How I spent my summer: Teaching in Aberdeen

This blog post has been written by Diane Hoffmann, University of Maryland Carey School of Law.

I had the good fortune to spend most of the month of July and the first week in August teaching at the summer program in comparative law at the University of Aberdeen – a collaboration between the University of Baltimore and University of Maryland Schools of Law, in Baltimore, MD and the University of Aberdeen School of Law in Aberdeen, Scotland.

This trip was the realization of a long held aspiration for me. During my dozen years as Associate Dean at Maryland, it was my job to select the faculty member who would have the opportunity to teach and live in Aberdeen for the summer program. Sadly, I was unable to choose myself so had to wait until I stepped out of the Dean’s office and back to the faculty before I was able to put my hat into the ring of potential faculty members who might be selected for this unique opportunity. I was especially excited to be chosen this past year as Maryland faculty who have been to Aberdeen and taught in the program have had absolutely wonderful things to say about it. I was able to confirm these glowing assessments in 2009 when I had the opportunity, while in Europe for another reason, to visit my colleague from Maryland, Jana Singer, who was teaching at Aberdeen that summer. While there, I sat in on some of her classes, went to Edinburgh with the class, got a tour of Aberdeen, and had the pleasure of meeting Professor David Carey Miller, the “champion” and Director of the program in Aberdeen. It all looked like a fantastic experience for the students and faculty.

I was also excited by the prospect of teaching a Comparative Health Law course. At Maryland, I direct the Law & Health Care Program and have taught numerous health law courses ranging from our survey course on Health Care Law & Policy to specialized courses on End of Life Care and Health Care for the Poor. Although I have taught Comparative Health Law courses in recent years, I had not had the opportunity to focus on one other country and to have experts from that country come and lecture in the course. That was a big attraction of the Aberdeen course for me. Prior to the summer, I worked with then head of school, Anne-Michelle Slater and Dr Greg Gordon (the current head of school) to prepare for the course. I shared my vision of the course with them and Anne-Michelle and Greg identified a stellar group of guest speakers who could address health care law and policy in the U.K. and Scotland, more specifically.

The course focused on a comparison of four areas of health law and policy between the U.S. and the U.K./Scotland: health care systems, medical malpractice systems, allocation of scarce health care resources, and regulation of the beginning and end of life. Our guest speakers were able to speak to each of these areas of law. They included Peter Feldschreiber, a dually qualified physician and barrister from London who specializes in the regulation of pharmaceuticals and medical devices and who advises both EU and US health product companies on all aspects of European regulatory law; Neil MacLeod, a solicitor with the NHS litigation department in Scotland; Annie Sorbie and Edward Dove, both of whom specialize in health and medical law and have recently received faculty appointments at the University of Edinburgh; and Mr Scott Styles, a member of the faculty at University of Aberdeen, who, among other things, is an expert in medical ethics.

Each of these guest speakers added a great deal of excitement to our class discussions as they helped us to compare the “systems” in our home jurisdiction with that of the U.K./Scotland. Several current events also made the course come alive for the students and me. First, perhaps, is the advent of Brexit, which is provoking much uncertainty in the medical profession, regarding movement among the EU countries. One article in the news indicated that 84% of EU health professional workers in the U.K. would leave. Brexit has also raised anxiety in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries about what will be required in the UK in terms of new product approval and marketing authorizations and whether the UK will remain a part of the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

A second relevant event for the course was the case of Charlie Gard, the infant in the U.K. who had a rare terminal genetic disorder that left him blind, deaf and unable to breathe on his own. His doctors and the hospital where he was receiving care felt that his case was hopeless and they should not be required to continue to treat him. His parents, however, took the case to court fighting for the legal authority to place him on an experimental treatment plan. Each day there were new developments in the case including the Pope and President Trump offering to do whatever they could to help the parents in their quest to keep the child alive. The case offered the class a chance to consider both issues surrounding allocation of scarce medical resources and the law regarding end of life treatments.

The students enthusiastically met the challenge of debating the different aspects of health law and how they played out in the two different jurisdictions. Their keen interest in the issues under discussion made the class sessions lively and fun for me.

In addition to the class being a joy for me to teach, I enjoyed getting to know and working with some of the faculty and staff at Aberdeen, including Anne-Michelle Slater, Susan Stokeld, Greg Gordon and Carol Lawie (who kept everything going). They did a wonderful job organizing our trips to Fyvie Castle, the Town Hall in Aberdeen, as well as the High Court and Parliament in Edinburgh. The trip to Peterhead Prison and Museum was particularly impressive and informative, as we were able to compare side by side the old prison and the very new prison – a model for others in the country.

