The Strikes (Minimum Service) Bill: A Blatant Violation of International Labour Standards – by Ioannis Katsaroumpas

[This post is by Ioannis Katsaroumpas (Lecturer in Employment Law at Sussex). Republished with permission from the UK Labour Law Blog.]

Image from Pixabay

1. Introduction

The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill (“MSB”)is another legislative episode in the never-ending ‘death by a thousand cuts’ of trade unions’ ability to mount an effective lawful industrial action. As it is well-known, industrial action in the UK is subject to a wide range of legal restrictions that work cumulatively to make less likely its occurrence (such as stringent ballot thresholds or wide scope for injunctions) or constrain its effectiveness (such as long notice periods, short ballot mandates and the permissible use of agency workers as strike replacements).

In this long process, the MSB seeks to tighten the screw even more for trade unions and striking workers. If enacted, the Bill will empower the Secretary of State to make regulations that provide minimum service levels in certain sectors. Following their publication, employers in these sectors would be able to serve the union ‘work notices’ that identify the persons and the work required for securing the levels of service that are required by the regulation. Failure to comply with these notices would mean that those employees would lose the protection against unfair dismissal. At a collective level, the union will be subject to damages in tort if it ‘fails to take reasonable steps to ensure’ that the union members identified in the work notice comply with the effect that all striking workers would lose their automatic protection from unfair dismissal.

The introduction of a new round of further restrictions on industrial action by a Conservative Government is hardly surprising. What is novel, however, is the invocation of ILO International Labour Standards in support of the restrictions. ILO rules are typically ignored by Conservative Governments as evident in the disregard of multiple criticisms by ILO supervisory bodies. The latest example is the repeal of the prohibition of the use of agency workers as strike replacements last July which is clearly against ILO standards and a ‘serious violation’ of freedom of association (CFA; para.  918)

In the House of Commons, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claimed that the ILO ‘supports minimum service levels’. On its website, the BEIS Department noted in support of the Bill that the ILO ‘recognizes MSLs as a sensible solution to protect the public from serious consequences of strikes’ and ‘accepts limitations on strikes is permissible where life is endangered or other serious consequences for the public’ [sic].

In light of these claims, this post assesses the compatibility of the MSB with ILO standards. It argues that the Government’s claim, to the extent that it implies MSB’s compliance with ILO standards, does not stand up to scrutiny. The MSB will widen the already extensive gap between UK law on industrial action and ILO standards. This is mainly because MSB’s governance model of minimum services is shaped by what could be termed ‘dual unilateralism’, that is executive and employer unilateralism in the determination and application of the minimum service regime. This runs counter to the ILO approach which assigns priority to the social partners’ determination of the regime and distrusts governments’ involvement in the process.

The post is structured as follows. After a discussion of the scope of the minimum service provisions in the MSB, it identifies ‘dual unilateralism’ as a key defect of the minimum services governance. The next part looks at the cumulative effect of the provisions, while the final part concludes that the MSB is a blatant violation of international labour standards.

2. The MSB Scope of Minimum Service Provisions

Viewed in isolation and without considering their cumulative effect, the scope of the MSB complies with ILO standards. The MSB covers the following sectors: (a) health services; (b) fire and rescue services; (c) education services; (d) transport services; (e) decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel; and (f) border security. This list is familiar from the Trade Union Act 2016.  It corresponds to the ‘important public services’ where stricter thresholds apply for successful industrial action ballots (40% of eligible members to vote in favour on top of the 50% turnout requirements).

Indeed, the ILO permits the imposition of minimum service levels in all of these sectors. According to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA), they are allowed in the following cases (para. 866): 

  1. ‘Essential public services’ in the strict sense of the term;
  2. Strikes whose ‘extent and duration’ might be such as to result in an acute national crisis endangering the normal living conditions of the population; or
  3. In ‘public services of fundamental importance’.

‘Essential services’ cover only those sectors where ‘the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population’ (para. 830). While the relevant assessment is context-specific to each country, the CFA has produced a list of examples of sectors that may be considered essential services. These include the hospital sector, electricity and water supply services, telephone services, police, and firefighting (para. 840). Conversely, among those sectors which cannot be deemed essential are the transport, rail, education, and postal services sectors (para. 842).

Education and transport sectors cannot be deemed essential services. However, they could be included in the category of ‘public services of fundamental importance’. Indeed, the CFA has accepted the following non-essential service sectors as ones where minimum services could be justified: ferry services and ports (paras. 886-888), railway activities (para. 889), the transportation of passengers and commercial goods (para. 893), banking services (para. 895), the petroleum sector (para. 895), and the education sector (para. 899). And in a specific comment during the examination of the UK’s proposed list of important public services under the Trade Union Act 2016, the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) has confirmed that the education sector, along with railway and transport sectors, could be subject to minimum services even though they are not essential services (p. 153).

