US Supreme Court blocks Arkansas from multiple executions.

The US Supreme Court has concluded a dramatic day of legal debate over Arkansas’ unprecedented plan to execute eight prisoners in just 11 days.

The Supreme Court declined to permit the state to go ahead with Monday night’s scheduled executions, in what amounted to a major victory for the condemned inmates’ lawyers and anti-death penalty campaigners. The outcome is certain to give weight to the other pending cases, and confidence to the defense lawyers of the remaining five death-row inmates who still face execution, starting with Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee on Thursday of this week.

The Supreme Court took several hours to reach its decision, finally announcing at 11.50pm that it had declined to lift a stay on the execution of Don Davis, 54, imposed earlier in the day by the Supreme Court of Arkansas. The judgment brought the number of condemned prisoners who have now been spared the audacious execution schedule set by Republican State Governor Asa Hutchinson to three. The State Governor has found himself in a rush to use a batch of the lethal injection drug midazolam before it expires at the end of the month. Had the Governor’s proposed schedule gone according to plan, it would have marked the most intense schedule of executions in the US in more than 50 years. Even double executions on the same day are rare; the last time it was attempted, by Oklahoma in 2014, it led to a “bloody mess”.

Scott Braden, an attorney for Davis, said the US Supreme Court Justices had heard that Davis had been denied proper independent counsel on the question of his mental health. According to his defence counsel, Davis has an intellectual disability, a history of head injuries, brain damage, fetal alcohol syndrome, and other mental health conditions.

In a statement, Hutchinson said:

“While this has been an exhausting day for all involved, tomorrow we will continue to fight back on last-minute appeals and efforts to block justice for the victims’ families.”

Hutchinson’s schedule had seemed certain to proceed, after a ruling from the Eighth Circuit Appeals Court in St Louis, Missouri, which overturned an earlier temporary injunction imposed by a federal judge. That had opened up the possibility that at least six executions might still go ahead between now, and the end of April.

The Eighth Circuit Appeal overturned the ruling by federal district judge Kristine Baker, in which she questioned the reliability of midazolam, the sedative that is used as the first chemical in Arkansas’ triple lethal injection protocol.

“If midazolam does not adequately anaesthetise plaintiffs, or if their executions are ‘botched’, they will suffer severe pain before they die,” Baker wrote in her opinion.

Until the decision came down from the US Supreme Court, officials with the Arkansas Department of Corrections had been undertaking preparations for the execution to go ahead. Davis had been given his final meal, witnesses had been put in place in the death chamber, and the execution team was being readied.

Of course, Hutchinson’s schedule has merely been limited, not curtailed in its entirety. Attention now swings to the next set of executions on Thursday and beyond. The governor’s spokesperson underlined the determination of the state to press on with its grim timescale. The spokesperson has said the state “will continue, on Thursday, on Monday and then Thursday”, referring to the schedule of death warrants that allows for two executions to take place on each of the next two set dates, and one on 27 April.

But lawyers for the next prisoners set to be executed are already gearing up for an intense legal battle. The influential Innocence Project has joined local defence lawyers in Arkansas to call for DNA testing in the case of Johnson, and the ACLU has also now filed on behalf of Lee on grounds of DNA testing and innocence, and intellectual disability.

As a new death warrant would have to be set for Davis and Ward, with the process of final review of their cases having to start from scratch, it is understood there is not time to reschedule their executions this month in time to avail of the midazolam before its expiration date.

It must be recalled that due to strict distribution controls imposed by more than 30 drug companies in the US and abroad, it is now very difficult for states which carry out the death penalty to acquire medicines for use in state executions.

It remains to be seen what unfolds for the other men currently scheduled for execution. It also remains to be seen whether the death penalty is slowly but surely scheduled for its own end in the USA.

 

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Confirmation process of a US Supreme Court nominee.

Today marks the start of the most convoluted Supreme Court confirmation battles in history. Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s pick to replace Justice Scalia, will appear before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, and endure questioning as to his eligibility to become the country’s 113th Supreme Court justice.

I recently wrote about the issues behind the nomination process, namely that the Democrats might seek to block the nomination following the Republicans’ successful campaign to block President Obama’s nominee last year.

As the hearing gets underway, I thought it might be useful to examine the process itself, and consider how today’s process will compare to other Supreme Court confirmations in recent years.

Confirmation Process

The appointment and confirmation of Justices to the US Supreme Court involves following several steps laid down within the United States Constitution, which have been further refined and developed by decades of tradition. Candidates are nominated by the President of the United States, and must face a series of hearings during which both the nominee and other witnesses make statements and answer questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Committee can vote to send the nomination to the full United States Senate. Confirmation by the Senate enables the President to formally appoint the candidate to the court.

In modern times, the confirmation process has garnered some attention from special-interest groups, many of which lobby senators to confirm or to reject a nominee, depending on whether the nominee’s track record aligns with the group’s views.

The Senate Judiciary Committee conducts hearings, questioning nominees to determine their suitability. By convention, nominees avoid revealing too much about their views on the Constitution. At the close of confirmation hearings, the Committee votes on whether the nomination should go to the full Senate with a positive, negative or neutral report.

At the Senate, a simple majority vote is required to confirm or to reject a nominee. However, a successful filibuster threat could add the requirement of a supermajority of 60 needed in favour of cloture, which would allow debate to end and force a final vote on confirmation. Rejections are relatively uncommon –  the Senate has explicitly rejected just twelve Supreme Court nominees in its history. While Senators may attempt to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee in an attempt to thwart confirmation, no nomination for Associate Justice has ever been filibustered.

Once the Senate confirms the nomination by an affirmative vote, the Secretary of the Senate attests to a resolution of confirmation and transmits it to the White House. The President then prepares and signs a commission, and causes the Seal of the United States Department of Justice to be affixed to the document before the new Justice can take office. The date of commission determines a Justice’s seniority. A ceremony is then held, in which the Justice must take the Constitutional Oath, used for every federal and state officeholder below the President, and the Judicial Oath, used for federal judges before entering into the execution of their office.

Past Confirmation hearings: the Bush Administration

President George W. Bush’s first opportunity to make a Supreme Court nomination came in July 2005, when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her intention to retire. This was the first vacancy on the Court in over a decade. Bush nominated D.C. Circuit Judge John Roberts on 19th July, 2005. While his nomination was pending, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who had been battling thyroid cancer, passed away on the 3rd September.

With Justice Rehnquist’s passing, Bush then had to rethink his strategy for filling two vacancies on the Supreme Court. He decided to withdraw Roberts’ nomination to be an Associate Justice, instead announcing him as his nominee for Chief Justice on the 5th September. The Senate Judiciary Committee met across the 12th – 15th September for Judge Roberts’ confirmation hearing, and one week later, the Committee voted 13-5, with three Democrats joining the Republicans, to send him to the full Senate. The Senate voted to confirm Roberts on the 29th September 2005, just in time for him to join the Court before the start of its 2005-2006 term the following week.

