition with the long-term temperature goal and more precise collective interim goals.[43] To this end, a scientific body should determine and publish a fair-share range of individual ambition in line with the collective temperature goal,[44] preferably based on the criteria of mitigation capacities, environmental integrity and intergenerational equity.[45] Another independent body should then regularly assess the adequacy of current individual contributions in that light.[46] Where states wish to deviate from its recommendations, they should publicly state their reasons to facilitate institutional, public and political scrutiny and peer pressure.[47] The constructive dialogue would thereby largely preserve the bottom-up dynamic of the PA, while creating additional top-down incentives for more regular and objective equity reflections.[48] It could thus well complement a strengthened global stocktake.[49]

Furthermore, states still struggling with capacity limitations should be allowed to use limited flexibilities.[50] To encourage also developing countries to make an as ambitious contribution as possible and avoid delaying of mitigation action, these flexibilities should, however, only be available as a last resort.[51] This would especially require that the respective state cannot deliver its full adequate contribution otherwise, even after exhausting available support which developed countries should provide as part of their fair share.[52]

Conclusion

In conclusion, the most promising way to translate collective international mitigation goals into adequate individual state contributions in order to ensure as far as possible that the collective goal is met would be a constructive dialogue between states and an independent body based on suitable equity criteria. Further refinement of the international legal framework thus seems necessary.

This blog post builds upon the author’s LLM dissertation submitted in 2021.[53]


The role of judiciary in climate change litigation – the rise of a promising opportunity to combat climate change

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By Christina Schroeder, LLM Student, Member of Environmental Law and Sustainability Research Group.

Climate change and how to combat it is an omnipresent issue. Whereas in the past climate change and its consequences were talked down, they are now seen as the “biggest threat modern humans have ever faced”[1] and referred to as a “crisis multiplier”[2] with the need to act in time, requiring global cooperation.[3]

The previous attempt to achieve climate protection at the political level by means of the Paris Agreement[4] can be considered a failure due to the lack of implementation[5] by the states.

This is where the consideration comes into play as to whether court rulings offer a possibility to effectively combat climate change. Climate change litigation is also increasing due to the influence of many young people who are campaigning for more climate protection with the help of the courts or by organising global climate strikes.[6]

There are several reasons why courts can provide an opportunity to effectively combat climate change through their judgments. In contrast to climate agreements as for example the Paris Agreement, courts take a clear line. Cases have to be decided and thus a clear result has to be reached; while political leaders so far have failed to implement measures to reach targets of the Paris Agreement.[7] Courts are also suited to their function of enforcing decisions promoting more climate protection. In the context of climate change litigation, judicial lawmaking is also becoming increasingly important. Courts decide whether existing laws need to be reinterpreted or amended when they are deemed unfair in their application to specific cases.[8]

Judicial successes in effectively combating climate change can be seen in several landmark rulings, especially in strategic cases[9] where courts make decisions by ordering the improvement or revision of current laws,[10] as in the cases of Friends of the Irish Environment v Ireland[11] and Neubauer et al. v Germany.[12]  For example, in the case of Friends of the Irish Environment v Ireland[13] the Supreme Court of Ireland quashed the National Mitigation Plan, as the court found that the plan was not detailed enough to effectively reach the goals within Ireland’s 2015 Climate Act.[14] The court also argued that especially for a normal citizen, the plan was not sufficiently specific enough relating to what actions would be taken until 2050 to give effect to the 2015 Climate Act of Ireland.[15] In this respect, the decision of the Supreme Court of Ireland has set the course for the fight against climate change but has so far contributed little to it due to a lack of political implementation of a new Mitigation Plan.

Recently in 2021, the German Federal Constitutional Court decided that the Federal Climate Change Act[16] does not sufficiently protect the future generations from the impacts of climate change.[17] The Court also found a duty of the German government to actively protect life and health of its citizens.[18] After the ruling in Germany, the German government initiated an amendment of the Climate Protection Act in a record time.[19] Under the amended Climate Protection Act by the German government from 24 June 2021, the climate protection targets have been tightened and now aim for Germany to become greenhouse gas neutral by 2045 which is five years earlier compared to the previous target in 2019 and also ahead of the EU’s target date.

