Category Archives: Events

Notice of UKCLA AGM and roundtable

On Friday 9 January 2015, the UK Constitutional Law Association will  hold its Annual General Meeting followed by a roundtable discussion with two panels. For the AGM, members who have paid their 2014 subscription will receive the agenda and papers by email on or around 2 January. The roundtable is open to all; there is no booking.

Venue: Keeton Room, UCL, Bentham House, Endsleigh Gardens, London WC1H 0EG.

12.30 pm (members only)

Light refreshments will be served to members.

1.00-1.50 pm (members only) Annual General Meeting

The terms of office of three members of the executive committee will expire in January; two of these members have indicated that they will seek re-election. Any member who wishes to stand for election should notify Andrew Le Sueur by email by 19 December 2014, including a paragraph on what they would contribute the UKCLA (which will be circulated to members in the event of a contested election). The executive committee also has power to co-opt members. Any member who wants to place an item on the agenda for discussion should also let Andrew Le Sueur have details by 19 December.

2.00-3.00 pm: roundtable session 1


Professor Aileen McHarg: ‘The Implications for the UK of the Scottish Referendum’

Merris Amos: ‘The Conservative strategy towards Convention Rights’

 3.10pm – 4.10 pm  roundtable session 2: Some Key Constitutional Themes of 2014 

Speakers:  Nick Barber; Professor Robert Hazell and Professor Andrew Le Sueur

4.10p.m. -5.00 pm



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Cambridge Public Law Conference 2014: Detailed Programme Now Available

The full programme for the 2014 Cambridge Public Law Conference has now been published, providing details of all plenary sessions and parallel panel sessions. The programme can be accessed via the conference website or viewed directly via this link.

The conference runs from 15 to 17 September 2014, under the theme “Process and Substance in Public Law”. Almost 60 speakers are involved, representing a broad range of jurisdictions including the UK, Ireland, Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

A limited number of conference places remain available; registration information can be found here.

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Craig Prescott: Conference Report: Prisoner Voting and the Constitution 18th June 2014, Faculty of Laws, UCL

Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_037As is well known to readers of this blog, the issue of prisoner voting has been a long running and high profile saga. The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling has argued that it is a ‘totemic issue’ that shows how the ECtHR has ‘lost democratic acceptability’ (Guardian, 20 Nov 2013). However, this issue can only be understood against the background of concern about the Convention. David Cameron captured this feeling when discussing the Bill of Rights Commission by arguing that it is ‘about time we started making sure decisions are made in this Parliament rather than in the courts’ (BBC News, 16 Feb 2011). At its broadest level, prisoner voting shows how the core principles of the UK constitution, parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law, can collide with each other.

Given the combination of law and politics that pervades this issue, it was natural for the UK Constitutional Law Association and the Study of Parliament Group to hold a joint event to explore the issue in depth, but thankfully, one step removed from the more frenzied political debate. We were fortunate to have four speakers who have been involved in different aspects of the debate. The discussion was started by Colin Murray, Senior Lecturer at the University of Newcastle, who was the Specialist Adviser to the Joint Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill. He was followed by Dr. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, Senior Consultant on constitutional affairs to Policy Exchange, who was a member of The Commission on a Bill of Rights. Jeremy Waldron, Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory and Fellow, University of Oxford, All Souls College and University Professor, NYU School of Law, drew on his evidence he gave to the Joint Committee on the Draft Bill. The final speaker was Aileen Kavanagh, Associate Professor, University of Oxford and Tutorial Fellow at St Edmunds Hall College, has in her research, considered one key feature of Hirst, which is what weight the courts should place on the parliamentary discussion of human rights (or lack of) when assessing legislation for compatibility with human rights.

The aim of this event was to discuss the broader questions that surround this issue. For a discussion of the specific issue of whether prisoners should receive the right to vote, the reader should direct their attention to Alison Young’s previous post on this blog, Prisoner Voting – Human or Constitutional Right? And to the exhaustive report from Joint Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill).