After deciding to nominate Judge Roberts to be Chief Justice, Bush initially selected White House Counsel Harriet Miers – a lawyer who served as Bush’s personal lawyer before he became President – as the nominee for Associate Justice on the 3rd October. As a result of a campaign by conservatives who wanted a nominee with a demonstrated conservative record and judicial experience, Miers withdrew her nomination weeks later.

Bush then announced his pick of Third Circuit Judge Samuel Alito on the 31st October. Judge Alito’s hearing was not held until 9th – 13th January. Less than two weeks later, on the 24th January, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 to send him to the full Senate. Some 24 Senators, -including one Sen Obama – attempted to lead a filibuster to block Judge Alito’s confirmation, but they were unsuccessful.

The Senate ultimately confirmed Alito by a vote of 58-42 on the 31st January 2006, with four Democrats joining the Republicans.

(And as fate would have it, Obama as President later expressed regrets about this filibuster attempt when Senate Republicans announced they would not confirm a nominee to the vacancy left by Justice Scalia’s passing during Obama’s final year in office.)

The Obama Administration

President Barack Obama’s first opportunity to pick a Supreme Court justice came when Justice David Souter announced his retirement in 2009. Obama selected Second Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor, making the announcement on the 26th May.

Judge Sotomayor’s hearing was held across the 13th – 16th July. Highlights from the hearing include Republican senators grilling Judge Sotomayor about her ‘controversial‘ views, including her claim that appellate courts “make policy”, and that she believed “a wise Latina woman” would “reach a better conclusion than a white male” judge. Two weeks later, the Senate Judiciary committee voted 13-6 to send her to the full Senate. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham joined Democrats on the committee in that vote. Nine days later, on the 6th August 2009, the Senate voted to confirm Sotomayor by a vote of 68-31, with nine Republicans voting for her confirmation.

The following year, Obama had another chance to nominate a Supreme Court Justice. He chose his Solicitor General, Elena Kagan, to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, announcing the nomination on the 10th May 2010.

Obama administration senior adviser David Axelrod later recounted the story of Justice Scalia approaching him at an event shortly after Justice Souter announced he would retire in 2009. Scalia apparently said to Axelrod: “I have no illusions that your man will nominate someone who shares my orientation … But I hope he sends us someone smart.” He continued, “Let me put a finer point on it … I hope he sends us Elena Kagan.”

Kagan’s hearing took place across 28th June to the 1st July. Three weeks later, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 to send her to the full Senate. Once again, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham joining the Democrats in the vote. Two weeks later, the Senate voted 63-37 to confirm her. Five Republicans and two Independents joined the Democrats.

As the Obama administration came to a close, it seemed unlikely that another vacancy would occur on the Supreme Court. Then on the 13th February 2016, the news broke that Justice Scalia had died.

The upcoming Presidential election thus suddenly took on a new level of significance as Senate Republicans vowed to keep the seat open so that the next President could fill it. Nevertheless, Obama nominated Merrick Garland, Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit, but Senate Republicans refused to allow the nomination to move forward.

And so here we are today, awaiting the first day of Committee hearings for Judge Gorsuch. Whether the cross-party support in voting to send a candidate to the full Senate as witnessed during both the Bush and Obama administrations will be witnessed is the key question.

Judge Neil Gorsuch, and nomination confirmation.

One of the most convoluted Supreme Court confirmation battles in history will finally reach the U.S. Senate on Monday 20th March, 401 days after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia left a vacancy that has spanned two presidencies and spawned two nominees.

Federal Appeals Court Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s choice to be the country’s 113th Supreme Court justice, is set to face several days of harsh questioning from Democrats, still enraged at the Republican-controlled Senate’s refusal to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee last year. Then, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell vowed the seat would remain vacant through the Presidential election, a promise he kept despite Obama’s compromise nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and a relatively moderate jurist.

Judge Gorsuch’s nomination was destined for a fight not only because of the Republican block on Judge Garland, but also because of the very President who nominated him – one who promised to employ litmus tests on abortion and guns, who largely outsourced the initial nomination process to the conservative Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation, and who has attacked federal judges who ruled against him, both as a businessman and as President.

And so Judge Gorsuch will face the multi-day Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing on Monday, in what Republicans probably hope will be a quick process to confirmation by the time Congress leaves for its Easter recess.

Judge Gorsuch’s supporters are anticipating several lines of attack from Senate Democrats, mainly concerns about decisions he made on women’s issues like the Hobby Lobby case, and his apparent bias towards business over regular people in labour-related cases.

Judge Gorsuch has been preparing for the hearings with help from lawyers in the Justice Department and the White House counsel’s office. That includes undergoing mock hearings, as well as extensively revisiting his own opinions and different areas of the law that could surface during the hearing.

Something to look out for starting from Monday: the Democratic senators who hail from states where Trump was elected. These are the most likely swing votes on Judge Gorsuch’s nomination. None of them are out of bounds for Republican outside groups trying to put the heat on Democrats.

Interestingly enough, the Judicial Crisis Network – an American conservative political campaign organisation – has so far apparently spent close to $5m of a planned $10m advertisement buy in support Judge Gorsuch. There is an expectation that around $15 to $20m will be spent by outside GOP groups on similar advertisement buys.

The key question is how far will the rest of Senate Democrats go with their opposition. Left-leaning advocates are vowing a big fight, and they have energised Democratic constituents on their side to pressure lawmakers to stay tough.

What is clear is that the nomination process will prove to be interesting: it is obvious that there will be Democrats who will seek to thwart President Trump, and it is equally as obvious that Republicans are willing to invoke the ‘nuclear option’ -changing Senate rules in relation to the 60 vote threshold for confirmation.

Judge Neil Gorsuch and the US Supreme Court nomination.

After a dramatic day worthy of his former television programme The Apprentice, President Trump announced that he had selected Neil Gorsuch to replace Antonin Scalia on the US Supreme Court. The scene is now set up for a bitter confirmation battle with Senate Democrats, who are still stung over the GOP obstruction against President Obama’s pick, Merrick Garland.

Judge Gorsuch, a well-respected justice who sits on the Colorado-based Tenth Circuit US Court of Appeals, is known for his bedrock conservative values could just tip the balance on controversial and current issues including voting rights, abortion, and religious equality. At 49 years old, he could potentially serve  for well over a generation.

Unsurprisingly, GOP senators were delighted with the selection. Not so senate Democrats.