3. ‘Dual Unilateralism’: The Chief Defect of the MSB

From the perspective of international labour standards, the most problematic feature of the MSB is the unilateral construction of the designated governance of minimum services. It is based on ‘dual unilateralism’. The Bill grants virtually unlimited power to the Secretary of State to determine the minimum service levels and to the employer to apply them.  In practice, of course, this dual unilateralism could collapse into single unilateralism. This is because the Government is the de facto or de jure employer in many sectors covered by minimum services, or it plays a critical role in the negotiations due to the provision of funding (as in the education and train transport sectors). This unilateralism operates – and is manifested – at multiple levels.

Firstly, the MSB does not set any substantive constraints on the Minister’s power to determine the required minimum service levels. There are no principles, criteria, or limitations established to govern this discretion. It thus appears as an unrestrained form of executive unilateralism. It represents a further step in the overall direction of an authoritarian approach to trade union regulation (as presciently identified by Alan Bogg in a piece on the TUA 2016).  Moreover, the MSB does not even indicate the type of criteria that the Minister has the power to fix. Will they assume a quantitative form, either as an absolute number or as a proportion of the workforce? Will they refer to categories of workers? Or will they instead take a generic, purposive form, that is to those levels required to meet a certain objective or objectives such as to ‘cover the basic needs of the users’, ‘maintain safety’ or ensure ‘a minimum satisfactory level of education for students’. Or some combination of the above? This silence is of fundamental significance for this type of unilateralism. The Minister operates in a space of unfettered discretion.

This absence of substantive constraints conflicts with ILO standards as determined by its supervisory bodies. While ILO standards permit minimum services in certain cases, the CFA  states that the extent of the minimum services should ‘not render the strike ineffective’ (para. 874) or call it into question (para. 867). It should be restricted ‘to the operations which are necessary to satisfy the basic needs of the population or the minimum requirements of the service’ (para. 874) or to ‘ensuring that users’ basic needs are met or that facilities operate safely or without interruption’ (para. 867). While there exists an element of flexibility in the interpretation of these standards, minimum services requirements should not be set at such a high level as to make the strike ineffective or above the level required for covering basic needs. The MSB should have contained similar substantive safeguards to be compliant with ILO standards.

Secondly, MSB’s dual unilateralism manifests itself in the lack of any effective procedural constraints on the two-tiered unilateral structure of Ministerial regulation and employer application. More specifically, the Bill only provides that, before making regulations, the ‘Secretary of State must consult such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate’. The ‘duty to consult’ here (‘must’) is gravely weakened by the expression ‘as the Secretary of State considers appropriate’. Trade unions are not named as such, and no specific tripartite process is constructed. While a Ministerial failure to consult with unions would probably be rendered unfair on traditional judicial review grounds, this is a striking omission.  This model is in profound conflict to CFA recommendations that consultations on measures related to the scope and exercise of trade union rights should be ‘in-depth’ (para. 1542) and ‘full, frank and detailed’ (para. 1545). And obviously the MSB itself did not adhere to these requirements as it was introduced without a meaningful prior consultation in accordance with ILO standards.

Subsequently, the employers in the sectors subject to regulations are given the unilateral power to ‘identify the persons’ and ‘specify the work required’ for ‘securing’ the levels of services provided in the regulation. This construction seems to indicate a broad discretion to the employer to make these assessments and, conversely, the operation of the regulations at a more general level. The specified limit that employers should not identify more persons than ‘reasonably necessary’ for the minimum services level set by the Minister does not seem to operate as a substantive constraint on this unilateralism. The precise scope of employer unilateralism would ultimately depend on the operation of executive unilateralism. If the regulation establishes vague or purposiveminimum service levels (such as ‘to cover basic needs’ or to ‘ensure safety’), the employer may have broader leeway in what could be, in practice, an act of determination of minimum service levels.

In this process of employer determination, the MSB imposes minimal consultation requirements. The employer shall only ‘consult the union about the number of persons to be identified and the work to be specified in the notice’ and merely to ‘have regard to any views expressed by the union in response’.

It is very important that the Bill makes no references to the possibility of minimum services decided by collective negotiations and agreements, and fails to designate an independent body to resolve any disputes. Here, the MSB diverges from the Transport Strikes (Minimum Services Levels) Billintroduced last October in the transport sector. In a model closer to the ILO standards, the Transport Bill provided for negotiated agreements between employers and unions (minimum services agreements), and, in case of a failure to agree, for a determination by the Central Arbitration Committee with a power to enforce them. No justification is offered for the MSB’s departure from this model. The MSB privileges a model of employer unilateralism over a system where minimum services are collectively decided by social partners and, if this is not possible, by an independent body.