Some court cases are also aiming to put pressure on the legislator to do more for climate protection. This can be seen in the cases of the Dutch Supreme Court deciding the case of Urgenda Foundation v. State of the Netherlands[20] in 2019 which identified a legal duty of the government to prevent and combat climate change more actively;[21] and the Colombian Supreme Court ruling in 2018 in favor of 25 children in Colombia who sued the Colombian Government for failing to prevent deforestation and therefore not taking actions against climate change.[22]

In Urgenda case, the Dutch Supreme Court invoked the government’s human rights obligations. In order for these to be fulfilled, the court orientated itself on a proposed common ground, which is the targeted reduction of greenhouse gases.[23] This ruling in particular is seen as very successful due to its transferability to other European countries and has already given rise to similar climate lawsuits.[24]

In the Demanda Generaciones Futuras case, the Colombian Supreme Court ordered the government to develop a plan for environmental protection of the Amazon, and at the same time declared the Amazon as an entity with own rights to be protected from destruction. Despite this important ruling, the government has not been able to adequately protect the Amazon.[25] This is not due to the ruling of the Colombian Supreme Court itself, which aimed for comprehensive protection, but solely to the lack of initiatives and measures adopted by the political leaders. Indeed, the approach of using the ‘Rights of Nature’ to protect nature is problematic in this respect, as nature is dependent on human representation. This can work well, as in New Zealand, where the Whanganui River[26] is represented by indigenous people. In contrast, the consideration of granting rights to the Great Barrier Reef remains a concern due to a lack of representation.[27]

The cases above show that courts can be an effective way to combat climate change.

In the context of behavioral effectiveness, the courts are moderately successful, as these decisions cannot directly influence people and their behavior, but they can indirectly influence people’s behavior by stimulating social debate and media attention.[28] In addition, courts can exert direct influence on legislators through their rulings.[29] This is also done while preserving the separation of powers, since despite judicial lawmaking, courts do not become politically active. Thus, the judiciary’s role to solve problems remains complicated. This is due to the fact that the separation of powers and the role of the courts require both political and social components in order to effectively implement a decision.[30] Courts cannot fight climate change on their own, but they can positively promote it.


[1] United Nations Security Council, Press Release SC/14445 ‘Climate Change ‘Biggest Threat Modern Humans Have Ever Faced’, World-Renowned Naturalist Tells Security Council, Calls for Greater Global Cooperation’ 23 February 2021 <https://www.un.org/press/en/2021/sc14445.doc.htm> accessed 14 June 2021.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Paris Agreement, 22 April 2016, in force 4 November 2016, C.N.92.2016. Treaties-XXVII.7.d (2015 Paris Agreement).

[5] Sandrine Maljean-Dubois, ‘Climate Change Litigation’ Max Planck Encyclopedia of Procedural Law (2019) <https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-02281274/document> No.4 accessed 24 August 2021.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sandrine Maljean-Dubois, ‘Climate Change Litigation’ (n 5) No.4.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Orla Kelleher, ‘The Supreme Court of Ireland’s Decision in Friends of the Irish Environment v Government of Ireland (“Climate Case Ireland”)’ (EJIL, 9 September 2020) <https://www.ejiltalk.org/the-supreme-court-of-irelands-decision-in-friends-of-the-irish-environment-v-government-of-ireland-climate-case-ireland/> accessed 9 July 2021.

[10] Joana Setzer, Catherine Higham, ‘Global Trends in Climate Change Litigation: 2021 Snapshot’ (Policy Report July 2021) <https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Global-trends-in-climate-change-litigation_2021-snapshot.pdf> 12, accessed 9 July 2021.

[11] Friends of the Irish Environment CLG v The Government of Ireland, Ireland and the Attorney General (2019) IEHC 747.

[12] Neubauer et al. v Germany, Court order of 24 March 2021, 1 BvR 2656/10.

[13] Friends of the Irish Environment CLG v The Government of Ireland, Ireland and the Attorney General (2019) IEHC 747.

[14] Climate Action and low Carbon Development Act 2015, 46/2015, into force on 10 December 2015.

[15] Mary Carolan, ‘Supreme Court Quashes Government’s Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gases’ (The Irish Times, 31 July 2020) <https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/supreme-court/supreme-court-quashes-government-s-plan-to-reduce-greenhouse-gases-1.4318578> accessed 10 July 2021.

[16] Climate Protection Act Germany (Klimaschutzgesetz), into force on 12 December 2019, amended on 24 June 2021.