In addition to the academic side of my time in Aberdeen, I was also able to travel and see some of the sights in Scotland including the beautiful Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye, the Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, Loch Ness outside of Inverness, and Balmoral Castle and the surrounding Cairngorms. I also was able to ride the train (via ScotRail) from Mallaig to Glasgow, touted in the tourist books as one of the most scenic train rides in Europe and a “must” experience for Harry Potter fans as it goes over the viaduct featured in the Harry Potter films. The scenery was spectacular and lived up to the hype. Another special experience was meeting a retired University of Aberdeen professor and his wife and going out to the lighthouse they own at Todhead. The views were absolutely “priceless.”

My time in Aberdeen was wonderful. At the farewell luncheon on the last day of the program, I said to the faculty and students that while Aberdeen is called the “Granite City” – a moniker that evokes a cold, hard place – I experienced the City as a very warm and welcoming place, one to which I hope to return in the not too distant future.

Diane at reception
Diane says a few words at the closing reception
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Four Weeks in Aberdeen

For the past four weeks, I taught a Comparative Crime and Punishment course at the University of Aberdeen. Teaching in the summer school was a very enjoyable and enriching experience for me and all of the students in the program. I know a lot of planning by University of Aberdeen staff and faculty, including Carol Lawie, Anne-Michelle Slater, Susan Stokeld, and many others, went into putting the summer session together, and it really showed. The sessions on law in the United Kingdom were very informative, whether the topics were violence reduction (in a talk by guest speaker Karyn McCluskey, the head of Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit), the history of surveillance (in a lecture delivered by Dr. Philip Glover), or medical malpractice or the National Health Service (in discussions I sat in on as part of Prof. Diane Hoffmann’s Comparative Health Law class).

In the United States, I teach courses on civil procedure, contracts, capital punishment and international human rights law at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Over the course of the summer session in Aberdeen, everyone in the program got an introduction to Scots law, U.K. penal practices, and the City of Aberdeen courtesy of the Lord Provost and local residents. We got to do everything from visit the Scottish Parliament and the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh to tour the new prison and prison museum in Peterhead. Seeing the new prison and the old prison facility side-by-side was a particularly eye-opening experience for the American law students in the program. And the trip to the new prison and the Peterhead Prison Museum sparked lots of conversations and debate about America’s correctional system.

The students in the Comparative Crime and Punishment course had the chance to research and write papers on topics of their choice. After learning about the Scottish legal system and the difference between American and Scottish sheriffs, a number of the students chose to explore and write about the differences between American law and Scots law. One student chose to write about Scotland’s unique “not proven” verdict (especially after hearing a poster presentation by a Ph.D. student at the University of Aberdeen who highlighted the contrast between 15-person juries in Scotland and 12-person juries in the U.S.). Another student chose to write about the differences between policing in Scottish cities and in Baltimore, while another decided to explore Scotland’s corroboration rule compared to American rules of evidence.

Scotland is a beautiful place, and like many of my students, I got a chance to see lots of historic sites during my stay. A visit to Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle was a particular highlight, and train, ferry, bus and taxi rides allowed me to experience the sights of Inverness and Urquhart Castle, the Isle of Skye and the Fairy Pools, and Glasgow’s impressive cathedral and city hall as well as its streetscapes. In Aberdeen itself, I really enjoyed spending time at the university’s impressive library and strolling through Stewart Park and St. Machar’s Cathedral. As part of the Aberdeen International Youth Festival, which coincided with the summer course, I also got to see a wonder concert involving a joint performance by an Icelandic choir and a choral group from Glasgow.

My time in Aberdeen could not have been more fulfilling or rewarding. The study of comparative law allows students and faculty members alike to gain new perspectives, and by meeting and hearing from new people who are experts on another country’s laws and practices, the opportunity for learning is amplified and increased exponentially. A visit to the Tolbooth Museum in Aberdeen–formerly a seventh-century jail–reminded me and other students who paid a visit of just how far we’ve come since the Scottish Enlightenment, which we also discussed at length as part of my course. In-class student participation was tremendous, and a lot of that is attributable to the intellectual atmosphere created by the chance to study abroad.

The Scottish tradition of coffee, tea and snacks between classes made time for additional conversation, and it also made the exchange of ideas particularly sociable and fun. And the closing lunch, with a bagpipe performance by a member of the law faculty, turned out to be a perfect way to end the course of study. The food, drink and celebratory remarks capped off a near perfect summer, with the only glitch I experienced during my whole time in Aberdeen being a seagull swooping down and snatching a big bite of a ham-and-cheese sandwich I’d been nonchalantly eating as I walked along King Street after class one day. Now I know why a sign on a little eatery near Aberdeen’s Union Street reads “Beware the Seagulls”!