The senate Democrats have now pledged to undertake a fierce battle over the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch to the US Supreme Court. They have pointed out his legal views toward contraceptives, federal regulations etc to declare him as being simply too far out of the mainstream for a seat on the final court of appeal in the US.Democrats have vowed to carry out a detailed and extensive scrutiny of Judge Gorsuch’s record.

The Democrats’ vow to cause trouble also includes demanding a threshold of 60 votes for confirmations. Democrats have wasted no time in highlighting that this was a standard easily met by President Barack Obama’s two Supreme Court nominees.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D, NY) said:

“The burden is on Judge Neil Gorsuch to prove himself to be within the legal mainstream and, in this new era, willing to vigorously defend the Constitution from abuses of the executive branch and protect the constitutionally enshrined rights of all Americans…Given his record, I have very serious doubts about Judge Gorsuch’s ability to meet this standard.”

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon have all said they would oppose Judge Gorsuch and mount a fight against his confirmation.

But this might prove a tricky issue for those moderate Democratic senators from red states, who are aware that they are under political pressure to side with Republicans and support Judge Gorsuch. Unlike the fiery rhetoric of their Minority Leader, these Democratic senators adopt a more cautious tone reflective of their balancing act.

Sen. Joe Manchin said he would give fair consideration to Judge Gorsuch, urging senators to “put partisan politics aside and allow the vetting process to proceed.” Another such senator, Sen. Jon Tester (D, Mont.) promised he would be “thoroughly reviewing” Judge Gorsuch’s qualifications.

Judge Gorsuch boasts a glowing CV, which might prove to be another issue for the Senate Democrats – they cannot be seen to reject a qualified and experienced candidate for political reasons. For quite like Merrick Garland, Judge Goruch’s pedigree makes him an attractive candidate on paper. He is a graduate of Harvard and Oxford, he clerked for two Supreme Court justices. (Fun fact: He attended Harvard Law School with former President Barack Obama.) Republicans therefore are hoping that this will make it difficult for Democrats to demagogue the pick.

But whilst his pedigree is one thing, Judge Gorsuch’s record is what the Senate Democrats are really concerned about. One major problem for Democrats concerning Judge Gorsuch’s record will be his rulings on cases involving reproductive rights. As a judge on the Tenth Circuit, Judge Gorsuch sided with Hobby Lobby in its legal challenge against Obamacare’s contraceptive requirement, which the company protested on religious grounds. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the Tenth Circuit’s ruling in a 5-4 decision.

Judge Gorsuch had also pushed for a rehearing in a court case last year involving Planned Parenthood in Utah, when a Tenth Circuit panel had stopped the state from denying public funds to the women’s health organisation.

Whilst campaigning last year, President Trump had stated his pro-life belief, and promised that if elected he would nominate someone to the US Supreme Court who would overturn the 40 years of  jurisprudence which commenced with Roe v Wade. It is apparent after considering Judge Gorsuch’s legal record that President Trump is adhering to his campaign promise.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) said he would follow the standard timeline for considering a Supreme Court justice, which includes about 35 to 40 days of pre-hearing vetting by the panel. This proposed timeline would see confirmation hearings held in mid-March. Senate leaders want Judge Gorsuch confirmed by early April.

Republicans are likely to continuously remind Democrats that Judge Gorsuch was confirmed with a voice vote to his current position on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006. Chairman Grassley’s office noted that 11 current Democratic senators were around then to unanimously install Judge Gorsuch. This previous history of bipartisanship was also recalled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Ky), who made a point of using it to encourage Senate Democrats to step in line:

“When the Senate previously confirmed him to the appellate court, the bipartisan support in the Senate was so overwhelming, a roll call vote was not even required…I hope members of the Senate will again show him fair consideration and respect the result of the recent election with an up-or-down vote on his nomination.”

Legal conservatives are hoping he will become the intellectual heir to Scalia, long the outspoken leader of the conservative bloc, whom Judge Gorsuch would replace if successful in his nomination.

Judge Gorsuch held Justice Scalia in high esteem. In a speech two months after the US Supreme Court Justice died, he said:

 “I immediately lost what breath I had left…And I am not embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t see the rest of the way down the mountain for the tears.”

Interestingly, he shares Justice Scalia’s legal philosophy, and talent for vivid writing. However, Judge Gorsuch’s writing differs from Justice Scalia’s in one major way: His tone is consistently courteous and mild, while some of Justice Scalia’s dissents were – famously -caustic and wounding.

For any fellow fans of legal theory and jurisprudence, Judge Gorsuch is an originalist. This means he tries to interpret the US Constitution in a manner which is consistent with the understanding of those who drafted and adopted it. This approach leads him to generally but not uniformly conservative results.

“Ours is the job of interpreting the Constitution,” he wrote in a concurrence last year. “And that document isn’t some inkblot on which litigants may project their hopes and dreams.”

Like Justice Scalia, Judge Gorsuch has been noted to reach results that favour liberals when he thinks the history or text of the US Constitution or the law require it, especially in areas like criminal law or the rights of religious minorities.

It has been noted that Judge Gorsuch has not hesitated to take stands that critics say have a partisan edge. He has criticised liberals for turning to the courts rather than legislatures to achieve their policy goals, and has called for limiting the power of federal regulators.

Nan Aron, the president of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal group, said Judge Gorsuch’s stance on federal regulation was “extremely problematic” and “even more radical than Scalia.”

Moreover, it has been noted Judge Gorsuch is a favourite of legal conservatives because he has questioned a long-standing legal precedent that many conservatives believe has granted too much power to the regulatory state.

The landmark 1984 US Supreme Court ruling involving the Chevron oil company held that courts should defer to federal agencies’ reasonable interpretations of ambiguous federal laws. But in a ruling last August in an immigration case, Gorsuch questioned the wisdom of that doctrine, and argued the meaning of the law is for judges to decide, not federal bureaucrats.

If Judge Gorsuch is confirmed, he will be the 113th Justice, and the US Supreme Court will return to a familiar dynamic, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a moderate conservative, holding the decisive vote in many closely divided cases.

It remains to be seen how Judge Gorsuch’s nomination goes, but no doubt it shall be a dramatic battle in the Senate.

But I leave you with a wonderful twist of irony which highlights the closeknit nature of the US judiciary.

In a 2002 article reflecting on Justice White’s death, Judge Gorsuch criticised the Senate’s handling of judicial confirmations. “Some of the most impressive judicial nominees are grossly mistreated,” he said, mentioning two candidates for the federal appeals court in Washington who he said were “widely considered to be among the finest lawyers of their generation.”

One was John G. Roberts Jr., who went on to become Chief Justice of the United States. The other was… one Judge Merrick B. Garland.

Of Legislation, Governance and Society.