Even more worryingly, the MSB provides no guidance or criteria as to how the employer would determine those workers subject to a duty to work under a ‘work notice’. It only states that they should not be included because of union membership. This is a very weak safeguard that provides a wide scope for abuse by an employer. What if an employer decides to select workers based on their participation in previous industrial action(s) or picket lines or based on their intention to participate in the industrial action or picket lines subject to the minimum services? Or what if an employer decides to select union activists or those leading previous strikes in order to reduce their effectiveness by moving them from the picket lines to work? All these cases would not be directly covered by this safeguard because the selection will still not be based on grounds of union membership. In these cases, those workers would have a duty to comply with the work notice, with non-compliance entailing the unprotected nature of the whole industrial action if it is deemed that the union failed to take ‘reasonable steps’ to ensure their compliance.

And it is a complex and unclear question whether the protection against detriment on grounds of trade union activities ‘at an appropriate time’ (under TULRCA s 146) may be applicable here. In the Mercerjudgment (whose appeal is currently being considered by the Supreme Court), the Court of Appeal refused to extend the notion of ‘detriment’ to cover participation in industrial action as it was not considered to be a trade union activity occurring ‘at an appropriate time’. It may be that the employer’s decision to list union activists and leaders would attract the s 146 protection if it is shown that the targeted activity was ‘at an appropriate time’ (though unlikely to cover a selection based on picket activity), subject to the assumption that being listed is a ‘detriment’. But even in this scenario, the remedy would be an individual remedy. The duty of those workers to comply will remain. A failure to comply would risk exposing fellow workers exercising their right to strike to the risk of dismissal and their union to severe damages if it is shown that the union ‘failed to take reasonable steps’ to ensure compliance. This ‘thin’ construction of the prohibited selected criteria constitutes a grave risk to freedom of association and the fundamental right of workers and unions to organize and strike.  It permits employers to strategically use the practice of arbitrarily listing specified workers for minimum services for weakening the industrial action and potentially ‘sanctioning’ them for legitimate trade union activities in contrast to ILO standards. Even if the Bill is allowed to proceed, it is imperative that this provision is amended as to add as a minimum the following as relevant prohibited selection criteria:

  • participation in previous industrial action or industrial actions against the same or different employer and in associated activities (such as picketing);
  • intention to participate in industrial action and in associated activities;
  • trade union activities.

Moving to the broader picture, this overall architecture of ‘dual unilateralism’ is in profound contrast with the spirit and letter of ILO standards that privilege a consensual determination and application of minimum service levels by the social partners and distrust government involvement in them. ILO standards attach special significance to social dialogue and the involvement of both parties in the negotiation of minimum services. They assign priority to a negotiated settlement between the parties (para. 878). The standards require that ‘both sides must be able to participate in determining the minimum services’ (para. 882). This is justified on two grounds. First, to allow the exchange of views on what is strictly necessary. Second, it is also to make sure that they do not ‘result in the strike becoming ineffective in practice because of its limited impact, and dissipate possible impressions in the trade union organizations that a strike has come to nothing because of over-generous and unilaterally fixed minimum services’ (para. 881). Unilateral determination by the employer in case of the failure of bilateral negotiations is not permitted (para. 883). And per ILO standards, it is preferable that the negotiations on the definition and organization of these minima should be held before the dispute ‘so that all parties can examine the matters with the necessary full frankness and objectivity’ (para. 875).

Finally, it is notable that the MSB provides for no independent body to review and resolve issues around the application of minimum service levels. This is to an extent a consequence of the unilateral configuration of the system. If there are no substantive or procedural criteria that restrain the power of the employers and to the extent that trade unions are treated as consultative bodies, it may follow that, for the legislator, it is up to the employer to have the final say. This goes against ILO standards highlighting the need for the independence of the dispute resolution process. For ILO, any disagreements should be resolved by a body ‘having the confidence of the parties concerned’ (para. 883) and through a definitive ruling ‘only by the judicial authorities, in so far as it depends, in particular, upon a thorough knowledge of the structure and functioning of the enterprises and establishments concerned and of the real impact of the strike action’ (para. 885).