One of the many things we learned outside of the classroom is that Aberdeen’s ancient motto is “Bon Accord” (French for “Good Agreement”). The city’s official toast, in fact, is “Happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again – Bon Accord!” I was extremely pleased to meet everyone in Aberdeen and it was hard to say goodbye, but I know that I’ll see everyone again soon. There is already talk of a reunion of summer school alums in the works. In the meantime, I’ll carry my fond memories of Aberdeen with me as I head into a new semester of teaching at the University of Baltimore and the Georgetown University Law Center.

John Bessler is an Associate Professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. He is the author or editor of multiple books on capital punishment, including most recently The Death Penalty as Torture: From the Dark Ages to Abolition (Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2017) and Justice Stephen Breyer’s Against the Death Penalty (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2016).

Crofting Law Group Conference 2017 – Reflections of an Aberdeen law student delegate

This blog post is by Simon Boendermaker, a recent LLB (Hons) graduate of the University of Aberdeen. Comments from Brian Inkster, Hon. Secretary of the Crofting Law Group, and Malcolm Combe follow.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Crofting Law Group Annual Conference, this year held in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, thanks to the generosity of the Group providing free student tickets and subsidised travel and accommodation.

As my Honours courses at the School of Law included both the Rural Law and Law of Leases courses (co-ordinated by Malcolm Combe and Douglas Bain respectively), I did not want to miss the opportunity to take part in an event which appealed to my interests. Alongside this, the programme for the conference featured an afternoon of events dedicated to common grazings, which had been the subject of considerable controversy in crofting communities in the previous twelve months. The opportunity to see vigorous debate between the newly elected crofting commissioners and representatives of the Upper Coll and Mangersta grazings committees, who had been sorely affected by the actions of their predecessors, made for a captivating agenda.

The conference took place in the picturesque surroundings of Lews Castle, the ideal setting to soak in my first visit to the Hebrides. However, there was little time to admire the scenery as a packed schedule of events began with a warm welcome from Iain Maciver of the Stornoway Trust (the community landowner of property in and around Stornoway), followed by a brief introduction to the day’s events from Duncan MacPhee, vice chairman of the Crofting Law Group.

As the programme of the conference would focus on crofting law reform, Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, gave a brief video outline of the stance of the Scottish Government on current legislation. Ewing highlighted that the Scottish Government agreed with the views of crofters that the law was in need of reform, expressing sympathy with the view that legislation had become overly complex for the average crofter. He also revealed that the Government was engaging with crofters over the direction that reform would take, with one approach being to consolidate legislation into a simpler Act or alternatively to adopt a clean sheet approach and developing a completely new legislative framework. However, his comments were tempered by his acknowledgement that the government currently has several “legislative priorities” which meant that crofting would be balanced alongside several competing interests.

The clean sheet approach which was mentioned by Fergus Ewing was rejected by Patrick Krause and Russell Smith, chief executive and chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation. Both noted that legislative reform was low on the list of priorities of the average crofter and that they were generally concerned with areas of practical concern, such as decrofting (that being the term used for taking land out of crofting regulation) and assignation (transfer). Smith noted that a clean sheet approach would risk “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

Much discussion followed the next item on the agenda, when Duncan MacPhee revealed he had successfully arranged a standard security (the Scots law term for a mortgage) over an entire croft without the need to decroft the house and restrict the scope of the security to the decrofted land alone.

Bill Barron of the Crofting Commission discussed “a year like no other” for the Commission, stating that the previous board of the Commission had witnessed deep personal splits, which had led to it failing to act as a corporate body. Barron said he was keen to learn from the mistakes of the previous year, where members of the Commission had made individual regulatory decisions which had resulted in the breakdown of trust between individual crofters and the Commission. With regard to crofting law reform, Barron insisted that the Commission would work with the Government to ensure that any new legislation would support opportunity for new entrants, an area which urgently required examination to secure the future of the sector. Finally, he expressed a hope that, with time, the Commission would be trusted to work for crofters once again.

After lunch, where I was able to speak further with Barron about his plans for the future of the Commission after the previous twelve months, Brian Inkster gave a presentation on the controversy surrounding the Commission. A complete chronology of that could take up several blog posts: Inkster’s Crofting Law Blog provides exactly that, so those interested in further reading on that topic are directed there.

The final portion of the day gave crofters a chance to discuss the current situation surrounding common grazings. Calum Maclean from Upper Coll gave a passionate account of the previous twelve months from the perspective of the grazings committee on Upper Coll. He could not understand how Barron and the new Crofting Commission could be expected to win back the trust of ordinary crofters when they had done little to actively address the effects of the decisions of the previous Commissioners in 2016. However, he was able to finish by stating that ordinary crofters did not want to abandon the current framework but that serious work would be required to secure the future of the sector.