Well, there we have it. The 1st May has come and gone, and frankly I am struggling to come to terms with the rapid progression into this year. I surely cannot be the only one pondering where on earth April went. Yet now I must consign myself to the upcoming coursework deadlines and examinations. A few weeks, and my final semester of final year law will come to a close. Utterly surreal, but I digress.

As the month of May dawns, I found myself thinking about April, and the legal happenings in this month. There were interesting legal developments in not just the UK, but also the USA. These developments I feel highlight the role law plays in daily life, how governance affects our lives, and how the political system can impact directly upon the lives of certain individuals, or groups of people. New laws came into effect in the UK in April, and controversial bills were passed in the US. I will look at both in this post, starting closer to home first.

In the UK, there were several new laws which came into force in April 2016. Now that April has left us, it would be interesting to reflect on these new laws, and the policies which inspired them. I will list and explain them accordingly:

You may have to pay more council tax -if you live in England.
In England, if you live in a Band D property – that is, in the middle of the price range for your area – the council tax bill for the upcoming year increased by an average of £58. This was the biggest council tax increase for eight years.

This came to be because more than a hundred councils in England were increasing council tax rates by up to 4%. The plan is to use these rises to fund social care. Bear in mind t hat local authorities are struggling to make ends meet: grant cuts to local government in the past six years have been severe, and the amount they receive will decrease further by 2020.

Water bills will also increase by £2 a year in England and Wales, and this also started in April.

Low-paid workers aged 25+ will now receive the new National Living Wage.
On the 1st April, the new National Living Wage of £7.20 an hour was introduced, giving workers aged 25 and over on the lower end of the pay scale a pay rise of 50p an hour. This had been lauded by the Government when it had been announced by the Chancellor in his 2015 Budget. (There had been comments this was not truly a ‘living wage’, it fell short of this and was rather a higher minimum wage.)  However, the Office for Budget Responsibility had warned that up to 60,000 jobs could be lost as a result as employers try to make savings in an effort to afford paying the new wage.

The new policy has been criticised as unfair for younger workers, as those under the age of 25 will not be paid this new wage. Moreover, the National Living Wage should not be confused with the recommendations of the Living Wage Foundation, which states that hourly wages should be at least £9.40 in London and £8.25 elsewhere.

You must microchip your dog (Great Britain only).
From the 6th April, all dog owners in England, Scotland and Wales will be required by law to microchip their pet, and keep their details up-to-date on an authorised database.

It is hoped such measures will make it easier to find lost and stray dogs- which currently cost taxpayers and charities £33 million a year. However, a senior vet actually advised dog owners to ignore the new law, as apparently the chips can lead to health problems among puppies and smaller breeds.

Non-EU workers who earn less than £35,000 face deportation.
Yes, you did read that correctly. Changes to UK visa rules which came into force on the 6th April mean that overseas workers will not be permitted to remain in the UK for more than five years unless they can prove they earn more than £35,000. Now, should that applies to you, and your five-year visa is due to expire, there is now a real risk you could face imminent deportation.

The new law will not apply to nurses, PhD-level jobs and those on the official ‘Shortage Occupation List’.

Prescriptions are more expensive – if you are in England.
On the 1st April, the NHS prescription charge in England increased by 20p to £8.40 per item. Prescriptions  continue to remain free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The cost of an NHS dental check-up has also risen by 5 per cent to £19.70.

Other changes to the NHS in April include: the launch of a £150m incentive programme for hospitals to prevent overuse of antibiotics, and a 1% increase in the value of NHS optical vouchers. (These vouchers are specifically for children, people on low incomes and those with complex sight problems.)

Additional property equals more stamp duty.
Second home buyers and buy-to-let landlords now have to pay 3% more stamp duty on purchases over £40,000 from the 1st April. The additional stamp duty means they will now pay £10,000 – a substantial increase of £7,500.

Mobile homes and houseboats are exempt from the charge.

State pensions will be paid differently.
For those who planned to retire on or after the 6th April, the manner in which you receive your pension has changed. Instead of a basic state pension plus an additional pension, there will be a flat-rate payment of £155.65 a week. This is an increase from the previous minimum of £120.

This was supposed to make Government pensions easier to manage and understand, but a survey by consumer group Which? found that actually, 44% of 50 to 64-year-olds do not know what the new rate will be.  Moreover, to receive the full rate National Insurance must have been paid for 35 years, meaning younger retirees could lose out.

The lifetime allowance for pensions was also reduced on the 6th April, changing from £1.25 million to £1 million.

Pay may rise for those working in the public sector.
It was estimated that more than one million public sector workers would see their pay rise by an average of 1% this month. The Government claimed this will protect 200,000 jobs in public services such as the NHS and the armed forces, but this proposed increase was described as ‘miserly’ by union leaders.

Social housing tenants’ rents will drop, but housing benefit is changing.
If you rent your home from a housing association or the council,your rent started to decrease by 1% each year for the next four years at the end of April.

The Government hopes this will reduce the amount of housing benefit it pays out, and is planning to reduce the household benefit cap this Autumn 2016 from £26,000 to £20,000 – or £23,000 in London.

A new personal allowance should boost savings.
Another policy announced in the 2015 Budget which was implemented on the 6th April is the introduction of the ‘Personal Savings Allowance’, which will enable people to earn up to £1,000 in interest tax-free.

Previously, earnings on savings were automatically taxed at 20%, so this change should benefit almost anyone with a savings account. Yet if you pay the higher 40% rate of tax, your allowance will be £500. Moreover, the richest earners on the top tax rate of 45% will not have an allowance at all.

A new 10 per cent tax on share dividends with a £5,000 tax-free allowance was also introduced on the 6th April.

The above should emphasise how the law can shape our lives and lifestyles, from how we work to our recreational habits. I think that sometimes we can forget how present and relevant the law truly is. I also think that we sometimes may also forget how many laws and regulations are passed each year, and how frequently our behaviour is governed. But I digress. On to the next part of the post!

It was legislation and policy-making as normal in the UK in April. But in the US, policy-making and legislating took a controversial turn in the same month. The states of Mississippi and North Carolina saw the drafting and voting on bills perceived as anti-LGBT*, and sparked a furious backlash from a consortium of rights activists, community groups and businesses in both states.

Balancing religious interests and the rights of the LGBT* community across America has proved to be problematic, to say the least. States, including Mississippi and North Carolina have started drawing up religious freedom laws largely under pressure from religious groups, due to the US Supreme Court ruling last summer which legalised same-sex marriage nation-wide. It also comes as the trans* community in particular campaign for recognition and protection under the law, for example in being afforded the opportunity to use public toilets which align with their preferred gender identity.

In North Carolina, the state essentially revoked LGBT* legal protections through passing a bill that bars the state’s cities and counties from having their own anti-discrimination rules. Republican legislators in the Republican-controlled General Assembly argued for the enactment of the bill after the state’s largest city, Charlotte, passed an ordinance allowing trans* persons to use the public toilets which aligned to their preferred gender identity.