4. Cumulative Effect

The above analysis demonstrates the violation of ILO standards by the MSB’s dual unilateralism. But it should be also noted that, even with regards to the scope of the provisions in relation to which MSB appears to be prima facie compliant, ILO rules take into account the cumulative effect of restrictions. This is essential since even an acceptable measure on its own could, however, raise concerns over its compatibility with ILO standards vis-à-vis its cumulative effect with other existing restrictions. The CFA states that ‘the conditions that have to be fulfilled under the law in order to render a strike lawful should be reasonable and in any event not such as to place a substantial limitation on the means of action open to trade union organizations’ (para. 789). The notion of ‘substantial limitation’ should be understood not as referring only to the specific measure but seen in the broader context and systemic effect with other existing restrictions.

In its discussion regarding the Trade Union Act 2016, the CEACR adopted a cumulative approach by noting ‘the expiration of the ballot mandate, coupled with the extensive notice requirements [at that time 2 weeks] and the current context of a postal ballot, were likely to hinder the capacity of workers’ organizations to exercise their activities free from interference’. The MSB would impose cumulatively an additional ‘strong substantive limitation’ on top of other restrictions in those sectors concerned. These minimum services requirements and the associated threat of dismissal and damages for non-compliance, would cumulatively interact with the numerous existing restrictions (strict ballot thresholds, long notice periods, short ballot mandates, permissible use of agency workers as strike replacements, threat of injunctions) as to reduce even more the effectiveness of lawful industrial action.

5. Conclusion

Notwithstanding the Government’s rhetoric, the MSB is a blatant violation of ILO standards because of a chief defect: ‘dual unilateralism’. It enshrines a view of the Government and the employers as the only neutral ‘enlightened actors’ to pursue the putative public interest in the form of minimum services, and marginalizes trade unions and by extension workers. The embedding of minimum services in an overall model of unilateralism by the MSB combines the managerial unilateralism of the neo-liberal model of industrial relations and the executive unilateralism of authoritarianism. This makes the British case different to other systems where minimum service levels may be embedded in a collectivist and more balanced system of industrial relations comprising stronger collective institutions, a broader scope for lawful industrial action and in many cases constitutional safeguards.  For example, in Italy minimum service agreements must be set by collective agreements and an independent body exists (Commission of Guarantees) to assess their adequacy.

The overall result of the MSB would be to enshrine a legislated form of unrestricted unilateralism that would tilt the balance of power even more towards employers. And, as discussed, in most cases the dual unilateralism would in practice amount to a single unilateralism. The MSB would give the Government two strategic legal levers in the negotiations – a Ministerial discretion to issue and amend regulations and, as a de facto or de jure employer, to apply them in specific contexts. Industrial disputes and collective negotiations would thus operate in the shadow of this unilateralism with no substantive guarantees as to their setting at a genuinely minimum level.

The MSB’s incompatibility with ILO standards is also important for assessing its compliance with Article 11 of the ECHR on freedom of association. The European Court of Human Rights assigns a major weight to the comments of the ILO supervisory bodies for determining the compatibility of restrictions. For example, in Ognevenko v Russia(a decision issued in 2019)the ECtHR strongly relied on ILO standards and comments by its supervisory bodies when finding that the dismissal of a striking worker in the railway sector in Russia violated  Article 11 of the ECHR. In this case, the Court reminded the ILO’s CEACR conclusion that in this sector a ‘negotiated minimum service could be established’ (para. 23).

Whatever merits the Government can invoke in support of this Bill, its compliance with ILO standards is not one of them. It is a defect, not a virtue. But if the Government wishes to avoid the charge of an erroneous and opportunistic bad faith invocation of international labour law, it is open to it to invite the ILO to assess the MSB for its compliance with ILO standards as part of a broader review of the industrial action framework. That would be a welcome step towards restoring the international rule of law.

About the author:

Ioannis Katsaroumpas is a Lecturer in Employment Law at the University of Sussex. He holds an LL.B (First Class) from the University of Athens, M.Jur, M. Phil in Law (Distinction) and D. Phil in Law from the University of Oxford. He has authored (or co-authored) reports for the European Parliament and the ILO. His current research is focused on international labour law.
The author is grateful to Alan Bogg, Danielle Worden, Michael Ford, Hugh Collins and Virginia Mantouvalou for their comments on the draft. 

(Suggested citation: I Katsaroumpas, ‘The Strikes (Minimum Service) Bill: A Blatant Violation of International Labour Standards’, UK Labour Law Blog, 18 January 2023, available at https://uklabourlawblog.com/)

The cumulative impact of neo-liberalism on employment rights and good practice in Higher Education recruitment

Photo of Moira Dustin
Moira Dustin

This post is by Moira Dustin (Lecturer in Law at Sussex and Convenor of the Women in Refugee Law [WiRL] network). The piece reflects on the impact of the convergence of effects of Brexit, the Hostile Environment, and outsourcing of recruitment on workplace equality and rights in Higher Education.