[17] Ralf Bodle, Stephan Sina, ‘The German Federal Constitutional Court’s Decision on the Climate Change Act’ (Ecological Institute Berlin, 2021) <https://www.ecologic.eu/18104#:~:text=In%20a%20decision%20published%20in,by%20the%20end%20of%202022> accessed 10 July 2021.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Alice Boldis, Christian Lütkehaus, ‘How a Court Ruling Changed Germany’s Climate Protection Act’ (Pinsent Masons, 20 July 2021) <https://www.pinsentmasons.com/out-law/analysis/court-ruling-germany-climate-protection-act> accessed 2 August 2021.

[20] Urgenda Foundation v The State of the Netherlands (20 December 2019) 19/00135.

[21] Urgenda, ‘Landmark Decision by Dutch Supreme Court’ (Urgenda.nl, 2020) <https://www.urgenda.nl/en/themas/climate-case/> accessed 5 August 2021.

[22] Demanda Generaciones Futuras v Minambiente, Colombian Supreme Court (5 April 2018) STC 4360-2018.

[23] Laura Burgers, André Nollkaemper, ‘A New Classic in Climate Change Litigation: The Dutch Supreme Court Decision in the Urgenda Case’ (EJIL, 6 January 2020) < https://www.ejiltalk.org/a-new-classic-in-climate-change-litigation-the-dutch-supreme-court-decision-in-the-urgenda-case/> accessed 8 August 2021.

[24] Anke Wonneberger, Rens Vliegenthart ‘Agenda-Setting Effects of Climate Change Litigation: Interrelations Across Issue Levels, Media, and Politics in the Case of Urgenda Against the Dutch Government’ (n 45) 699.

[25] Alex Guillau, ‘The Colombian Government has Failed to Fulfil the Supreme Court’s Landmark Order to Protect the Amazon’ (Dejusticia, 5 April 2019) < https://www.dejusticia.org/en/the-colombian-government-has-failed-to-fulfill-the-supreme-courts-landmark-order-to-protect-the-amazon/> accessed 25 August 2021.

[26] New Zealand, Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 / Rapid Transition Alliance, ‘The Rise of the Rights of Nature’ (Rapid Transition, 11 March 2019) <https://www.rapidtransition.org/stories/the-rise-of-the-rights-of-nature/> accessed 16 August 2021.

[27] Randall S. Abate, Climate Change and the Voiceless (Cambridge University Press 2019) 161.

[28] Anke Wonneberger, Rens Vliegenthart, ‘Agenda-Setting Effects of Climate Change Litigation: Interrelations Across Issue Levels, Media, and Politics in the Case of Urgenda Against the Dutch Government’ (2021) 15 Environmental Communication 699.

[29] Jaqueline Peel, Hari M. Osofsky, ‘Clime Change Litigation’ (2020) Annu. Rev. Law. Soc. Sci.33.

[30] Luke Elborough, ‘International Climate Change Litigation: Limitations and Possibilities for International Adjudication and Arbitration in Addressing the Challenge of Climate Change’ (2017) 21 NZ J Envtl L 125.

Climate Change Litigation – A Vehicle for Changing Corporation and State Behaviour?

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By Johanna Reichel, Second Year, LL.B. Programme.

With only nine years left until climate change becomes irreversible,[1] stopping or slowing it down becomes increasingly crucial every day. One judicial instrument among others to combat climate change is climate change litigation which is gradually perceived to change climate-related policy outcomes and corporate behaviour.

The most prominent case when talking about climate change litigation is Urgenda.[2]In this case, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled in favour of 900 citizens assisted by the Urgenda Foundation and ordered the government to reduce greenhouse gas emission (GHG) by at least 25% by the end of 2020.[3] This “show horse” of climate change litigation is an almost perfect example of invoking human rights to force States to act ‘greener’.

Climate change litigation cases, especially ones relying on human rights, are increasing.[4] When the defendant is the respective government, the claimants can rely on human rights. Especially the right to life[5] and the right to effective remedies[6] have been used more often strategically and successfully by NGO’s and individuals.

