2018 Human Rights Lecture: The Impact of Brexit on Rights

Back in May, in the midst of the referendum campaign on the 36th Amendment to the Constitution, I attended the Law Society of Ireland where I delivered the 2018 Annual Human Rights Lecture. I had been asked to speak to the topic of ‘The Impact of Brexit on Rights’ and delivered a lecture that looked at this from three angles: protection of rights in the UK generally after exit day, the protection of rights in Northern Ireland in particular, and the future of a ‘Europe of rights’ in a Brexit context. The full text is available on the Law Society website here, but here’s the conclusion:

Brexit [is] an opportunity if not an imperative to re-make the argument for a Europe of rights and to ensure that the European Union operates as such. It can and should inspire us to make once again, and again, the moral argument for European solidarity, and for a post-nationalist solidarity of love and care across our continent. To do that we need to show that a Europe of rights can work, even as, as Ban Ki-moon has said, the world has “reached a level of human suffering without parallel since the founding of the United Nations”.[1]In this, our European Union, many millions of people live in intense suffering: they cannot school their children in their language and cultural traditions, they cannot express themselves freely without fear of persecution, they cannot walk through life without being subjected to sexual and gender-based violence, they cannot access appropriate healthcare including reproductive healthcare, they have no or unsafe homes, they have diminishing security in later life, they experience daily disregard for their dignity especially in sickness and/or old age, and they see around them at all times the deep and deeply rooted inequalities that set the conditions in which European human rights abuses occur.

Remaking the argument for a Europe of rights, thus, requires us both to articulate clearly the moral case for rights, even when their protection may require us to give up some sovereignty or when a rights violation in question seems far from our own experiences. It requires us to see a violation in Ljubljana and Limavady as equally injurious to our humanity; to care as much for our fellow European in Ghent as in Galway; to see our land as much as that of our European co-denizens as of our scattered, intergenerational diaspora.  

It requires us also to press with urgency for a Europe of rights that goes beyond practical and technical solutions to legal challenges and recommits to the true and rich solidarity that underpins the vision of Europe. That may in turn compel us to move on from a Wilsonian idealism that believes democracy and capitalism are the keys to freedom, peace and prosperity. It may require us to question again the ordoliberalism of the Union and its fiscal and economic structures and policies. It may require us to look with more care and more love on our compatriots and enact our esteem for them with more open borders, more supportive socio-economic models, and more welcoming hearts.  

This is not to say that some of the challenges thrown up by Brexit are not amenable to technical and practical solutions; of course they are. The nature and status of retained legislation in the UK is a matter, partly, of technical legal design. The operation of an all-island system of rights and a near-invisible border between the two jurisdictions can be resolved with a set of technical solutions. But even these technical and practical solutions will not work without an underpinning commitment to rights between all of the relevant stakeholders: the member states, the European Union, and the peoples of Europe and of these islands.

Technocracy ultimately fails because it conceits to divorce the technical from the political; when it comes to rights these two cannot be separated. If the reaction to Brexit is merely to seek technical and practical solutions without attending to the root causes and their potential persistence within the European Union then the setting for further ‘_exits’ will remain undisturbed, and the price may well be far greater than any us care to consider.

In Whatever you Say, Say Nothing, from which I have already quoted, Seamus Heaney closes with words that seem apt for the situation we find ourselves in now:

Competence with pain,

Coherent miseries, a bite and sup,

We hug our little destiny again.

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Being an Academic Today: Thoughts for Undergraduates

This week I went to Dublin to speak at the opening dinner of the Global Summit for the Undergraduate Awards. The dinner, and my speech, were on Wednesday (9 November), and the 150 students being honoured at the dinner came from all over the world. Wednesday, of course, was when people on this side of the Atlantic discovered that Donald Trump had been elected as the 45th President of the United States of America (subject to ratification by the Electoral College, of course). For many people, the election of Trump was a blow to progressivism, human rights, esteem and many other values that we hold dear; it is also perceived by many as part of the slide towards authoritarianism across ‘the West’. Bearing all of this in mind, it was somewhat difficult to craft a speech that would be uplifting, but the below is the text that I settled on. I decided to focus on being an academic in the arts, humanities and social sciences, and on the social value of that role at times like this. Continue reading Being an Academic Today: Thoughts for Undergraduates

10 books by women to read before starting Law School

Update: August 2017 This post was originally written around this time last year (2016) and since then some great suggestions have come in on the comments too.

Earlier this week, Martin Partington shared a list of “the top 10 essential books for aspiring lawyers” on the OUP Blog. The books on the list are all perfectly interesting and good recommendations for students (and others) interested in law, society and justice. However, I couldn’t help but notice that nine of the ten were written by men, and the tenth by “Anon” (it is a 13th Century Icelandic saga about a blood feud, so it is to be expected that there is no attributed author). Thus, on my short train trip to work this morning I rapidly assembled a list of ten books by women that aspiring law students might find useful and interesting to read. I won’t call them essential, but they are certainly stimulating and, in many cases, harrowing. They also, of course, reflect my own tastes in books and ideas about where and how we ‘see’ narratives about law and justice.

Other ideas and suggestions welcome in the comments. Continue reading 10 books by women to read before starting Law School

Public Lecture in Hong Kong: A Rule of Law Crisis in Europe?

EDIT (1.9.16): It seems there is quite a bit of interest in this topic, so the location of the lecture has been changed to Room 724 & 725, 7/F Cheng Yu Tung Tower, Centennial Campus, The University of Hong Kong. Registration is still open!

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I will spend next week as a visitor at the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the University of Hong Kong. While there, I will be participating in a workshop and collaborating with colleagues in the CCPL, meeting with doctoral researchers and discussing their work with them, and also giving a public lecture on Friday, September 3rd.

The lecture, “Is there a Rule of Law Crisis in Europe?”, will take place at 5:30pm on the Centennial Campus of HKU (Small Moot Court, Room 723 Room 724 & 725, 7/F Cheng Yu Tung Tower). Registration is free but encouraged, as there is a registration limit of 50. If you are in Hong Kong at the time you can register here. Continue reading Public Lecture in Hong Kong: A Rule of Law Crisis in Europe?