I was tempted to give this post a tabloid-style title like ‘Revealed: the shocking truth about recruitment at one of the UK’s most woke universities’ but I’m sticking with the usual dry academic does-what-it-says-on-the-label approach in the hope of showing what happens when various neo-liberal and right-wing populist phenomena converge to undermine workplace equality and rights. The phenomena in question are contracting out, the ‘Hostile Environment’ and Brexit.

Contracting out

My starting point: I’m in the fortunate situation of having recently been given a small ESRC Impact Acceleration Account grant for the second time (the first time was March 2022) and for the same project – the development of a network of academics, practitioners and activists working on women’s international protection. Both times, most of the funding was for a research assistant working for 1-2 days a week for 3-6 months. Both times, because the post was a short-term one, the Human Resources department referred me to Reed – a contracted out recruitment agency – to deal with contracts, employment checks, taking up references and processing payment.

As context, in November 2021, ‘after an extensive tender process’, the University entered into a strategic partnership with Reed Talent Solutions. Reed would provide a ‘new managed service for UK temporary workers’ with a key benefit being a ‘Single point of contact for all non-permanent worker engagements’. The announcement conflates ‘UK temporary’ and ‘all non-permanent’ appointments which may explain the confusion (identified below) that I experienced. The rationale for the ‘partnership’ is that it will ‘simplify our processes, automate our administration and cut our agency fees when appointing certain types of staff’.

This kind of outsourcing is commonplace. In many public bodies, services and functions that were once carried out in-house are now tendered-out, from catering and rubbish collection to running prisons and immigration centres. Procurement is generally said to be justified on grounds of efficiency and economy. Whether or not this is true may be argued on a general or a case-by-case basis. My interest here is in the implications of contracting out for equal opportunities in the recruitment process and workers’ rights after appointment.

Commitments to equality and diversity

The University of Sussex has many measures in place intended to make sure that it is a safe and fair workplace. There is a Dignity and Respect policy that covers everyone at the University. It has policy and guidance covering: grievances; violence; equality and diversity; disability discrimination; and bullying and harassment. My school – Law, Politics and Sociology (LPS) – is currently working on an Equalities Statement. The University has signed up to the Athena SWAN (gender equality) and the Race Equality Charters. As a public body it is subject to the Equality Act 2010 Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). The duty stems from the recognition of institutional as well as individual discrimination after the Metropolitan Police’s failure to catch the killers of Stephen Lawrence. People in LPS have helped Sussex secure University of Sanctuary status to ensure we promote refugee and migrant rights at the University and are using that status to  campaign against the University’s partnership with Mitie – a company that runs Immigration Removal Centres for the Government. Campaigners argue that this contract is incompatible with the University’s claim to be a University of Sanctuary that welcomes forced migrants and asylum seekers.  

There is no evidence that Reed has signed up to any of the University’s equality or social justice policies or commitments. Unlike the University, Reed is not subject to the Equality Duty, however, as the Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance (p7) confirms:

The [Public Sector Equality Duty] is non-delegable. This means that the duty will always remain the responsibility of the organisation subject to the duty. In practice, this means that public authorities should be asking their suppliers to take certain steps (such as monitoring service users), in order to enable the public authority to meet their continuing legal obligation to comply with the PSED and other duties under the Equality Act 2010.

Reed’s website has a page on Diversity and Inclusion, however there is no information on it about what to do if you experience discrimination or harassment while working for a third company, nor is there any guidance given to managers about their responsibilities towards staff employed through Reed. In response to my query a colleague in Sussex Human Resources confirmed that it was Reed, not the University, that is the employer of the research assistant I am recruiting.

Add the Hostile Environment

Alison Phipps (the refugee scholar at Glasgow not our former colleague in Sociology) wrote a poem that I often use in seminars about immigration and asylum. It starts ‘And they will say of me / that despite it all, I was a border guard.

The impact of the Hostile Environment has been widespread and is well-documented. One of its main characteristics is the transferral of immigration functions to public officials, private employers and members of the public – people who don’t want this role and aren’t qualified to do it. Staff in Higher Education are among those who have to check the immigration status of potential employees or risk five years in prison or an unlimited fine. In outsourcing some of its recruitment responsibilities, the University has also outsourced this immigration responsibility and with confusion as a consequence: In the recruitment process in March, Reed informed me that, although the job could be done remotely (and indeed ended up being done remotely), the person appointed must have the right to work in the UK as ‘they are completing work for a UK establishment and paying taxes in the UK’. On this second occasion, the question of whether the applicant needs to have the right to work in the UK is no longer clear. My contact at Reed states that they do, while colleagues in the Human Resources department informed me this is not the case. At the time of writing, correspondence to clarify this point was continuing.