Urgenda paved the way for other individuals, such as Ashgar Leghari, a farmer in Pakistan, to hold their governments accountable via litigation. Mr Leghari challenged the Pakistani government for its failure to carry out core provisions of the National Climate Change Policy of 2012. He succeeded and the government was ordered to implement a climate adaption plan.[7]

In 2018, Colombia’s Supreme Court ordered the authorities to implement action plans to address deforestation in the Amazon,[8] another major cause of climate change. As the ‘lung of the world’, the Amazon Forest stores large amounts of carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and thereby increasing the world’s temperature.[9]

As demonstrated, climate change litigation is a tool to influence climate change law and policy. Nevertheless, as corporations are responsible for over 71% of global emissions,[10] holding them accountable is essential to stop climate change. However, as the provisions in the Human Right Charters are only addressed to public bodies, corporations cannot be held liable under them.[11] After failed attempts in the early 2000s,[12] the second wave of litigation rose with cases such as Huaraz Case[13] where Saúl Luciano Lliuya, a Peruvian farmer, is suing the German multinational energy company RWE in Germany to hold them accountable for their impact on climate change. He is basing his claim on the German Code of Civil procedure, yet the outcome must be awaited as SARS COVID-19 delayed the process.[14]

The precedent for climate change litigation against corporations was recently set in Milieudefensie v Shell.[15] In May 2021, Shell was ordered to cut their GHG by 2030 by 45%.[16] Relying on the Urgenda precedent and the fact that Shell’s GHG was twice as high as the Netherland’s, the court permitted the claim under the European Convention on Human Rights.[17]

Despite the fact that courts do not always rule in favour of the environment, corporations can be influenced to act ‘greener’ due to media coverage. ExxonMobile, for example, misled the public about climate change’s potential business risks to rationalize their behaviour by funding climate change denial front groups and spreading disinformation about climate science.[18] Despite winning the case, the subsequent public and financial scrutiny damaged their reputation, and their credit rating was downgraded.[19] In conclusion, climate change litigation is accurately seen as a tool to influence climate change policies and corporate behaviour. However, cases such as Urgenda and Milieudefensie, while demonstrating an ideal outcome, are rare and must be built upon. Milieudefensie, in particular, needs to be further observed as Shell will undoubtedly appeal the decision. Nevertheless, even unsuccessful cases can drive climate change action long term as public awareness is raised through media attention and a broad public discussion is forced.


[1] General Assembly, Only 11 Years Left to Prevent Irreversible Damage from Climate Change, Speakers Warn during General Assembly High-Level Meeting (28 March 2019) < https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/ga12131.doc.htm> accessed 18 May 2021

[2] Supreme Court of the Netherlands, 20 December 2019, ECLI:NL:HR:2019:2007, English translation ECLI:NL:2019:2007

[3]’Climate Case – Urgenda’ (Urgenda, 2019) <https://www.urgenda.nl/en/themas/climate-case/> accessed 18 May 2021;  Supreme Court of the Netherlands, 20 December 2019, ECLI:NL:HR:2019:2007, English translation ECLI:NL:2019:2007

[4] Elisa de Wit, Sonali Seneviratne and Huw Calford, ‘Climate Change Litigation Update’ (Nortonrosefulbright.com, 2020) <https://nortonrosefulbright.com/en/knowledge/publications/7d58ae66/climate-change-litigation-update> accessed 24 May 2021

[5] Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1848, art. 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, art. 6

[6] Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1848, art. 8; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, art. 2(3)

[7] Asghar Leghari v Federation of Pakistan (2015) W.P. No 25501/201

[8] Demanda Generaciones Futuras v. Minambiente 11001-22-03-000-2018-00319-01, para 3.

[9] Ross W. Gorte and Pervaze A. Sheikh ‘Deforestation and Climate Change’ (Congressional Research Service, 2010) < http://forestindustries.eu/sites/default/files/userfiles/1file/R41144.pdf> accessed 2 July 2021

[10] Tess Riley, ‘Just 100 Companies Responsible For 71% Of Global Emissions, Study Says’ (the Guardian, 2017) <https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71-global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change> accessed 18 May 2021

[11] European Commission, ‘How to report a breach of your rights’ https://ec.europa.eu/info/aid-development-cooperation-fundamental-rights/your-rights-eu/how-report-breach-your-rights_en accessed 26 May 2021

[12] Michal Nachmany and Joana Setzer, ‘Global trends in climate change legislation and litigation: 2018 snapshot’ (2018) Graham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment < https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Global-trends-in-climate-change-legislation-and-litigation-2018-snapshot-3.pdf> accessed 24 May 2021

[13] Agence France-Presse, ‘Peruvian farmer sues German energy giant for contributing to climate change’ The Guardian (14 November 2017) < https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/14/peruvian-farmer-sues-german-energy-giant-rwe-climate-change> accessed 24 May 2021