The General Assembly voted in late March to invalidate the ordinance, which would have come into effect on the 1st April. The new law now requires public schools, government agencies and college campuses to ensure bathrooms, toilets and locker rooms are clearly marked by gender. Consequently, Trans* persons in North Carolina can only use toilets which match the gender listed on their birth certificate .

State Governor Patrick McCrory, who signed the bill into law, said in a press release that “the basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings” was violated by “government overreach and intrusion” by Charlotte’s city council.

Republicans in the General Assembly argued it was necessary to intervene to protect women and children, as men could abuse this ordinance to enter women’s restrooms by identifying as trans*. LGBT* advocates however argued this new law places a stigma on the trans* community by perpetrating dubious claims about increased risk of sexual assault. Myself? I feel the law denies the LGBT community legal protections, and denies trans* persons the opportunity to live freely according to their preferred gender.

In Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant signed a controversial bill into law which allows businesses to refuse service to gay couples based on religious beliefs at the beginning of April.

The intention of the bill, the ‘Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act’, is to legally protect those who believe marriage to be solely between one man and one woman, that sexual relations should only happen in marriages and that gender is not changeable. The new law basically permits churches, religious charities and privately held businesses to decline services to people if doing so would violate their religious beliefs on marriage and gender. Government institutions must still provide public services, but individual government employees may avail of the law to opt out. The Governor said the bill “protects sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions”.

Naturally, equal rights advocates argued the new law actively permits discrimination of the LGBT* community – and now on a legal basis. This is also the case with another provision within the bill: anyone who wishes to establish ‘sex-specific standards’ for toilets, dressing rooms etc. may do so.

The Governor of Mississippi took to defending his signing of the bill on Twitter, where he argued the new law does not restrict rights of citizens under the US Constitution. Instead, he argued, the law was designed to ‘prevent government interference in the lives of the people’. (So, a law to restrict the rights and freedoms of a community of citizens is actually preventing government interference in the lives of the aforementioned. Sure.)

Both these cases are examples of the ever-widening divide between social conservatives and diversity-minded corporations, as businesses took to protesting the new laws. PayPal for example announced it had withdrawn from plans to establish a global operations centre in Charlotte, North Carolina because of the state’s recent passage of a law banning anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation. PayPal had pledged to bring 400 jobs and invest $3.6 million in the area by the end of 2017; so such a withdrawal from the city will have a harsh impact. PayPal objected to what it perceived as inequality:

“…becoming an employer in North Carolina, where members of our teams will not have equal rights under the law, is simply untenable.”

Outside of businesses, other lawmakers in the US have raised objections to the new law. Mayors and governors of states including New York, Vermont and Washington, announced a ban on most state-sponsored travel to North Carolina.

Meanwhile in Mississippi, objections have been raised by numerous companies such as Tyson Foods, MGM Resorts International, Nissan and Toyota. They are all major employers in the state.

Whilst I was typing up the above, I kept thinking about the role of law in our lives. As I mentioned previously in this post, law does shape our lives, in more ways than we perhaps realise. Evidently, in the case of the laws passed in Mississippi and  North Carolina, the role of the state in regulating people’s lives cannot be understated. It is also interesting to note the backlash of state citizens to state law; an example in protesting against the governing state and the status quo. Counter-conduct is essentially evident in the boycotting of North Carolina, with what are really ad hoc economic sanctions against the state by national companies.

Regular readers may recall that I studied Jurisprudence and Legal Theory last semester. A consequence of this has been that I now see the law in a different light than before, and understand how it can be viewed from various perspectives. I often find myself questioning the law and our legal system these days, too. I will find myself querying whether the law is merely politics in another form, for example, or I wonder whether there is/there should be a separability of morality from law. Above all else, I will ask myself what exactly is law – and goodness knows, this is a question I will continue to ask for years to come.

It is a fascinating, complex area of legal philosophy, and I feel that it can be seen through news stories such as the implementation of new legislation. For example, we can ask ourselves why we choose to obey the law, or why we have accepted the validity and legitimacy of the law. Is it due in part to a social contract, which we impliedly agree upon so that we accept the law to prevent uncertainty, instability and potential anarchy? Is it because we have agreed to cede power and authority to our elected Parliament and Executive, trusting that they will govern and represent us effectively and efficiency? And are judges truly impartial and neutral? Are they simply to read and give effect to the laws they interpret and adhere to precedence, not to consider the social impact of their decisions?

There many questions to be asked, and many debates to participate in regarding the law. But one thing is for certain: governments have the power and authority to govern our lives, regulate our conduct and even restrict our freedoms.

Of the Superbowl and Stigma.

I must confess that I lack any knowledge in relation to American football. I know that may sound surprising, given that I did live in the States for a year only recently, but try as I might, I could not bear to stand being converted from my one true sporting love of rugby. Suffice to say, I was however exposed to the hype and furore that can only be the Superbowl. I can recall how this event dominated the student scene, with my friends excitedly discussing the form of the competing teams and players, and wondering who would emerge victorious. I, on the other hand, mostly spending my time wondering who/what aforementioned friends were talking about. (Fret not, for I got my own back when the Six Nations Championship rolled around. My talk of ‘scrums’ and ‘lineouts’ and ‘tries’ left prompted the bewildered face I pulled only a week before.)

I did however become aware of the dominance of advertising. The media covered which brands were fortunate enough to have their adverts featuring. Students discussed adverts of old, which ones they liked and were amused by. I even had to write a paper for my Marketing class on the multitude of advertisements flashing across screens both amused and exasperated me. I was amused by obvious attempts to engage with the audience by the creators of said advertisements, who knew that this would be the business equivalent of the Holy Grail for their company. It struck me as odd that despite the Super Bowl being a sporting-fixture, it was mostly known or indeed remembered for the advertisements shown.

People remember images, after all. I recently wrote a post about the power of visuals, noting that:

Visuals, in whatever capacity, are a means of representation. This occurs most especially in advertisements, when companies hope to connect with consumers….

And more often than not, many of us cannot feel represented.

Which brings me to the next observation I made about the Super Bowl last year in the US, and which was reiterated this year. I am speaking about the infamous ‘Halftime show’, when big names in the music industry will come forth, and perform to thousands in the stadium and millions watching at home.

This year, Coldplay, Bruno Mars and a certain Beyoncé graced the stage during the Halfime show. But Beyoncé, who already had caused waves with a surprise single release that Saturday – her first in 14 months, with a politically charged video – stole the show.

Beyoncé and her dancers at the 2016 Super Bowl. (Image courtesy of Consequence of Sound.)