The research assistant post I’m advertising is to further develop an international network, and the job description has been disseminated through the network’s membership – global academics (including research students), lawyers and activists. It’s a role that would be particularly suited to post-grad research students, including, but not only, those in LPS, Global Studies and other schools at Sussex. I don’t know if they are entitled to work in the UK. It looks as if someone on a student visa may be able to work: how much depends on what you’re studying and whether you’re working in or out of term-time. However, I’ve been informed by Reed that anyone employed through them would need not only the right to work in the UK but a UK bank account. It would be Reed’s responsibility to check this at the stage of appointment but I don’t want to encourage ineligible applicants to apply, offer them the job and then find they are ineligible.

Now add Brexit

Brexit overlaps with the Hostile Environment but creates a further level of confusion as to who can work in the UK. An EU passport or national identity card alone is no longer valid proof of someone’s right to work in the UK, although some EU nationals may be entitled to work in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) if they applied before 30 June 2021. Several of the people who have emailed me to express an interest in the research assistant post are EU nationals. I’ve had to explain that they need the right to work in the UK, in one case prompting a further exchange with a Greek applicant who confirmed that she did have the right, until I felt obliged to remind her that post-Brexit, as a Greek national, this was probably not the case.  

In the run-up to Brexit, debate was about trade, sovereignty, financial pros and cons, and of course, migration. There wasn’t much discussion about social justice or the concrete equality and human rights the UK derived from EU membership. At the time of writing, legislation is going through parliament that sets the clock ticking for a mass repeal of retained EU law, including the bulk of EU-derived employment protections. This legislation – the Retained EU Law Bill – will also contribute to the roll-back of rights identified in this piece.

Where’s a Red Tape Challenge when you want one?

Does anyone remember the Red Tape Challenge? It was a Conservative government initiative of 2011 inviting the public to suggest unnecessary regulations to be abolished. It was carried out through a number of themes:

Every few weeks the government will publish all the regulations in one specific sector or industry and ask the public to tell us what’s working and what’s not, what can be simplified and what can be scrapped. Once we’ve received your feedback, ministers will have 3 months to work out which regulations should be kept and why.

One ‘theme’ was ‘Equalities’. The Red Tape Challenge spotlight on equalities was the basis for weakening anti-discrimination protection in the name of reducing unnecessary bureaucracy. A decade later, and I’d like to see a Red Tape Challenge taking the outsourcing of HR as its theme. Whatever has come from the University’s ‘partnership’ with Reed, processes have not been simplified. Four weeks after starting the recruitment process, and after 36 emails with individuals in HR, HR compliance, Research & Enterprise Services and Reed – all of whom are trying to help – and on the day of the deadline for submitting applications, I’m no clearer on whether I need to tell applicants that they need a UK bank account for this job.

Conclusion: fast, cheap, good?

Jim Jarmusch once told Tom Waits:

Fast, Cheap, and Good…pick two. If it’s fast and cheap it won’t be good. If it’s cheap and good it won’t be fast. If it’s fast and good it won’t be cheap.

Translate ‘fast, cheap, good’ into ‘efficient, cost effective, ethical’ and the University of Sussex isn’t achieving even one of the three in its recruitment and employment practices. Jim Jarmusch needs to get with the times.

The convergence of outsourcing, immigration controls and Brexit have led the University to hand over its responsibilities to some employees to an external agency with different policies and that is not accountable to University staff and students in the same way as the internal HR structure. Employees and potential employees on short-term and temporary contracts – inevitably those who already find it hardest to get a foot on the ladder and who are most vulnerable to exploitation if they do – are now less clear about their workplace rights and whether they have the right to work at all.

I’ve learnt an enormous amount from working with researchers and students from outside the UK, and this diverse input has informed my research and teaching to what I believe is everyone’s benefit. It’s sad and frustrating for me that it’s getting harder to collaborate in this way and to make research posts freely and openly available to anyone in the global academic community, but that’s the least of it. For the people who would like to work at Sussex, it’s more than a minor frustration.

The IACC: Good, but can be even better

[This piece is by Dan Hough (Professor of Politics at Sussex). Cross-posted with permission from the official blog for the Centre for the Study of Corruption at the University of Sussex.]

The International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) took place in Washington DC from 6-11 December 2022. The CSC’s Dan Hough reflects on an intriguing week.