Colin Murray

Colin Murray argued that in Hirst, the ECtHR was rather careful in its judgment, and that they toned down the decision in the Scoppolajudgment that followed Hirst. The court held that the current law went too far, and hoped that the UK would respond to remove the ‘blanket ban’. In many ways, prisoner voting flags up the rigidity of the proportionality test. It is very difficult to argue that a complete ban was proportionate and necessary to achieve a legitimate aim. In this way, the proportionality test can yield some strange decisions on moral issues. The argument from the British Government in Hirst, that this was simply a political question, to be decided through the political process and not the courts, simply did not wash with the ECtHR.

Murray then discussed the legislative response, in particular the Joint Committee on the Draft Bill that reported on 18th December 2013. Their conclusion was that those sentenced to twelve months or less and those in the last six months of their sentence should get the vote. As Jeremy Waldron stated, this seems a reasonable compromise. However, we are still waiting for the government’s response to the report. It was a notable absentee in the Queen’s Speech for the last session of this Parliament, suggesting that this has been kicked into the long grass again, perhaps until after the general election in May 2015.

This issue tells us about constitutionalism in the UK, the role of principle of parliamentary sovereignty and its counterweight the rule of law. Prisoner voting tells us where that system is creaking. Fundamentally, the government’s argument is that the right to vote is different from the “right to free elections” as contained in Art 3 of Protocol 1 to the ECHR: it is a privilege granted by Parliament; but the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) is clear that today, voting is a right, and you tamper with it at your peril. The Government thinks it has a strong hand, and can put the ECtHR in the corner, and clip the wings of the Convention, but the Government has taken a more difficult position than they believe. The Joint Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill took the view that voting is a right, and should not be removed without a good reason. Murray argued that it is the defining legitimating factor that justifies parliamentary sovereignty. Tamper with this, even slightly, at your peril.

When the Reform Act of 1867 moved the jurisdiction of hearing election petitions (the legal process by which an election result can be challenged) from Parliament to the courts, a rash of extra cases was feared. Yet, this did not happen, and cases such as Watkins v Woolas are rare. Even then, the courts are castigated for this, just read Michael White’s comment on that case in the Guardian. Generally, courts don’t want to get involved in the political process and the line of judgments from Hirst to Scoppola in many ways follow this tradition and are timid judgments from the ECtHR. The courts, rather than undermining parliamentary sovereignty, are striving to protect democracy at all costs. A constant failure to heed warnings such as this could blow parliamentary sovereignty apart as the legitimating factor of parliamentary sovereignty is compromised.

Michael Pinto-Duschinsky

Michael Pinto-Duschinsky focused on the broader issues that prisoner voting raises and discussed the architecture of human rights protection. Drawing upon his experience on the Bill of Rights Commission, when he was ‘surrounded by lawyers’ he wanted to avoid a debate about the terms of reference and categorically stated that the issue is not prisoner voting itself.

The real issue is who makes the final decision, and the interesting aspect to this debate is that people with many things in common can have polar opposite views. Pinto-Duschinsky compared himself to Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who was one of the most vociferous campaigners for the Human Rights Act. They were both shaped by the holocaust, abhor torture, have campaigned for rights and were engaged in the battle for civil rights in the Deep South during the 1960’s. However, whereas Lord Lester sees the law as being the key to achieving human rights, Pinto-Duschinsky, while acknowledging the valuable role of courts, feels that they are no more infallible than legislatures. He argues that, in a democracy, court decisions must be capable in some circumstances of a democratic override by the legislature.

Pinto-Duschinsky highlighted how for every example in favour of the courts having the final say as opposed to the political process, an example can be found that goes the other way. The example given by Sir John Laws in his celebrated article, ‘Law and Democracy’ ([1995] PL 72) of the Athenians, under direct democracy, sentencing to death eight commanders for the loss of their crews in bad weather during the battle at Arginusae, can be can be contrasted against the verdict of the US Supreme Court in Dred Scott v Sandford 60 US 393 (1857) which was a significant contributing factor to the Civil War. The idea that judges equal good, whilst democracy equals bad, is far too simplistic. Both play a role, but issues such as prisoner voting should ultimately rest with the legislature. Courts, such as the ECtHR, which have little democratic legitimacy, should be careful when stepping into political territory such as this.