Let me start with ‘Formation‘, her new single. In the lyrics, she refers to the Black Lives Matter movement, details what it is to be black in the United States in 2016, and proudly sings: ‘I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros, I like my Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils.’

In what mic.com has described as being ‘one of the most political music videos in recent memory’, Beyoncé is seen lying on top of a New Orleans police car that sinks into water – a clear reference to Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged mainly black communities in 2005, with many of those affected feeling abandoned by both state and federal government since.

Moreover, the New South Negress journal wrote about the video that Beyoncé ‘becomes every black southern woman possible for her to reasonably inhabit, moving through time, class, and space’.

It was this song she launched into at the Super Bowl. And it was this song, complete with her backing dancers, that caused such a storm in the US. For Beyoncé proudly, and powerfully, referenced celebrated black figures of the past and recent black history. During the performance, At one point, Beyoncé and her backing dancers raised a fist into the air, mimicking a powerful visual image: the Black Panthers’ salute.

Now, even before the performance, when images of the backing artists were posted from backstage, there were many who picked up on the visual reference of the berets of the Black Panther Party. The Black Panther Party was a militant organisation that rejected the non-violent ideals of Martin Luther King. It was established 50 years ago to defend black people against violence and demand civil rights.

But Beyoncé did not stop there. Apparently paying homage to Michael Jackson through her choice of outfit, at one point she and her dancers formed a large ‘X’ shape. They also formed an arrow, straight lines and a triangle, but it was this particular formation that people noticed. How come? Well, the ‘X’ seemingly referenced another famous black figure, known for demanding change and equality: Malcolm X. Like Martin Luther King, he too was assassinated whilst calling for civil rights. However, unlike Martin Luther king, known for his insistence of peaceful protest and non-violence, Malcolm X was criticised by his opponents for his preaching of violence and apparent racism. He promoted black supremacy, advocated the separation of black and white Americans, and rejected the civil rights movement for their emphasis on integration. So this reference by Beyoncé raised a few eyebrows, and was condemned by some, such as the former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani:

I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers, who are the people who protect her…What we should be doing in the African-American community and all communities is build up respect for police officers.

I should note Giuliani sparked criticism himself in November 2014 for his comments in relation to the shooting of black men by armed police officers. During a NBC segment regarding the anticipated grand jury decision on whether to indict officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Giuliani commented:

Ninety-three percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. We’re talking about the exception here…we are not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks are killed by other blacks….

Before he muttered the now infamous line: ‘White police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other.’

The former New York Mayor, everyone. With comments such as these being expressed, seemingly suggesting that only white people can be civilised, live peacefully and only black men are involved in gangs and violence, surely we can understand Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance? Surely we can understand the raw pain and bitter frustration the African-American community in the US must feel every time the breaking news is another story of one of their one, unarmed, being killed by white police officers? Surely we can understand their anger, demand for justice and protests against racism?

To round off the night: it may not have been strictly part of the performance, but images were posted social media of Beyonce’s dancers holding a sign while in the centre of the field. They were demanding justice for Mario Woods. Woods was shot dead by police in San Francisco in December 2015. Videos of his death under intensive fire went viral. Subsequent pressure by civil rights groups has led the US Justice Department to open an investigation into the shooting.

Beyoncé’s performance was powerful, in terms of visual impact. It was also a passionate performance about black power, strength and demanding equality and the end of racism. Beyoncé knew the eyes of the US, and even around the world would be on her during her performance, and she sought to use that to full effect. One description of the Super Bowl event I kept seeing though the days that followed was that Beyoncé’s performance was “unapologetically black”, which is probably why some felt uncomfortable viewing it: they could not bear to be reminded that African-Americans are still subject to racism, discrimination and prejudice in 2016, and did not like being reminded by a pop star who is black.

She struck a nerve, as evidenced by the condemnation of the performance by Conservative news channel Fox News, with Fox News host Brian Kilmeade saying:

…we find out Beyonce dressed up in a tribute to the Black Panthers, went to a Malcolm X formation. And the song, the lyrics, which I couldn’t make out a syllable, were basically telling cops to stop shooting blacks!

After recalling Janet Jackson’s ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at a prior Super Bowl, Kilmeade went on to argue that the NFL had a responsibility to censor Beyonce’s performance, complaining why “didn’t they go and review this and say, wait a second?”

Her performance, focusing as it did on the recent protests against racial discrimination in the US by activist movements such as Black Lives Matter, actually triggered plans for a group to protest outside the NFL’s headquarters in New York as they consider her performance as racist. I cannot be the only one to spot the irony here. When a visual performance seeks empowerment and equality, especially considering the too-long list of those killed ‘for the crime of being black‘, it is not racist, but highlighting the true victims of racism which is sadly still present in society.

Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance and its controversial reception in some quarters reminded me of the cases I recently came across in my Law studies. Last semester, I studied two modules which focused on legal theory. I was fortunate to study Critical Race Theory (CRT) which focused upon the application of critical theory to provide a critical examination of society and culture, and to examine the intersection of race, law, and power. This theory opened my eyes, and give me a new perspective into understanding racism and how it can be implicit in public institutions such as the police, and the courts.

I came to understand that CRT argues racism is ingrained in the fabric and system of society; the individual racist need not exist to note how pervasive institutional racism is in dominant culture. CRT identifies that power structures in society are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which serve to perpetuate the marginalisation of people of colour. Moreover, whilst traditional legal discourse states the neutrality of the law, and its colourblindness, CRT challenges this legal ‘truth’ by examining liberalism and meritocracy as a means for self-interest, power, and privilege.  CRT also recognises that liberalism and meritocracy are often stories heard from those with wealth, power, and privilege. These stories paint a false picture of meritocracy: everyone who works hard can attain wealth, power, and privilege all whilst ignoring the systemic inequalities that institutional racism provides. In addition, intersectionality within CRT points to the multidimensionality of oppression and recognises race alone cannot account for disempowerment.

In my Understanding Human Rights module, we discussed a case from Australia, that of Apple being forced to apologise after a staff member at one of its Victorian stores kicked out a group of black students over fears they ‘might steal something‘. We were asked to think about the writings of Patricia Williams, a proponent of CRT, and apply CRT to this case.

I submitted that this incident not only confirms Williams’ submission that African-Americans are a ‘pre-packaged class of victims’, but it also highlighted the prevailing stereotypical attitude that black people are perpetrators of criminal acts. These young people were informed that they would be watched and subjected to close monitoring by the store staff on the basis of their being black; it is therefore implied the store staff believed they would attempt to commit theft and this prejudicial belief stems from their skin colour. Can you imagine a group of young white boys being told the same thing by a staff member? I do not think this would happen in the first place. That such a prejudicial attitude is still in existence is shameful. Consider this thought with Beyoncé’s performance: would a white singer, singing about a white movement have been considered controversial? After all, it was considered acceptable to have an-all white nominee list for top four categories in the Oscars this year– for the second year in a row. Beyoncé’s visual performance merely served to highlight the prejudice witnessed in the above Australian case.