The United States Capitol Building. Photo credit: Thomas Hawk/ Flickr

The International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) is the calling card of the international anti-corruption community. In December 2022 over 2,000 participants from all round the world came together in Washington DC for this biennial event. The key questions driving discussions at the 2022 jamboree were ones that anti-corruption activists everywhere will easily recognise; which anti-corruption policies, approaches, strategies and tactics work in affecting change? Which of these have had less success and why might that have been the case? What needs to be done differently? How best can the anti-corruption agenda (continue to) be meaningfully mainstreamed?

The questions that were asked through five days of at times lively discussion are certainly intellectually challenging. Implementing any answers is also practically far from straightforward. Be that as it may, those questions have relevance round the globe – corruption remains far from a preserve of any one set of countries – and that was reflected in the fact that participants had travelled from far and wide to be there.

Those participants were generally activists, although there was also the usual smattering of academics, lawyers and members of various governmental organisations. Although this particular academic has been thinking about corruption and anti-corruption for longer than he cares to remember, it was my first in-person experience of how an IACC works in practice. It was an enlightening one.

The thing you immediately notice is the enthusiasm and energy that so many activists bring to the event. There is an infectious sense of impatience and indeed a need to ‘do something’. The feeling of bamboozlement at the many acronyms evident in the conference programme soon gives way to an awareness that organisations both large and small are trying their best to make the world a better place. For regular participants in big political science conferences where methodological disputes are par for the course, where your statistical approach of choice often becomes the key discussion point and where process often seems to be much more important than outcome, the feeling of relevance and real-worldness at the IACC came as a real breath of fresh air.

The panels inevitably focussed on some themes more than others. The challenge of getting beneficial ownership legislation right was a constant topic, as was the issue of de-kleptification (a term that even those who spend their living thinking about it admit is decidedly clunky) and the nexus between climate change and corruption. Examples of folks engaging with all of these things were much to the fore.

Plus, of course, one of the key purposes of an event like this is to bring people together so that they can take discussions forward informally. The IACC offers a forum to (horrible though the term is) network, see if ideas might fly and to compare notes on how much progress is being made. The world of Zoom undoubtedly adds something to our lives, but meeting, chatting, discussing and pondering also happens offline in the corners away from the conference rooms. IACC really is an excellent forum for doing all of that.

Three gaps

And yet. Much as the event was both interesting and at times positively inspiring, I couldn’t help but feel that a few tricks were being missed somewhere along the line. Three things in particular spring to mind.

Firstly, as noted above, academia (particularly in the USA) can have a fixation on methodology. Discussing which type of multivariate regression analysis to use really can be the main point running through papers given at conferences organised by bodies such as the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) and the American Political Science Association (APSA). No one can accuse participants at the IACC of falling into that particular trap.

However, at times things did go too far the other way. Anecdotes and stories obviously have their place, particularly in terms of talking about lived experiences. Stepping back and injecting (just a bit of) analytical rigour does nonetheless help in coming up with more sustainable solutions. Method and theory matter not because they appear to some to add a veneer of academic respectability. It’s more that they add more backbone to the explanations and they offer great opportunities to develop solutions that aren’t relevant to one (often quite) specific context.

Secondly, there will always be some issues that get less airtime than they others. That can be for a whole load of eminently understandable reasons. Many of those who bemoan the absence of something can also actually be saying that what they *really* want is more of what they themselves research on/engage with. That’s a circle that conference organisers will never be able to completely square.

Yet it seems odd that a conference on corruption that’s being held in Washington DC engaged very little with the role that money plays in all of this. Lawrence Lessig famously talked of Congress – a building little more than three miles from the conference venue – being the home of institutional corruption. Politics ‘inside the beltway’ is the politics of influence-trading, lobbying and financial gain. That there are corruption stories to be told there would have been obvious to more or less all participants …. yet there was very little specifically on any of that. I’ve little doubt that some of this comes down to the conference organisers creating a programme around the suggested panel topics that were put to them. Maybe there just wasn’t the willingness to talk about these things. Perhaps this is where the organisers might need to go out and approach the experts to come and get involved. Either way, it felt odd that this got so little traction.

One example illustrated that quite nicely. Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State and an all round big hitter in the Washington world of politics, spent two hours at the IACC on Friday evening. He acted as a question-master in a (rather oddly named) fireside chat with three (impressive) anti-corruption activists. All fine. But maybe someone in Blinken’s position could have been asked to say something substantive? It would probably have been unreasonable to have expected Blinken to subject himself to a rigorous Q & A from what could have been an unpredictable audience, but to get him along and then for him to say, well, basically nothing seemed rather odd somehow.

Finally, corruption is about power. Discussions of power lead you inexorably to discussions of politics. As Mark Philp persuasively argued back in 1997, your understanding of corruption will be indelibly linked to what you understand the appropriate nature of politics to be. For some, politics is about deal-making and finding ways of getting things done. For others, those same deals and the same drive to get achieve goals can be symptoms of a system where corruption is very much in the game.