[14] Luciano Lliuya v. RWE AG Case No. 2 O 285/15 Essen Regional Court

[15] The Hague District Court, 26 May 2021, ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2021:5337, English translation ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2021:5339

[16] Roger Harrabin ‘Shell: Netherlands court orders oil giant to cut emissions’ BBC News (26 May 2021) < https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-57257982> accessed 26 May 2021

[17] Milieudefensie v Shell [2019] District Court of The Hague < http://blogs2.law.columbia.edu/climate-change-litigation/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/non-us-case-documents/2019/20190405_8918_summons.pdf> accessed 26 May 2021

[18] Suzanne Goldenberg ‘ExxonMobil under investigation over claims it lied about climate change risks’ The Guardian (New York, 5.11.2015) <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/05/exxonmobil-investigation-climate-change-peabody> accessed 8 July 2021

[19] Megan Darby, ‘Shareholder Pressure Mounts On Downgraded Exxonmobil’ (the Guardian, 2016) <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/28/shareholders-pressure-mounts-on-downgraded-exxonmobil-climate-change> accessed 25 May 2021

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.

Pro Bono at Bristol Law School: Video

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UWE Bristol Law students speak about the benefits of taking part in Pro Bono activities.

The Pro Bono Unit enables UWE Bristol Law School students to provide free legal advice services to members of the community. We have spoken to several students about their experiences of getting involved in Pro Bono.

Here’s what they had to say:

“For my career it has helped me get work experience. I think that being involved in Pro Bono will give you that confidence to put that on your CV and when law firms can look at you being involved, they definitely would want to take you on and give you some more experience because they trust in you.”  – Manmeet Singh, Law Student

“When I was at UWE I got involved in an organisation called Street Law which is a programme that goes to help teach younger children the basic of laws. So, we would be teaching them things like civil and criminal law, the advocacy process and just a general introduction to studying law.” – Isaac Cole, Trainee Solicitor 

“It helped me build my confidence as before I couldn’t really speak in front of a group of people and now I’m accustomed to holding events of upwards of 300 people.” – Freya Whiting, Law Student

“The Pro Bono experiences I’ve done has helped me for my career in a sense that it’s developed my confidence when being in an interview situation. It’s also helped in a sense that it’s helped me further understand why I want to pursue this career.” – Rory Jutton, LPC Student

“I would recommend students to do Pro Bono activities or get involved with Pro Bono. The main reason is employability, you can’t really put a price on that – it’s invaluable experience, it’s satisfying and it’s incredibly rewarding.” – Dominik Morton, Pupil Barrister

If you would like to know more about Pro Bono at UWE Bristol please visit our webpage.

UWE Bristol wins Guardian Award for Equity Programme

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We were delighted to be finalists at this year’s Guardian University Awards but are over the moon to have actually won! This award means so much to everyone who’s been involved in developing and delivering the Equity Programme ever since our first pilot event in October 2016. It’s been a long and sometimes challenging journey to introduce a progressive positive action scheme like this. Working with students, local employers and national diversity thought leaders, we’ve created something which the University can be really proud of and which offers BAME students a chance to leverage leadership and enterprise skills as they embark upon their graduate careers. 

The Equity programme has 4 pillars: 1-2-1 mentoring, identity and leadership coaching, enterprise education workshops and large evening networking and guest speaker events. National statistics on the performance and progression of ethnic minorities in the labour market (as highlighted by the MacGregor Smith Race in the Workplace Review 2017) have to change and we are proud to be leading the way on the role universities can play in this regard. Finally, we want to thank every facilitator and the external guests who attend our events and enrich our student experience.

Equity evening events run throughout the academic year and are open to the public to attend. We warmly encourage alumni to consider attending the evening events to give our students networking opportunities as well as being part of the collective challenge to diversify the talent pipeline. To find out more please visit www.uwe.ac.uk/equityor email raceequality@uwe.ac.uk

Post written by Dr Zainab Khan- Equity Programme Lead

Take advantage of degree apprenticeship SME funding with UWE Bristol

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15 May 2019 15:00 – 17:00

Register here

Are you interested in upskilling your workforce and does the cost of training seem a barrier to accessing local talent?

This event provides an opportunity to hear first-hand accounts from existing businesses who have apprentices at UWE, and how to make it work. In addition to this, we will be highlighting upcoming degree apprenticeships and further opportunities for your business to train your employees at degree level with the funding available.

UWE Bristol is the only university in the region with funding from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to support non-levy employers and has secured funding to support apprentices from Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).