Jeremy Waldron

Jeremy Waldron agreed that prisoner voting has to be settled by Parliament, it’s not an issue like abortion which could be settled by a court: it must be settled legislatively. ‘Settled legislatively’ has a specific meaning. Although a vote was taken in the House of Commons with 234 to 22 votes in favour of retaining the ban (HC Deb, 11 Feb 2011, Vol 523, Col 492-586,), that cannot settle the issue legislatively. Settling a matter legislatively requires the due process that legislation represents, the rhythms of the legislative process, of the Second Reading, Committee, Third Reading and Report Stages in both the chambers of Parliament.

However, Parliament must acknowledge that they are talking about rights. In particular, voting has been described by some, including William Cobbett as the ‘right of rights’. When rights are at stake, Parliament should proceed more carefully. There is a need to avoid knee-jerk reactions. British justice is wonderful, but not on all matters. There is no harm in having issues flagged up by the courts, in a weak system of judicial review, where the courts do not have a final word. In this sense, judicial review is a canary in the mine, a warning system to alert parliaments to problems. .

It must be emphasised that this is a right that goes to the heart of democratic legitimacy. Parliamentary sovereignty derives its legitimacy from being elected by the citizenry, which in turn, requires that citizens possess the right to vote. Parliament depends on the rights of millions to vote for its authority and legitimacy. As John Hart Ely stated in Democracy and Distrust, there is a case for a strong form of judicial review when a discrete minority has been shut out of the representative system. Arguably, the issue of prisoner voting complies with those requirements. This does not mean that courts should consider it at the expense of Parliament, but that Parliament should consider the courts’ perspective. Majorities are not incapable of resolving flaws of a majoritarian system. However, they must avoid the knee-jerk sovereignty based attack that argues that the court is overstepping its jurisdiction at the expense of national parliaments. Such issues need to be addressed in a sober deliberative spirit, and constitutional arrangements that allow that to happen should be applauded.

Pinto-Dushinsky in response, pointed out that no such reflection took place when signing up to the ECHR in the first place, and no debate took place on Protocol 1, as under the Ponsonby Rule treaties are laid before Parliament without a debate being required (although one can be requested, now see Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, ss. 20-25). There is a conflicting debate about who has the final word, as a matter of law at a domestic level it’s clear that the last word remains with Parliament. Under the Human Rights Act, s 4 (6), a declaration of incompatibility does not affect the validity of the Act of Parliament in question. But politically, politicians treat a declaration as a strike down power. As a matter of international law, the final say appears to rest with the ECtHR, and the UK could be liable for damages for being in breach of the ECHR. However as Murray pointed out, the ECtHR has no power to compel those damages being paid. As is common with the UK constitution, it seems that the most appropriate answer would be restraint from all sides.

Aileen Kavanagh

Aileen Kavanagh raised an important question: why out of all the issues with the ECtHR has the Government and Parliament made such a big issue out of prisoner voting? Why has this been the issue over which to fight?

Firstly, the issue clearly fits into the ongoing concerns about the ECHR that a large section of Conservatives hold, in particular its consequences for parliamentary sovereignty. But also, politicians have seized upon this issue, because at the very least, they can make the argument that a prisoner, who by definition has not ‘obeyed the rules’ should have no role in formulating those rules and so should not be allowed to vote. In this sense a politician can take, what they perceive to be, a ‘respectable stance’ against prisoner voting, in a way that a politician simply cannot over an issue such as torture. A politician arguing against prisoner voting can claim that they are protecting fundamental principles such as the sanctity of the vote. There is also a basic disagreement over whether voting is a right or privilege, which is available to those who fulfill certain conditions. More generally the issue of prisoner voting fits into the broader narrative on criminal justice of being ‘tough on crime’ and no political party wants to be seen to be the softest on crime.