Crofting Law Group Discussion
A discussion during the conference.

The lively debate provoked by the afternoon’s discussions continued well into the evening, when I spoke to several crofters who had attended the conference over dinner and gained some invaluable insights from these conversations. A desire for reform was evident and it is clear that stakeholders will need to undertake serious engagement to secure the bright new future that crofting is desperately in need of.

After writing my dissertation on agricultural holdings, I was able to draw a number of parallels throughout the day between the situation of crofters and issues faced in the agricultural holdings sector, where secure tenants also benefit from a parcel of rights (some which are particularly strong, perhaps even stronger than the rights of the landowner). All of this has ongoing implications for the wider rural sector. For my part, the conference and indeed the discussions over dinner brought to life some of the issues that had been discussed in my law degree. Thanks again to the Crofting Law Group for providing me with the opportunity to attend this year’s conference. I would not hesitate to recommend future conferences to other interested students.

Comment from Brian Inkster

We have been running the assisted places scheme to our conferences for law students at the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde for a few years now. It has been very well received by the Universities. It gives their students an opportunity to find out more about crofting law, a subject seldom touched upon at university. It is hoped that this exposure to crofting law may encourage those students to become tomorrow’s crofting lawyers. The Crofting Law Group will continue the assisted places scheme for next year’s conference which will be held in Edinburgh.

Comment from Malcolm Combe

The University of Aberdeen is very grateful to the Crofting Law Group for the support it gives to students from across Scotland. Whilst some courses at the Scottish universities touch on crofting matters, even with the best will in the world there is no way we could replicate a programme of events akin to the Crofting Law Group Conference for students to benefit from. We look forward to working with the Crofting Law Group in future, and if any other conferencing organisations would be interested in offering a similar student support scheme  we at the School of Law would be delighted to hear from you.

Crofting Students
From left to right: Brian Inkster (Secretary CLG), George MacDonald (Committee member CLG), Maureen Duffy (University of Strathclyde), Duncan MacPhee (Vice Chair CLG), Andrew Agnew (Dundee University), Fraser McDonald (Edinburgh University), Simon Boendermaker (University of Aberdeen), Gemma Thomson (University of Glasgow), Iain Maciver (Committee member CLG).

 

Reflections on “Land Rights and Land Responsibilities: An Audience with the Chair of the new Scottish Land Commission”

This blog post is by Malcolm Rudd, a recent Diploma in Professional Legal Practice graduate of the University of Aberdeen.

On 26 May 2017, the King’s Conference Centre at the University of Aberdeen hosted a lecture and panel discussion about Scotland’s land as part of the May Festival. This event built on a series of events that Malcolm Combe (a Lecturer at the School of Law) and colleagues at the University of Aberdeen have hosted on the topic of land reform, as digested on this blog.

Making More of Scotland's Land
(L-R): Anne-Michelle Slater; Andrew McCornick; Annie McKee; Malcolm Combe; Andrew Thin.

Andrew Thin, Chair of the Scottish Land Commission (Coimisean Fearainn Na H-Alba), provided the keynote presentation. He introduced that new body, which became fully operational on 1 April 2017, and said a few words about the forthcoming Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, before considering what it and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 could mean for the management, use and regulation of land in Scotland.

The Scottish Land Commission was established under Part 2 of the new legislation. It is a Non-Parliamentary Departmental Body (or “Quango”), not completely independent of the Scottish Government but somewhat distanced. There are five land commissioners and one tenant farming commissioner with a range of experience and expertise of business, planning, science and public service.

Andrew Thin’s presentation was entitled “Making More of Scotland’s Land”. The principle of “more for more”, it was explained, will underpin the work of the Commission. Not “more” merely in the traditional sense of productivity, but in bringing greater benefits from the land to more of Scotland’s people. The forthcoming Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, which is provided for in Part 1 of the 2016 Act, is intended to balance rights and responsibilities relating to land using a human rights based approach. The Scottish Government recently consulted on the contents of the Statement, and the Commission’s response (PDF) to that noted anxiety about ambiguity of language and lack of clarity of outcomes. Thin then outlined that the Commission’s role is to encourage flourishing communities, minimise dispute and pursue more diverse and disaggregated land ownership. Its strategic plan for 2018-2021 and some Codes of Practice relating to tenant farming (with agricultural tenancies being an ongoing issue for rural Scotland) will not be released until after the General Election on 8 June 2017.