I was also reminded of an incident in America, where a ladies book club group, who had been laughing on a wine-tasting train in Napa Valley, were unduly thrown off the train. The argument was they were disrupting the experience for other passengers as they were ‘laughing too loudly’. But it is too obvious that they faced discrimination on the basis of their skin colour:  all but one of the book club members on the train were African American. The group was escorted through six train cars, with one of the women saying they felt ‘on display in front of the other guests to waiting police like we were criminals’. These women simply wanted to enjoy themselves, but the moment they became ‘noticeable’ then their skin colour did, too. And it was then that they were removed from the carriage; a symbolic representation of the stereotypical view that as whites are the majority, their rights and interests should be forefront. No wonder the hashtag #Laughingwhileblack went viral.

But let’s note the CRT’s argument of intersectionality: this is a case of bias against both race and gender. Would men have been removed from the train if they had been ‘laughing too loudly’? Was it just easier to remove women, on the basis that they are ranked lower in society anyway? Consider Beyoncé: was she a target for condemnation and criticism on channels such as Fox News, because it was a black woman making a political statement? You see, female pop star is expected to look sexy, to perform sultry dance moves, not proudly declare her race and be a civil rights activist.

Black people are stereotyped as being more likely to offend than their white counterparts; this is evident in the disproportionate detention of black people in prisons in both the UK and in the US. Black people and people of other ethnic minorities are more likely to be subject to questioning by security services, whether in towns and stores or in airports. Is it any wonder that we view ‘stop and search’ policing powers as controversial, when we know that such powers tend to be applied more readily to non-white members of society?

We may argue that given the statistics for arrests and convictions, as non-whites tend to be the majority in both, this should be carried into practice by the police through stop and search to prevent crimes occurring. Yet this is a myth. We believe this, and refuse to realise it is the existence of a prejudicial nature within police practice, based on convenient stereotypes: nonwhites are disproportionately affected in the criminal justice system, thus we cannot rely on statistics to validate our stereotypical attitude. These statistics may only exist because of prejudice. Moreover, we cannot deny that race plays a role in the criminal justice system, both in the UK and the US. We cannot deny that black people are too often victims of police brutality and victims of police prejudice. Stephen Lawrence in the UK is an example of blacks being victimised and denied access to justice. Mike Brown and Tamir Rice were young and unarmed black boys, shot dead by armed white police officers. These cases denote the truth in Williams’ statement about ‘prepackaged victims’: their very skin colour denoted their victim status and wrapped them in the stereotypical branding of ‘young and black, so must be armed and about to commit a crime’. It reinforces that view challenged by CRT, that of the supposed neutrality and colourblindness of the law and public institutions, and reiterates a stereotypical view that whites are superior, and whites should enforce law and order.

Perhaps you feel none of the above cases, whether involving young black men being shot, thrown out of a shop or black women thrown off a train are at all connected to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance. But they do have a connection: they clearly illustrate prejudice and stigma in both society and the law. I just am both sad and frustrated that we are still discussing current incidents of racial stereotyping and stigma in 2016.


 

For a visual timeline of events, starting from Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance to the subsequent complaints, why not take a look at Buzzfeed’s article?

The Grateful Review: a 2015 post round-up.

Hello all,

Well, there we have it. Today marks the final day of 2015, and before long we shall be welcoming in the New Year of 2016. Personally, I cannot believe that it is New Year’s Eve already; I am still convinced I am tucked away somewhere mid-semester. However, regardless of my living in denial regarding the rapidly approaching New Year, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful and Happy New Year. I hope that 2016 is filled with every happiness, friendship and success for you all.

I would like also to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has visited this blog, who has ‘liked’ and shared posts, who has commented and subscribed. I really do appreciate how people have taken time out to visit this blog, and scroll through my posts. When I started this blog back in July of this year, I had imagined it to be of mostly small circulation, and more of a way for me to articulate and publish my thoughts on politics, legal developments etc. I did not imagine that many would actively click on the links to my posts, let alone read them! So you can imagine that I am really so very amazed and grateful that this blog has had over 700 visitors and over 1,200 views in only a couple of months. I cannot thank you enough, and I so very grateful that there are those who are willing to read my musings. I can only hope that you are willing to continue to do so into the New Year!

I started this blog in the summer of 2015 prior to commencing final year law, thinking it only to be an online journal of sorts. Now I realise it has grown to be more than this: it has given me a voice on topics I love and care passionately about. I do not write for money or other rewards; I write because it is interesting, challenging and always fun. I can see how theory taught in my degree gains practical application, and in turn can share this knowledge with others. I have been able to share my experiences as a law student, final year student and study abroad survivor, sharing tips along the way. I have been able to help promote causes, such as student societies, charity appeals, volunteer opportunities and student activism. Writing this blog brings me such enjoyment, and I often look forward to reading the news/researching topics of interest to write about as a means to relax during my studies and other student commitments.

So, it has been a great couple of months writing and working on this blog. It has also been a great year as a whole, from studying abroad in the US to commencing my final year as an undergraduate law student. As I sit here swamped with research and notes listening to the wonderful Serial podcast (season one; the Adnan Syed case is becoming very interesting) I was thinking that I should jump on the current bandwagon, and provide a review of sorts of my year in this post. To do so, I will provide a list of my most-read posts and provide a brief summary of each. I will work through on a month-by-month basis, selecting the two posts which recorded the highest hits from each month.

You will see that quite a lot happened in both the political and legal spheres in 2015. Case in point: how can we forget the General Election in May? I was jetlagged, having only arrived in Dublin that morning. I insisted on being driven North to vote, and proceeded to stay up all night to watch the results come in. What a shake-up of the political landscape unfolded. Alas, that I did not have my blog at the time. Or perhaps that is something to be relieved about, given my jetlagged state.

Anyway. Without further ado, let’s begin.

 

July

Whose Water Cannon is it Anyway? 
This post examined the announcement of the Home Secretary, Theresa May, of her decision to refuse to allow the use of water cannon in England and Wales a year after three of them were bought by the Metropolitan Police at the behest of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Ms May’s three reasons behind her decisions were the basis of operational use, concerns about police legitimacy and medical/technical reasons. The application to request her permission to use water cannon and her subsequent rejection  ‘does not apply to Northern Ireland where the use of water cannon is already authorised’, meaning Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK where water cannon is used.