Kavanagh also highlighted how Art 3 of Protocol 1 to the ECHR does not explicitly provide for the ‘right to vote’. It can fit into the criticism that the court increasingly stretches its ‘living instrument’ doctrine too far, and finding a ‘right to vote’ is a big extrapolation from the text. However Jeremy Waldron flatly disagreed with this point, arguing that the Art 3 requires ‘free elections’, held by ‘secret ballot’, ‘under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the people’, in this context, he argues that the ‘right to vote’ is a necessary implication.

There are issues with the Hirst case itself. Its highly unfortunate that the domestic case only went to the Divisional Court, [2001] EWHC Admin 239, with leave to appeal refused by the Court of Appeal on the grounds of there being no reasonable chance of success, [2001] EWCA Civ 927. If more judicial muscle had been applied at the domestic level then the ECtHR might have responded differently. Aileen Kavanagh captured the impact of the ECtHR’s judgment by stating that the judges misjudged the politics on the issue. They simply thought that they were dealing with a thirty year old law, which drew on Victorian legislation and the judges did not appear to understand that reasonable people could and did disagree over prisoner voting. The Court drew on previous case law and assumed a right to vote, with little justification being given. They dismissed the fact that thirteen out of 47 member states have bans on prisoner voting, when this could have been a ground on which to apply the margin of appreciation. Another interesting feature is how the Court drew a negative inference from the lack of parliamentary debate on the issue, which, as Lord Sumption suggested in Chester,could in principle be an example of a ‘complete consensus’ [para 136] on the matter. Probably this aspect would be best viewed as a neutral consideration.

The Study of Parliament Group and the UK Constitutional Law Association would like to thank all four speakers for a clear and illuminating discussion and Alexander Horne for chairing the discussion. A special thanks should go to Liz Carter at UCL and Jack Simson Caird for organising the event.

Craig Prescott is a Teaching Assistant at the University of Manchester and Visiting Tutor at King’s College London.

Suggested citation: C. Prescott, ‘Conference Report: Prisoner Voting and the Constitution 18th June 2014, Faculty of Laws, UCL’ UK Const. L. Blog (9th July 2013) (available at

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Joseph Tomlinson: Ambitions and Constraints – A Report on the Second Conference on the Teaching of Public Law (2014)

JoeFollowing on from the success of last year’s inaugural Conference on the Teaching of Public Law at the University of Manchester, City Law School ably assumed hosting duties to allow the discussions to be advanced further. The enthusiasm that was so evident at last year’s event showed no sign of waning a year on, as interesting perspectives from contributors and stimulating discussion from attendees continued throughout the day’s four panel sessions. This post briefly summarises some of the key points that were raised by contributors and during discussions.

Public Law in Changing Times: Challenges Ahead

(Panel: Nick Barber, Oxford; Prof. Martin Loughlin, LSE; Dr Alison Young, Oxford; Prof. Maurice Sunkin, Essex; Dr Javier Oliva (Chair), Manchester)

The first panel was tasked with identifying what challenges teachers of public law may face in coming years. Alison Young began with comments about the nature of public law as a subject and the effects that has on the teaching of public law. A distinction was drawn between public law and other areas of law, the former being the sum of lots of interwoven ideas and the latter capable of being comprehended in a more linear, step-by-step fashion. One problem flowing from this is the difficultly of knowing the best ‘way in’ to the subject for students. In the face of the teaching challenge presented by the nature of the subject, it was noted that care must be taken to avoid a retreat into either an overly doctrinal or overly theoretical approach – both of which can lead to students attempting to just ‘learn five things about the rule of law’ for exam purposes. Continuing with the theme of how the nature of public law affects how it is taught, Martin Loughlin offered his view that public law is, in essence, a ‘label in search of a concept.’ Britain’s historical lack of a distinct public law means that, in contrast to continental public law systems, we lack clear concepts of central features within the subject. The absence of such conceptual clarity can translate into difficulties in conveying the subject to students.