Following Thin’s address members of an expert panel (reflecting sectoral, geographical and planning expertise) each contributed their perspective on the Statement and land reform policy.

The panel, led by Malcolm Combe, comprised:

Andrew McCornick, President of NFU Scotland
Dr Annie McKee, Social researcher in land management, The James Hutton Institute
Anne-Michelle Slater, Head of School, University of Aberdeen School of Law

Anne-Michelle Slater spoke first, addressing the role which planning law could play in land reform. Andrew McCornick raised his concern as to the perceived unclear trajectory of land reform. He explained that many farmers (both tenants and owners) felt overburdened by bureaucracy and were suspicious of what could be a threat to current land-based activities. Annie McKee focussed on community engagement and transparency in her contribution.

The audience were given an opportunity to ask questions and hear the response of the panel. Wide ranging discussion followed. There were questions about environmental matters, including biodiversity and water quality. Linked to this was land use, in particular forestry and deer management, and there was discussion about tenant farming (and the recent review of it) and the problem of rural community depopulation. One audience member, Professor Roderick Paisley of the School of Law, used the example of a farmer whose ownership allowed him to stay on land earmarked for the Trump International Golf Links to highlight the protective role that property rights can play. The questions were somewhat rural in focus, but it should be borne in mind that land reform policy also affects urban Scotland, that being a point Thin made in his presentation. Thin also stressed the Commission’s intent to engage with communities across Scotland (indeed, only the night before, such an event was held at Thainstone Mart in Inverurie).

The development of land reform in Scotland has been gradual. It will be fascinating to see the effect of the Scottish Land Commission and the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement on the relationship between Scotland’s people and Scotland’s land. Perhaps this event, and indeed this blog post, might play a small role in highlighting that development.

To follow the event as it happened, relevant tweets from the @RuralLaw account can be found here.

Malcolm Rudd has recently worked as a research assistant at the School of Law, looking at aspects of land law with Malcolm Combe, with the support of the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. He presented a paper on land reform and succession (inheritance) at a conference on 26 August 2016, also at the University of Aberdeen.

Perceptions of Corruption and Corporate Mobility: Malta as a real-time case study

This blog post is by Justin Borg-Barthet, a lecturer in EU law and Private International Law. Dr Borg-Barthet is the author of The Governing Law of Companies in EU Law (Hart/Bloomsbury 2012) and several other publications on corporate mobility. He recently formed part of a steering committee overseeing an extensive study for the European Commission on the law applicable to companies.

It is fairly well-established that cost is the primary driver for corporate choice of law and the choice of the physical location of a company’s business. Becht et al, for example, note that entry cost is the primary consideration for choice of corporate law. These authors also note that non-price factors in choice of law have been minimised through the intervention of intermediaries. Recent developments in Malta, however, suggest that non-price factors have some bearing on choices of establishment destinations in the internal market, at least insofar as they concern physical location as opposed to mere choice of law.

By way of background, following the publication of the Panama Papers, allegations concerning kickbacks have emerged involving the current Maltese Prime Minister, his chief of staff, a close aide, and a senior minister. I make no comment here on specific allegations. I am concerned, rather, with the effects of perception on inter-jurisdictional competition for incorporation and physical relocation of businesses.

Anecdotal evidence has emerged suggesting the some companies seeking to relocate from the United Kingdom to an EU-27 jurisdiction are influenced in their choices by the reputation of regulators. Hiscox Ltd, in particular, has chosen to situate its EU business in Luxembourg, having weighed up Malta and Luxembourg as its final shortlist. This cannot be explained with reference to entry cost. Operational costs in Malta are significantly lower than those in Luxembourg. Nor can it be explained with reference to familiarity with laws. Relevant Maltese laws are closely modelled on UK acts, whereas Luxembourg is of a civilian tradition. The key, instead, appears to be in Hiscox’s reference to Luxembourg’s “well-respected regulator”. It is not beyond reasonable interpretation to read this statement in its broader context; that is to say that the alternative regulator is no longer as well-respected, and that this affected choice.

Of course, this could be an isolated example. But it is consistent with the notion that choices of law and physical location are motivated by more than cost; or, more accurately, more than direct pricing. As noted by Devrim Dumladag, among others, ‘corruption in the political system is a threat to foreign investment’. It constitutes a risk which cannot be measured accurately, and which therefore cannot be accounted for with any degree of precision. Perception, therefore, is important. In 2017, Malta dropped ten places in the international Corruption Perception Index. Risk, therefore increased.