David Barrett, Director of Apprenticeships at UWE Bristol, will welcome you to the event and alongside the Degree Apprenticeship Hub team will be able to help identify your training needs and suitable solutions.

Spaces are limited for this event, so please register below.

If you have any questions about this event or degree apprenticeships please feel free to contact Ellen Parkes.

We are looking forward to meeting you and beginning the degree apprenticeship partnership journey.

The event takes place in the University Enterprise Zone on Frenchay Campus from 15:00 – 17:00.

Register here

The disclosure crisis: A suspect and practitioner perspective

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On Wednesday 5 December 2018 UWE Bristol hosted the first annual Criminal Justice Research Unit lecture on the topic “The disclosure crisis: A suspect and practitioner perspective.” The event was organised and chaired by Dr Tom Smithand Dr Ed Johnston and funded by the Centre for Applied Legal Research.

Roughly a year ago today our first speaker Liam saw accusations of rape dismissed after the police failed to disclose crucial evidence which fundamentally undermined the claims made against him. Liam gave us a very a personal account of his experiences with the criminal justice system. Jerry Hayes and Anthony Edwards each provided varied and valuable professional perspectives on the problem of disclosure. We hope that this lecture will help to promote meaningful and long term change in this area as well as furthering our goal here at UWE Bristol of research that shapes the future of organisations.

The lecture has been recorded and is available to watch online as a video, or to listen to as a podcast:

View Full video

Listen to Podcast

Liam Allan

Liam Allan is a criminology and criminal psychology graduate who was charged with rape in 2015 and spent two years on bail before his case collapsed owing to failures with the disclosure regime. Liam gave us a very personal insight into his experience and the trauma of accusation, from the moment he was arrested until the case was dropped. Liam described being made to feel that he was “guilty until proven innocent”. Liam arrived at the Crown Court charged with 13 counts of rape; days into his trial, it emerged that the police had 60,000 non-disclosed text messages containing vital information which led to the collapse of the case against him. Following these events, there was huge media interest and public outcry. Subsequently, 600 cases were dropped, 6 of which were rape cases. Since that time, Liam has continued his studies and founded the Innovation of Justice campaign, which seeks to unite organisations, lawyers and barristers, individually seeking to improve different aspects of the criminal justice system.

Jerry Hayes

Jerry was the prosecution barrister for Liam’s trial, and played a fundamental role in the discovery of the non-disclosed evidence. Jerry described some of the fundamental issues with the criminal justice system, in particular in relation to sexual offences. He argued that many members of a jury jump to conclusions in a “no smoke without fire” reaction to rape cases (something Liam suggested he had previously done, prior to his accusation). Jerry emphasised the importance of remembering that people are complainants, not victims, until a conviction or a plea of guilty. Jerry described in detail how and why the system very nearly failed Liam Allan – who would have served up to 12 years in prison and been on the Sexual Offenders Register for life. He suggested that the evidence that was withheld had been deemed “too personal” to be revealed and not relevant to the case. Yet, he argued, it was not only capable of undermining the prosecution case; it made it absolutely clear that Liam Allan could not be guilty. Jerry described Liam’s case as the worst he had seen in 41 years of practice.

Anthony Edwards

Anthony Edwards has been a practising solicitor for 45 years and gave us a professional overview of how disclosure should be handled to avoid major miscarriages of justice. Anthony explained some of the provisions of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act (CPIA) and gave an overview of the recent Attorney General’s review of disclosure. He argued that, with sexual offences, there is added complexity and difficulty due to frequent “credibility contest” in such cases – that is, they turn on one person’s word against another. He stated that it is a routine part of defence practice to deal with non-disclosure issues; from major fraud to cases of minor assault. He suggested that poor disclosure practice undermines the criminal justice system, as police and prosecutors do not look for what is actually needed in a case. Anthony highlighted that this issue will not just go away (and not done so for decades), arguing for an enormous cultural shift from the police, the prosecution and defence, to ensure that all evidence is properly disclosed from the start. Anthony highlighted the need for an independent disclosure review process, conducted by an independent barrister, arguing that history tells us that the police nor the prosecution can or will do a satisfactory job. Anthony highlighted the related issues associated with the use of social media by parties in a case; particularly the problems of detecting and accessing such material when it stored on a third party’s account. He asked: how an accused can find such material if they do not know it exists? Anthony suggested that, with an independent disclosure counsel running the process, a significant proportion of cases that currently reach court and are subsequently dropped or dismissed by a jury would be filtered out of the system at an early stage, avoiding injustice.