Nick Barber followed those comments about the nature of the discipline by attempting to unpack the oft-heard marker’s complaint that students struggle to ‘make arguments’ or ‘lack creativity’ in assessments. He highlighted two potential deficiencies in the teaching of public law that may contribute to this complaint being so frequently made. First, was the issue of ‘coverage': the ‘tell them about public law cases stuff’ is largely done well but the academic interest in judicial reasoning can become ‘fetishistic’ and exist at the expense of, amongst other things, looking at how institutions work, the empowering capabilities of public law, the processes of Parliament, local government, devolution and perhaps even statutes. Second, it was suggested that more could be done to equip students with the ‘tools’ to make arguments. Providing students with training on understanding and deploying statistics was suggested as one way to achieve this sort of argumentative creativity. As could the introduction of more political theory to public law courses. Overall, more could be done to give students a holistic view of the stuff that public law is made of and to provide students with the ability to criticise the content of the law.

Maurice Sunkin concluded the first panel by placing the teaching of public law in the broader contexts of legal education and university education – both of which are landscapes that are seemingly ever changing. Whilst it is likely to remain the case that all students of law will require a grasp of the fundamentals of public law, it will be of interest to see how this fits into broader institutional demands and the demands of the ‘consumer’ student. To that end, it was suggested that in the future there may be greater diversity in what is taught and how.

In discussion, it was suggested, in relation to the problems stemming from teaching a subject that can be more confusing than most on a law degree, that complexity may be a good thing when that complexity is harnessed and made constructive instead of destructive. We were also reminded of the need to be realistic about what can be covered in a first year public law course. Aside from time constraints, public law may be the first substantive law subject that students tackle and public law’s core concepts are more difficult to grasp than many of the other concepts encountered in the rest of a typical first year’s academic diet. These sort of pragmatic considerations naturally pose challenges in relation to how much of a role such things as normative political philosophy and statistics can play in a foundational undergraduate public law course public law, though such things may justify a place as part of the broader law curriculum.

Research-led Teaching

(Panel: Prof. Paul Craig, Oxford; Merris Amos, QMUL; Prof. Roger Masterman, Durham; Dr Kirsty Hughes, Cambridge; Dr Ioannis Kalpouzos (Chair), City)

The second panel saw contributors traverse the relationship between research and teaching. Paul Craig commenced the panel’s contributions on the same realistic note upon which the first panel concluded by observing that how much research-led teaching can occur depends primarily upon how much choice one has in what and how one teaches. If the opportunity exists, there is the possibility of translating a specialisation into a course – students may even recognise and appreciate the genuine interest of the teacher and feel inclined to embrace the subject more than they otherwise would. However, courses built on specialisations may be time-consuming to assemble, tricky to get approved and may only be a short-term fixture if centred on an individual’s particular interests and expertise. The solution may be found in building individual research interests into existing modules.

Merris Amos, considering the ways in which teaching can assist research, noted how gaps in teaching materials can provide a fruitful source of research ideas. Bringing research interests into the classroom can also allow for genuinely valuable student input, with a diverse student body drawing upon experiences and offering perspectives the public law teacher/researcher will not necessarily have considered. Using research activities to curate events-led teaching can also be useful but there is, of course, always the risk that events can overtake during teaching. Roger Masterman followed up with a contribution that focused on how providing students with opportunities to be autonomous researchers themselves possesses the virtue of creating more independent and critical students. Making the student the researcher also often leads to the student assuming increased ownership of their work. It may, therefore, ultimately have the effect of producing better skilled and more-employable graduates. Providing the student with opportunities to undertake research can be achieved through dissertations or other modules that place research at their core.

Kirsty Hughes, in a neat conclusion to the contributions from panel two, highlighted how research and teaching can often interact to the benefit of both. Transmitting the ideas involved in your research to students can be a good means of understanding how to transmit those same ideas effectively in your research. It may also be worthwhile – without having to circulate any drafts or other similar material – to introduce parts of your research into small group discussions. A key point was also made on the value of (teaching) textbooks as research. Such textbooks can heavily influence the shape and structure of the field yet the current REF approach to textbooks does not incentivize their production (and could even be seen to discourage their production).