What is more, further evidence is emerging of a direct correlation between the ability to exploit the internal market and political reputation. It emerged on 14 May 2017 that, as a consequence of money laundering concerns, Commerzbank AG will no longer accept at face values audits conducted by branches of international firms situated in Malta. There have been no legislative changes in Malta which could have informed Commerzbank’s decision. The motivator appears instead to be political and administrative developments. It seems, therefore, that political branding matters.

Indeed, branding could, in principle affect not only physical corporate mobility, but also the legal fiction of mobility in the form of choice of corporate law. Drury argues, albeit in a quite different context, that a choice of corporate law – and with it the national suffix attached to a company name – affects public perception of a company. ‘Such labels give that company a distinctive national flavour in the minds of the public.’ Clearly then, it is not just the price of entry that would affect incorporation decisions, but also the associations arising from the national label which comes with incorporation.

This suggests that further evidence may emerge of downturns in the establishment of legitimate businesses under Maltese law. In other words, it is quite likely that both de facto and de jure mobility in the internal market may be affected by perceptions of corruption. While any evidence will likely be anecdotal in the absence of sustained academic investment, there is certainly some scope to qualify assumptions concerning price as a driver for corporate mobility.

Panama Papers.jpg

Syrian Refugees in Europe: what’s happening?

The following is the text of remarks made by our Dr Justin Borg-Barthet at a panel discussion organised by the Aberdeen University Yad’am Society on 6 February 2017.

Introductory remarks

To begin with, it is worth considering why we in Europe should be concerned about the Syrian refugee crisis.  Syria, after all, is not a European state and Syrians do not traditionally consider Europe to be their most immediate cultural hinterland.  It is arguable, therefore, that Syria and Syrian refugees are not European problems.

But let’s be clear that since the end of the Second World War, at least, we have all embraced the principle of a common humanity.  This is not merely a political statement, but is a principle entrenched in international law – like the 1951 Refugee Convention – and in the human rights law of the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

In the spirit of a broader humanity, I will not confine my comments to matters solely pertaining to the Syrian crisis.  That crisis is simply the most recent in a series of developments which have seen the European Union fall short of its humanitarian and human rights obligations in respect of refugees and asylum seekers.  It illustrates, in stark terms, an ongoing systematic and systemic problem in the EU’s relations with its neighbourhood.

In these brief remarks, I will address two main points.  First, I wish to highlight a failure to comply with obligations.  Secondly, I will consider briefly the constitutional policy implications of this failure, and make modest recommendations about how the Union could seek to address persistent problems.

Humanitarian and human rights obligations

EU human rights law has come a long way since the first steps towards European integration in the 1950s.  This is most clearly seen in recent judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) regarding relocation of asylum seekers.  In the NS case, Afghan asylum seekers in the UK were to be returned to Greece, which was their point of entry into the EU.  Under the Dublin Regulation, Greece was responsible for processing the asylum claim.  It was found, however, that the applicants’ right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment would be at risk due to systemic problems in Greece.  It followed that the UK could not return the asylum seekers.

The decision of the CJEU is, of course, to be applauded.  It demonstrated a shift in emphasis from the rights of states to those of individuals.  However, that judgment did nothing to alter the facts on the ground for most asylum seekers in Europe.

Reception conditions

Greece, Italy and Malta are the main ports of entry for refugees and asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East and further afield.  Each of those states has been found to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights due to their inadequate treatment of refugees (e.g. M S S v Belgium and Greece (2011) 53 EHRR 2; Aden Ahmed v Malta ECHR App No 55352/12 (23 July 2013); Hirsi Jamaa v Italy (2012) 55 EHRR 21).  In particular, reception conditions have been found to breach the prohibition of the right to liberty (due to forced detention) and, consequently, the prohibition of torture (due to the adverse effects of detention on mental health).

The problems in these three states are compounded by the fact that they bear the brunt of responsibility for dealing with migration to the EU.  Whatever lofty declarations are made in the north and west of Europe, and despite images of hundreds of people trekking across a continent, the fact remains that pressures are concentrated in a small number of member states, which brings us to another problem of so-called burden sharing.

Burden sharing

A number of EU member states have long argued that there should be a system of compulsory burden sharing.  In other words, the responsibility for hosting and processing asylum seekers should be shared between the Member States rather than being concentrated in border-states.  The Geneva Convention arguably requires burden sharing as a matter of international law.  EU law itself is founded on the principle of solidarity between states and people.

But still, wealthier states which are geographically insulated from the crisis have resisted compulsory burden sharing.  Instead, they initially accepted a voluntary system.  Latterly, a system of agreed relocation has been put into place, but the Member States have been very slow in taking any practical steps to ensure that pressures are distributed.