Under the Wheels of the EU.
This post covered the ongoing (as it then was) drama around Greece and negotiations around bailout terms. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke out against austerity and harsh bailout terms, and called for a referendum to be held for the Greek people to decide whether to accept the EMU bailout terms. This referendum was criticised by several EU member states as being political-motivated and they warned it would not be considered during negotiations. Whilst the referendum results were in favour of rejecting the harsh bailout terms, Tsipras ultimately had to accept said terms.

August

Study USA: One Year (and many memories) On
This post discussed my study abroad year in America. I was accepted onto the British Council NI’s ‘Study USA’ scholarship programme, and was placed at the wonderful Coe College, a private liberal-arts college in Cedar Rapids, IA. I explain the programme, noting the requirements scholarship students must fulfil whilst studying abroad, and share my experiences and memories. (I am a law student who was in a sorority and interned at a local law firm. Am I Elle Woods yet?)

When in doubt, seek the Northern Irish out.
This post centred around a letter that then-Labour leadership hopeful Andy Burnham wrote in The Belfast Telegraph. In his letter, Burnham essentially stated that he was the one who will ensure the people of Northern Ireland have a voice, and are listened to. In my post, I analyse the promises/statements made in the letter, and in sum find it reads more as a reiteration to Labour supporters in the UK mainland of what Burnham stands for, rather than what he would actually do re NI if he should he win the leadership contest. Given the assessment of English parties in Northern Ireland as evidenced by the previous analysis of recent voting outcomes in both 2010 and 2015, the main conclusion I drew overall from the PR exercise was that Burnham must be have been desperate in his bid to become Labour leader and see off the threat of Jeremy Corbyn if he sought to woo Northern Irish voters.

September

How do you solve a problem like Stormont?
This post discussed the crisis that struck Stormont, dragged out from August until the end of September. Kevin McGuigan, was murdered in Belfast, and then the news took a turn when it was revealed he was an ex-IRA man. His murder was an apparent revenge killing, as allegedly he had been involved in the revenge murder of Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison. Moreover, the murder of McGuigan was apparently ordered and carried out by none other than the IRA. The Chief Constable of the PSNI then publicly stated that the Provisional IRA ‘still exists’, further commenting that some Provisional IRA members were involved in the murder. As Sinn Fein and the DUP bickered, the UUP announced the party’s decision to move into opposition via the resignation of their sole representative minister in the Executive. Then the DUP announced there would be no more Executive meetings, and FM Peter Robinson would ‘step aside’, as all DUP ministers bar one resigned. I offer my thoughts on the above, and ultimately conclude that Stormont’s current operation needs to be rectified.

Crown him Corbyn, King of an unstable Labour.
This post covered the successful election of Jeremy Corbyn, as he became the new Leader of the UK Labour party. The veteran left winger, who had only been included on the ballot list at the last minute after several MPs ‘lent’ him their nominations in an effort to kick-start actual discussion and scrutiny, was only ever expected to scrape last place. But after putting in unexpectedly strong performances in leadership hustings, he began to win over large numbers of activists. I wrote about the dire post-General Election summer endured by Labour, and the events which led towards Corbyn’s victory. I also wrote about the controversial Shadow Cabinet appointments made by Corbyn in the aftermath of his win, and the events such as his decision not to sing the National Anthem which marked the end to his honeymoon period. My conclusion? Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

Honorary mention: ‘Of Women, words and the status quo‘ -this post was just beaten out of contention, but given that it involves one Lord Sumption, a member of the UK Supreme Court, making controversial remarks about gender representation and equality in the judiciary, I simply have to include it.

October

As you move through the (careers) fair
This post was essentially my guide of preparing for and making the most of careers fairs at university. Careers fairs provide students with a unique opportunity to come face-to-face with firms and companies in a relaxing and informal setting, and therefore can help with future career planning. As in a nutshell, attending these fairs is an essential step in planning your future career, I wrote this survival guide of sorts to help students understand why they should attend such events, and then how to prep for their attendance and make the most of their time when there.

Uni’s back for the new term: the adaptability guide.
This post was my write-up of commencing final year Law, and how it felt to be going back to university and entering final year. I discuss how I feel about my modules for the semester, and then offer my tips/survival guide to adapting back into a routine, be it for work, university like myself and so on. This includes understanding the importance of project/time management, task prioritisation.and the wonders of timetables and drawing of schedules. But it also reiterates that you have to remember to set aside time for yourself, too.

November

Solidarité
This post was written in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. I discuss how it had been a typical day for me on Friday the 13th November, attending a workshop and undertaking research for a coursework assignment for my Legal Theory module that was due for the following Monday. Then I happened to scroll through my Twitter feed, and turned to Sky News to watch horrific scenes. I state the importance of unity using the example of Northern Ireland during The Troubles. I conclude that we must live our lives and insist on our freedoms and civil liberties. We must not blame or be violent towards our fellow citizens. Islam is not what ISIS represents, and we should not be asking our Muslim friends and neighbours to prove they are not terrorists.

A political tale in exploitation and and opportunism.
This post covered the US political response to the Paris attacks. Opening with the news that the vote on the proposed bill, American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, had passed the House, I note that the events and statements made by US politicians following the Paris attacks were a showing of political expediency, political exploitation of the attacks and ultimately a display of political opportunism. I examine the response of President Obama and compare it to the statements made and positions taken by 2016 hopefuls Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul.

Honorary mention: ‘Pro Bono – the important art of helping others for free‘ – again, this was just beaten out of the top two spots, but for any law students interested in pro bono, this one is for you, focusing as it does on National Pro Bono Week, why pro bono is important and how you can get involved.

December

Sexism Strikes Again
This post examines (using a lot of Smiths references to be sure) sexism in the form of messages sent on networking websites, case in point being a message I received on LinkedIn. It also examines the case of Charlotte Proudman, the barrister who received what she considered a sexist and offensive message from a law firm partner, also on LinkedIn. I conclude that it is a regrettable fact that women are subject to receiving unwanted messages regarding their appearance on social media, but oh, how I thought I would be safe on LinkedIn, an apparent professional platform.

Charged no more: the end of the Criminal Courts Charge.
This post covered the news that the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, announced his intent to repeal the criminal courts charge. I examined the criminal courts charge, what it stood for and the arguments both for and against it. I also examine the controversy it created in its short lifespan, and the criticism it faced from magistrates and judges. I concluded that the announcement to repeal this charge was perhaps proof that sometimes widespread criticism and unpopularity can have an effect on the government, resulting in its scrapping of an unpopular measure, or policy.

We need to talk about Syria.
This post focused on discussing the House of Commons debate on the government motion for the UK to intervene in Syria (I was watching it live on television at the time of writing), and I share my thoughts on the subject. I note the political opportunism and expediency being revealed for both the Conservative government and for the divided Labour Opposition.

 

Happy reading, and a very Happy New Year to you all.