In discussion, the assumption that teaching necessarily takes an academic away from their research was squarely challenged – research and teaching in public law can, in many ways, be made to work in tandem. It was noted that the interaction between the two may even become more of a necessity as student fees start to play a larger role in funding research, and students might start to ask what benefit they gain from this activity.

Assessment and Ph.D Students in Public Law

(Prof. Robert Thomas, Manchester; Dr Javier Oliva, Manchester; Ann Lyon, Plymouth; Jack Simson Caird, QMUL; Craig Prescott, KCL; Dr John Stanton (Chair), City)

Ann Lyon began panel three with a general overview of the range of assessment methods in public law – which often fit into a part of a wider assessment regime at institutions – and the familiar pros and cons of each assessment method.

Robert Thomas and Javier Oliva jointly tackled the topic of PhDs in public law. Robert started by noting the importance of PhDs in public law. Public law PhDs, of course, possess inherent importance in contributing to public law scholarship, but they also serve to launch the careers of the next generation of public law scholars (a PhD now being seen as highly desirable or necessary for most academic posts). As an academic community we must, therefore, facilitate and encourage the undertaking of public law PhDs. To achieve this we ought to cultivate an interest in both the topic of public law and the process of writing a PhD. Dissertations, workshops and one-to-one discussions can all be helpful in this endeavour. Support should also be offered in designing a PhD that is innovative but achievable. Perhaps most significantly, institutions must find ways of providing financial backing for those seeking to undertake a PhD in public law.

Javier Oliva followed on by discussing the public law PhD process. The central aim of the supervisor ought to be to guide the student to completion whilst attempting to ensure the student has a good general experience throughout their degree. Supervisors also need to be aware of the personal challenges facing students during their PhD and be aware of particular challenges facing international and part-time students. One interesting topic that was raised was whether the supervisors should be experts in the particular area of the PhD – though it is not strictly necessary, it would seem to be a good idea that at least one member of the supervisory team possesses expertise in the area of the research. On an important last note, it was suggested that universities should be honest and rigorous when reviewing students’ progress.

It was, then, the turn of the PhD students themselves to have their say. Craig Prescott astutely noted the paucity of public law-specific PhD events in the UK. As an interesting side-note, it was observed how formulating a PhD proposal is particularly difficult for those who are outside of an academic institution at the time of application, due either to a lack of guidance or a lack of access to materials. Craig also endorsed the utility of the Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) method of funding research as it allows a PhD to feel part of the academic community at their institution (though research time ought to be protected from excessive teaching demands). Jack Simson Caird continued by similarly endorsing the utility of the GTA model of funding and similarly endorsing its ability to bring students into closer contact with the academic community. The paucity of public law PhD events and the distinct lack of any sort of network between public law PhDs at different institutions was again flagged as a serious deficiency.

Resources and Technology in the Teaching of Public Law

(Dr Mike Gordon, Liverpool; Prof. Andrew Le Sueur, Essex; Dr Mark Elliott, Cambridge; Brian Thompson, Liverpool; Ann Lyon (Chair), Plymouth)

Brian Thompson started the fourth session by highlighting how technology has been embraced in public law teaching and how this has been both a good and bad development. His main concern was that whilst technology may be convenient we may be deskilling students of valuable research skills through its use.

Mark Elliot, the author of the Public Law for Everyone blog, focused on the use of the blog in public law scholarship and teaching (Mark’s own full blog post on the use of blogging in public law can be found here.  There appear to be good reasons for public lawyers to get involved in blogging. It can be a good method of producing brief comment pieces, particularly on topical issues. It can also be a useful platform for posting short, abstract-like pieces about early-stage research ideas. Online discussions on blog posts can also prove fruitful (once the occasional offensive, libelous or otherwise generally unhelpful comments are deleted). Entering the blogosphere can also be a means of extending impact (not in the REF sense!) as blogs are perhaps more likely to be accessed by (and found to be intellectually accessible to) non-law colleagues than the more traditional channels of academic output. A blog may also be a useful way of reaching and assisting students studying public law. The blog, therefore, can be a useful tool for the public law academic but it has to be used appropriately. For instance, one cannot hope to be a perfectionist or seek comprehensiveness when blogging. A blog is instead a place more suited for formative ideas and is (naturally) distinct from a peer-reviewed article and should be seen as such by readers. Blogging can also become – but does not have to be – a distraction from research.