This is important to member states which face significant financial and social burdens.  And because of those burdens, it is also important to asylum seekers.  No member state is able single-handedly to accommodate and welcome the numbers that have been crossing the Mediterranean Sea.  In the absence of collective action, asylum seekers remain vulnerable to the inadequacies of ill-equipped states.

Relocation to third countries

Following repeated failures in seeking compulsory burden-sharing within Europe, southern EU member states have changed their strategies.  Rather than advocating relocation of asylum claimants within the EU, they have successfully argued for the externalisation of problems through so-called reception centres in Turkey and Libya.  An agreement with Turkey is now fully operative.

Of course, there is nothing wrong, in principle, with supporting Turkey in its own efforts to provide reception to migrants, or in discouraging dangerous sea-crossings.  But the fact is that, for all the failures of EU member states, the treatment of asylum seekers in Turkey and Libya leaves far more to be desired.

You may recall that I mentioned the judgment in NS earlier.  In that case, it was decided that Member States could not return migrants to other EU States if there were systemic problems in the destination state.

There is no logical reason why that principle should not be applied between the EU and third countries in the same manner as it is applied within the EU.  Fundamental rights, after all, bind the member states whether they are acting unilaterally or collectively.  The principle of non-return in the judgment in NS should preclude the return of asylum seekers to Turkey.  Yet, just last week, the informal council meeting in Malta concluded that the Turkey agreement should be replicated in Libya.  Far from questioning the strategy, the Member States are seeking instead to entrench and extend it to ever more questionable destinations.

Tellingly, humanitarian corridors were not addressed in the council conclusions, but were determined to be a matter for the future.  We will deal with that once we have secured the border.  Now where have we heard that before?

Constitutional observations

The refugee and migrant crises expose cracks in the institutional architecture of the European Union.  There has been a consistent failure to act according to constitutional principles due to the stranglehold that the member states hold over law and policy-making processes.  If they refuse to act, the Union’s principles are meaningless in practice.  While the EU rightly baulks at President Trump, its own record of treatment of refugees has not been pristine.

Of course, it is difficult for the Union and Member States to act when public opinion is unsupportive.  But let’s not forget that public opinion is divided.  It is far from unanimous in its opposition to migration.

And there is equally a great danger in failing to uphold and defend principles.  If constitutional principles are not upheld, this lends an air of legitimacy to the ideologies that are threatening the EU’s collective model itself.  By reducing the stranglehold of states, and focusing instead on representation of people and rights of people, the Union could ensure that collective action remains possible, and that it is given further effect in future.

In other words, far from the answer being less Europe; far from the answer being the dismantling of Schengen; and far from the answer being border fences between states; the answer is a more principled Europe – a more meaningful European Union that is capable of acting internationally in accordance with its founding principles.

Dr Borg-Barthet is the co-author (with Carole Lyons) of an analysis article in the 2016 Edinburgh Law Review. ‘The European Union Migration Crisis’ is currently the ‘Most Read’ article online.

yadam-syria-poster
The poster for the recent event hosted by the Yad’am Society

2016 Graduation Address by Dr. Catherine Ng, considering Aberdeen graduate the Hon. Bertha Wilson

On Monday 13 June 2016 the University of Aberdeen LLB “class of 2016” graduated. This is the text of the Graduation Address by Dr. Catherine W. Ng at that occasion.

Vice-Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen:

We are gathered here today to mark a very important milestone in the lives of our graduates. This is a good moment to take stock before we all march onto the beautiful lawn outside and enjoy some well-deserved celebrations with friends and families. I imagine that is the immediate short term plan for almost all our graduates here.

What then of the medium and long term plans? Many of you will be entering careers that you have prepared for at least in part during your time here at Aberdeen. Above all, my hope is that you will fulfil your potential as individuals unhindered by any preconceptions that you or others may hold about you. I hope that by keeping an open and inquiring mind, and by constantly challenging preconceptions, you will also see possibilities in others, and that you will help them to reach their potential too.

Reading law does train us to challenge preconceptions. When we study case law, statutes, and treaties and their applications and implications, we try to overcome preconceptions and figuratively step into the shoes of each of the parties in a litigious dispute, or the parties negotiating a piece of legislation or a treaty in order to appreciate their perspectives. We do this to try to understand their concerns and interests at stake, and to assess the way the law seeks to resolve their differences. It is important to look beyond the law to the communities, the individuals, and the lives that the law touches. These exposures through the law let us glimpse a vast and diverse range of human experiences and conditions.