Question and Answer session

We had a range of questions, some sent in advance and then opened up questions from the audience. Liam talked about how the case affected his personal life and that he was suspended from his job for 2 months. The emotional strain of the case understandably caused Liam to breakdown in court, but he also spoke about the impact on his family and friends. There was much discussion around the CPS and CPIA, whether they were fit for purpose and whether Liam was judged fairly. Anthony and Jerry gave an insightful discussion of the failings of the criminal justice system and how these failings impact genuine victims of sexual abuse. The idea of anonymity for those accused of certain types of offences was discussed by all three speakers, and the idea that it should be anonymous until a judge, because there may be other offences, directs that it should be made publicly known. There was criticism of the CPS and police using their lack of resources as an excuse for their failings, and whether this is a valid excuse or reason, nonetheless it needs to be addressed.

The entire lecture is available online here:

Full video

Podcast

Professor Anthony Arnull’s Distinguished Professorial Address – UWE, 24 October 2017

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‘Should we trust the EU?’ was the controversial title of Professor Anthony Arnull’s Distinguished Professorial Address held on 24 October 2018 at the Bristol Law School, UWE. Prof Arnull who holds the Chair of European Union Law at the University of Birmingham and is the author and editor of a wide range of well-known scholarly works in the field (eg The European Union and its Court of Justice (OUP, 2nd ed, 2006), European Union Law: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2017), The Oxford Handbook of European Union Law (OUP, 2015)) started his Address by asking the question ‘What does trust have to do with the EU?’. He pointed out that the concept of trust is increasingly invoked by the CJEU in its jurisprudence. The view of the CJEU is that because Member States share the same values they should trust each other to respect them and thus cannot insist on evidence to show that they are being complied with.

Prof Arnull’s first task was to define the notion of ‘trust’. First, he noted that in an article published in 2004 Lenaerts identified a number of principles that should enhance the trust of individuals in the EU: transparency, equality of arms, legal certainty and predictability, and sound administration. (‘In the Union We Trust’: Trust-Enhancing Principles of Community Law’ (2004) 41 CMLRev 317-343). Writing on the same issue in 2017 Lenaerts explained that the CJEU was expecting the constitutional courts of all Member States to monitor the lower courts. (‘La vie après l’avis: Exploring the Principle of Mutual (yet not Blind) Trust’ (2017) 54 CMLRev 805-840).

Looking at the concept in a more general way Prof Arnull explained that Baier understands trust as ‘reliance on others’ competence and willingness to look after, rather than harm, things one cares about which are entrusted to their care’ but that it might be possible to add another dimension to trust, that of risk, a notion introduced by Niklas Luhmann in his extensive writings on the subject. In this context, both parties expect things to go smoothly for the benefit of both (eg hiring a babysitter). So, the question boils down to asking how can someone draw the conclusion that another person is trustworthy? After all, it is about good judgment and usually one relies on evidence to establish such trustworthiness. In other words, the question is: ‘does the person have a good track record?’ Sometimes as it is not easy to gather evidence one needs to use proxy indicators. This is particularly the case in decentralised systems when it is often difficult to find whether trust is met. Trust can indeed be misplaced and so there might be a lack of trust.

Going back to the European Union Prof Arnull asked whether it is rational to trust the EU. He observed that a high degree of trust had been displayed by the European States between the 1950 Schuman declaration and the 1957 Treaty of Rome that established the European Economic Community. Yet, the States also seemed not to trust each other, considering the possibility that a State might not live up to its treaty commitments. The Commission was tasked with ensuring that the treaty be applied, and an enforcement procedure was established under Article 169. Prof Arnull also went back to the enforcement procedure under the European Coal and Steel Community to prove his point. After all, the idea of policing States tends to show a lack of trust. Such an argument is supported by the introduction in the Treaty of Maastricht of the possibility for the Commission to start a second set of proceedings against States with a view to obliging them to pay financial penalties if they did not comply with the initial CJEU judgment. The Lisbon Treaty went a step further allowing the Commission to ask for financial penalties to be applied without having to seise the CJEU again, though that is only allowed in limited circumstances (Article 260(3) TFEU). Prof Arnull argued that there is trust in the Commission to enforce EU law but it was much higher in the past, especially under the European Coal and Steel Community. The Amsterdam Treaty also introduced in Article 7 TEU the possibility to check on States failing to comply with the key values of the European Union. Now such a procedure is being used against Poland and Hungary.