Mike Gordon then discussed (with some interactive demonstrations) how technology – particularly twitter and interacting polling technology – may be useful in engaging students in traditionally passive learning environments, such as lectures. The key task is, however, finding the appropriate role for technology in teaching. Andrew Le Sueur followed up by suggesting that some of the common use of technology in public law teaching is indeedinappropriate. In what may be a surprising turn from one of the conference’s two tech-savvy ‘live tweeters’, Andrew concluded the day by attempting to ‘roll back’ the enthusiasm for the use of technology in teaching by presenting a ‘six-point plan for recovery.’ That plan, in brief, encouraged teachers of pubic law to:

      1. Recognise the value of handwriting;
      2. Enforce the value of going to the library;
      3. Encourage students to buy books;
      4. Make tutorials and small group sessions computer-free zones;
      5. Shut down all VLE discussion forums; and
      6. Stop using PowerPoint in teaching.

Some suggestions were, unsurprisingly, more controversial than others (the idea that the use of PowerPoint facilitates ‘the trivialization of the rule of law in three bullet points’ had both its supporters and it detractors). The core of the message was, however, much like what each of the contributors suggested: technology has its place in the teaching of public law and though we should seek to embrace it for its benefits, we should be equally cautious of embracing it at the expense of the virtues of other, more traditional means.

Concluding Remarks: Ambition and Constraints

The discussions throughout the day were, like last year, very lively and the conference continues to meet a clear desire to discuss the teaching of public law. Whilst this year’s exchanges, again like last year, showed a widely-held ambition to improve the teaching of public law, there was an acute awareness this year of the potential constraints teachers of public law operate within. These constraints may flow from, amongst other things, institutional configurations, what can be expected of first year law students and even the nature of public law itself. How public law teaching can be improved within these various constraints is the continuing challenge. 


Joseph Tomlinson is a Ph.D Candidate at the University of Manchester.

(Suggested citation: J. Tomlinson, ‘Ambitions and Constraints – A Report on the Second Conference on the Teaching of Public Law (2014)’  U.K. Const. L. Blog (2nd July 2014) (available at








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Andrew Le Sueur: report on IACL 9th World Congress in Oslo

I’m not sure what the collective noun for constitutional law scholars is, but whatever the word, there were a lot of them in Norway last week for the 9th world congress of the International Association of Constitutional Law (IALC). The event, which ran from 16th to 20th June 2014, attracted over 600 participants –24 from the United Kingdom – from 87 countries.

Many delegates commented the significant proportion of younger scholars present, a sign that the future of the IACL is strong. Since the IACL was formally inaugurated at its first world congress in 1983 (held in Belgrade), it is has developed into an association of associations (the UK Constitutional Law Association is one of the national associations affiliated to the IACL), which also offers individual membership, and provides support for several active research groups. Roundtables on specific topics are held two or three times a year.

Plenary sessions

The opening ceremony, attended by the Crown Prince, provided the local organisers with an opportunity to mark the 200th anniversary of Norway’s constitution. With the ceremonial part of the proceedings over, the congress’s broad theme of “Constitutional Challenges: Global and Local” was rolled out in plenary sessions, which saw an array of public intellectuals, from law and beyond, speak, standing under Edvard Munch’s fabulous mural entitled “The Sun”,  in Oslo University law faculty’s Aula. The keynote speakers were:

  • Martti Koskenniemi, University of Helsinki, Finland
  • Wojciech Sadurski, University of Sydney, Australia
  • Saskia Sassen, Columbia University, USA
  • Catharine MacKinnon, University of Michigan / Harvard, USA
  • Tariq Modood, University of Bristol, United Kingdom
  • Etienne Le Roy, Université de Paris I (Sorbonne), France
  • Daniel Weinstock, McGill University, Canada.
Plenary session 3: judges' panel on proportionality in constitutional adjudication

Plenary session 3: judges’ panel on proportionality in constitutional adjudication

By tradition, the final plenary session was a panel of judges – who spoke frankly about the difficulties and potential for using proportionality in human rights and constitutional litigation. @UKCLA was tweeting throughout the session, so look at our feed for 140-character attempts to capture some of the debate. The judges taking part were:

  • Susanne Baer, Justice, Constitutional Court of Germany
  • Amine Benabdallah, Professor, Member of the Constitutional Council of Morocco
  • William A. Fletcher, Judge, United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Françoise Tulkens, Former Judge and Vice-President of the European Court of Human Rights


Participants wanting something new, and to meet scholars working in similar fields, were well served by 17 workshops spread over three days. The accepted papers are online for anybody to read (see here), and these provide rich pickings from established and emerging scholars.

Workshop 8: the internet and the constitution, chaired by Adrienne Stone (Australia) and Djedjro Meledje (Ivory Coast)

Workshop 8: the internet and the constitution, chaired by Adrienne Stone (Australia) and Djedjro Meledje (Ivory Coast)

 IACL governance

The IACL world congress enables the election of a president for the next four years. Professor Manuel José Cepeda Espinosa takes over as president from Professor Martin Scheinin.  Manuel Cepeda – described by one journalist as “el supermán jurídico” – taught at the Universidad de los Andes Law School, was a member of the constitutional court of Columbia 2001-2009, and is a senior legal advisor to government. Professor Adrienne Stone, of Melbourne Law School, was elected as first vice-president. I was elected to serve a further 4-year term on the IACL executive committee.

The new executive committee postponed making a decision about the venue for the next world congress until November, to enable further analysis of three bids from national associations in Australia , China, and South Korea. Let’s meet in Melbourne, Beijing, or Seoul in 2018 …

If you would like to support the work of UKCLA, which runs this blog and is affiliated to the IACL, please join. Membership is £15 for the 2014 calendar year.

Andrew Le Sueur is president of the UK Constitutional Law Association and Professor of Constitutional Justice at the University of Essex, UK

(Suggested citation: A. Le Sueur, ‘Report  on IACL 9th World Congress in Oslo’ U.K. Const. L. Blog (23rd June 2014) (available at

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Event tomorrow: ALBA/UKCLA Seminar on Right to an Oral Hearing

UKCLA logoA reminder to UKCLA members and blog readers … Tomorrow, 14 May 2014, the UKCLA will hold a joint seminar with ALBA (the Constitutional and Administrative Law Bar Association). The topic addresses questions of procedural fairness  in relation to the right to an oral hearing.  The speakers are  Hugh Southey QC and Professor David Feldman, with Mr Justice Silber in the chair. The speakers will consider recent case law in which the courts have considered the circumstances in which fairness requires (and does not require) an oral hearing. The seminar will be held from 17.45-19.15, in Gray’s Inn, in the Large Pension Room. 1½ CPD  points will be applied for. The seminar is free, but please register in advance through the ALBA website

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Filed under Events, Human rights, Judicial review

UKCLA event: Margit Cohn on non-statutory powers, 30 January 2014

Margit Cohn (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

‘Non-Statutory Executive Powers in Five Regimes: Assessing Global Constitutionalism in Structural-Institutional Contexts’ 

Thursday 30 January 2014,  6.00-7.30 pm

Venue: Room 1.2, School of Law, Queen Mary, University of London (Lincoln’s Inn Fields Campus), 67-69 Lincoln’s Inn Fields London WC2A 3JB


Members of the UK Constitutional Law Association and readers of the blog are all welcome to attend. No need to book.

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Filed under Comparative law, Events