It is also important to view these experiences and conditions with a sense of compassion, empathy, and an open and learning mind. Your experiences here at Aberdeen may illustrate the point. At the start of your time here, you all arrived from different backgrounds, stages and walks of life. Most of you had a common cause which I hope was to study law. Along the way, you made friends and supported one another through both happy times and challenging times. You celebrated one another’s birthdays away from home, and you comforted one another through essay deadlines and examination nerves. With compassion and empathy, you formed common bonds to help one another to step closer to achieving each individual’s potential. In time, some of your preconceptions and initial impressions of differences melted away as barriers. Rather often apparent differences became points of interest that broadened your horizons. Some of you may have already visited one another in your home towns or countries, or learned something about them from one another. Keeping an open mind and not shying away from differences let you broaden your perspectives to be open to new ideas and to adapt to new circumstances in our globalised world.

Laws too change because of new ideas and new circumstances. Above all, laws advance because of individuals who can realise their potential to effect change. Let me give you an example of how putting aside perceptions and preconceptions has allowed one of your predecessors to realise her potential. Back in 1944, a 20 year-old raised here in Old Aberdeen graduated with an MA degree from the University of Aberdeen. She married a clergyman and they moved to Canada in 1949. When she looked to apply for Law School admission in Canada in 1954, she was told instead to consider crocheting because law was a tough subject and not for dilettantes.[1] Now there is nothing wrong with crocheting.  It is worthwhile and honourable work. Hospitals appeal for crochet hats and blankets to keep premature and sick babies warm, to help save lives. My point here is simply about how perceptions and preconceptions could have limited potential. This Aberdeen graduate’s opportunity to read law could have been limited because of another’s perception of her as a clergyman’s wife who happened to have had some time on her hands at that point. This Aberdeen graduate’s vision for herself could have been limited because she was then that rarity as a woman applying to study law, and moreover as a mature student seeking to re-enter mainstream education at age 31. Undeterred, she applied, was accepted, and completed her LLB degree three years later.

Fast forward to 1982: this Aberdeen graduate, now the Hon. Bertha Wilson, was appointed as the first woman judge to serve on Canada’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Canada.  Also in 1982, the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms was enacted. She and her fellow judges were setting ground-breaking constitutional precedents on human rights issues. As a pioneering woman judge, she was pressed on the questions of how far she as a judge was or should be representing the voice of Canadian women. She responded by challenging the perception of the impartiality of judges as individuals and raised the question of whether men and women with their broadly diverse experiences would bring different perspectives to certain legal issues.[2] Still challenging perceptions, you see?!  Bertha Wilson served on the Supreme Court of Canada until her retirement in 1991.[3]  The University of Aberdeen recognised her achievements and awarded her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, in 1989. Whether or not one agrees with her views, by her having shattered some of the stereotypes about the role of women, the late Bertha Wilson opened the vision for other Canadians to realise their potential.

Today in 2016, at the University of Aberdeen, our graduates are awarded their MA (Arts and Social Sciences), PhD, and LLB degrees. Seeing others take steps to realise their potential is one of the most gratifying experiences that life offers. We are on stage now to help highlight the achievements of our graduates. Graduates, it is indeed an extraordinary privilege to see you walk across the stage to mark these achievements. Later, as we join you on the beautiful lawn outside, I hope we can meet each other on that proverbial ‘even playing field’. Life is never even among individuals. We all carry with us different backgrounds and experiences. Life is unpredictable, and not all of it within our control.  Each one of us will be different tomorrow from today in our own individual ways. But what may allow individuals to be even is in the way we keep our minds open to be compassionate and to learn from one another, to be informed by diversity and not to prejudge differences, to be edified by the past and yet never be defined by it, and so to pioneer – take chances on ourselves and on others too.

I hope that during your time at Aberdeen, you have not only gained knowledge and understanding of the law, but also perspectives, life experiences, and friendships which you will cherish for the rest of your lives, which will help you realise your potential, and which you will in turn use to help others to realise theirs. I hope that you will lead fulfilling lives, and that you will continue to challenge perceptions and preconceptions.

On behalf of us all, our warmest congratulations to you, our graduates. Please do keep in touch with us through our alumni networks, and do keep us broadening one another’s horizons.

Thank you.

LLB Graduation 2016
Students on the aforementioned beautiful lawn enjoying some well-deserved celebrations with friends and families.

References

[1] Ellen Anderson, Judging Bertha Wilson – law as large as life (U Toronto Press 2001) 3 – 38

[2] Bertha Wilson, ‘Will Women Judges Really Make a Difference?’ (1990) 28(3) Osgoode Hall LJ 507

[3] Supreme Court of Canada, ‘The Honourable Bertha Wilson’ <http://www.scc-csc.ca/court-cour/judges-juges/bio-eng.aspx?id=bertha-wilson>  accessed 4 August 2016