Prof Arnull then provided a myriad of examples of trust and lack thereof towards both Member States and the institutions of the European Union. As he pointed out in the Q&A session the permutation of trust relations in the EU does not permit a structured analysis of how trust works in the EU. He also explained that mutual trust is the basis of EU law as well as an assumption. That being said, if there is a lack of trust it does not mean that there will be no trust anymore; rather, it means that trust must be re-established at a later stage.

The application of the European Arrest Warrant is an example of the trust or lack thereof between EU Member States as the recent preliminary reference to the CJEU on a case brought by an Irish court shows (Case C-216/18 PPU). Indeed, the Irish court questioned whether the right to fair trial would be guaranteed should Ireland extradite the individual to Poland.

With regard to individuals and how much they can trust the EU, Prof Arnull highlighted that originally, under the ECSC treaty, legal and natural persons had a relatively easy access to judicial review but the Treaty of Rome severely curtailed that right. The reason for this was that such judicial review was viewed as detrimental to the good functioning of the then European Economic Community.

To ensure though that individuals benefitted from EU law, the Court established the principles of direct effect and supremacy. If it had thought the Member States could be trusted to comply with EU law it would have probably not created these principles. The CJEU also works on the basis of trust in the sense that it assumes that the highest national courts comply with EU law as well as monitor lower courts. Unfortunately, this was recently put to the test as the Danish Supreme Court refused to follow a preliminary reference in 2016 (Ajos Case). So, if a constitutional court does not comply with EU law such monitoring disappears or, at least, becomes more difficult. Some academics claim that the Danish court’s reaction was because it views the CJEU as too activist and this does not work well with the Danish legal culture. The question however is why such an issue is raised after Denmark has been for so many years in the European Union.

The European Commission is viewed as one of the most powerful institutions and so trust in it is paramount. Unfortunately, a number of events have permitted us to doubt the trust we put in it. For example, in 1999 the Santer Commission resigned. In 2006 Edith Cresson, a Commissioner, was found guilty of misconduct (Case C-432/04). More recently in 2018 the Ombudsman has had to deal with two cases of maladministration against the Commission, the first one relating to Barroso, the former President of the EU Commission taking up a job as advisor with Goldmans Sachs and, the second one relating to the appointment of Selmayr as Secretary-General. It should however be noted that in the latter case the Ombudsman did not attack the individual, rather it was the process that led to his appointment that was put in question. This all does not look good when the Commission is, according to the treaties, the guardian of the treaties and yet seems to contain a number of individuals who cannot be trusted.

The history of the European Monetary Union (EMU) is another point in case. Italy wanted to play a strong role in the EU and thus had to show that it fulfilled the convergence requirements to be part of the EMU. The criteria were flexibly interpreted in 1998 and so Italy became part of it. Later, Italy and Greece became the victims of the 2008 financial crisis. This led to asking the question why Greece had been accepted in the Eurozone in the first place. The criteria, so it seemed, did not appear to have been rightly applied or, possibly, there was a deliberate attempt by Greece to mislead other EU Member States. In any case the issue of trust was raised in this context. The problem was that the Council is the only body that can oblige a State to correct the deficit within a certain timeframe. Yet, the Council, notably due to its composition is unwilling to do so. As a result we end up in a situation whereby commitments are made but not upheld and then the breach is not rectified because of collusion between Member States. All this reveals that the actors at stake cannot be deemed trustworthy, at least in the field of monetary policies.

Another good illustration of the issue of trust in the EU is the enlargement process. At the Copenhagen European Council it was agreed that Cyprus could become a Member of the EU and that accession by a united Cyprus was encouraged. Consequently, the process launched by Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the United Nations, was supported by the EU. Yet, the EU did not attach any conditionality and so, despite the rejection by the Greek Cypriots of the unification of the island in a referendum organised by the United Nations, the EU allowed Cyprus to join the EU but on the understanding that the acquis was suspended in the northern part.

In conclusion, Prof Arnull explained that first the EU treaties have express provisions showing the lack of trust in the Member States. Second, practice also reveals that at times neither the Member States nor the EU institutions can be trusted. In other words, there are many reasons for not trusting the EU and the Member States. Does that mean that there is a crisis? No, according to Prof Arnull. Rather, all institutions must show that they are trustworthy and this can be done by setting practical guidelines and examples of good governance.

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