Why does that matter? It matters because purity of principle was much in evidence at the IACC. And that is in many ways to be lauded. But enacting change involves engaging with folks who you might not necessarily want to engage with. It involves compromise. It involves forgoing some things in order to achieve broader aims. In other words, moving the anti-corruption agenda forward involves engaging in politics.

There was very little at the IACC on how to get things done. We heard lots about protest (and that’s good), we heard lots about awareness-raising (and that’s good, too). But how do you get those turkeys (in power) to vote for Christmas (a Christmas that might well see them lose portions their power)? Constructive engagement has to be a part of the armoury, and more analysis of how that sort of constructive engagement might pan out in practice would have been really enlightening. To be clear, the IACC is a super event and it has a lot going for it. I’m certainly looking forward to the next one (scheduled for 2024 and taking place in Lithuania). In the spirit of nothing ever being perfect, I do nonetheless think that it might well be possible to make a good event even better.

Refugee rights at further risk as the immigration and asylum ‘advice drought’ grows

[This post is by Nuno Ferreira (Professor of Law at Sussex), William McCready (Lecturer in Law at Sussex) and Judith Townend (Senior Lecturer in Media and Information Law at Sussex). Republished with permission from The Justice Gap.]

A new report from the University of Sussex Migration Law clinic exposes the lack of legal provision for immigration advice and representation in Brighton and Hove

Over five years ago, we set out the dire state of legal services for adult asylum cases in Brighton and Hove: even those who were entitled to legal aid were unable to secure local representation. The area had become what our colleague Jo Wilding describes as an ‘advice drought’, a situation in which legal advice may appear to be available, but is, in fact, practically inaccessible. In response, we put together a team of students and staff to more fully investigate local legal needs and secured funding to set up a migration law clinic within the University of Sussex.

In our new report we set out how the situation has in fact worsened since our initial observations, against an alarming political backdrop in which the temporarily abandoned Bill of Rights – with its potentially devastating effects on rights protection – looms large, and asylum applicants face the devastating prospect of involuntary removal to Rwanda under a scheme ‘firmly opposed’ by the UNHCR for ‘trading’ people as commodities. Further, there are  ‘real term’ cuts to the justice budget in an already fragile context.

A group of undergraduate students interested in immigration law and supervised by academic staff gathered data through desk-based research and interviews with local stakeholders, including people from migrant backgrounds. Our aims were to show some of the challenges faced by those living in Brighton and Hove when applying for asylum, and other forms of leave to remain and leave to enter; to identify the extent and reasons for any shortfall in cost-free immigration and asylum legal advice and representation in Brighton and Hove; and to gauge the demand for additional free legal advice.

Worsening drought
Confirming our initial observations, the research established that, as in other parts of England and Wales, there is a shortfall in cost-free immigration and asylum legal advice and representation in Brighton and Hove, which has grown significantly following the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). The ‘drought’ continues and has even worsened throughout time, with only one local legal aid provider of immigration and asylum legal advice and representation, which at the time of the research was restricted to work concerning unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and domestic violence cases.

The shortage of cost-free services is particularly concerning given that Brighton and Hove is now an asylum dispersal area. Given that this development occurred as recently as 2021, the full impact of dispersing asylum seekers to an area with such a shortage of cost-free immigration advice and representation is yet to be seen.

Research participants recounted numerous challenges when attempting to make applications to the Home Office, including: issues with language and cultural barriers in dealing with the Home Office officials; difficulties securing evidence and completing application forms; and prohibitively high costs for making applications. These create a genuine need for professional legal assistance. However, the high application fees put costly legal services even further out of reach.

There are also significant barriers for organisations wishing to enhance their support in this area: those who wish to provide immigration and asylum legal advice and representation are often prevented from doing so by difficulties in obtaining a legal aid contract or registration with the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC). Further – as a major contributory factor to the current drought – we identified Brighton and Hove based solicitors who had previously provided legal aid immigration and asylum legal advice and representation but have ceased to do so due to the fixed fee scheme, which in their view rendered legal aid asylum work financially unviable.

A new migration law clinic
The Sussex university migration law clinic was set up to help in this context. Operated by final year undergraduate law students and supervised by two members of academic staff who are also qualified barristers, it has been providing cost-free advice on applications for asylum, family life-based immigration and citizenship. To date, it has offered substantive legal advice to over 65 members of the public.

The range of issues clients have brought to our Clinic has varied widely, including, for example, cases with young refugees who have experienced traumatic events and who now seek to bring family members to join them in the UK through family refugee reunion. In some cases, the family members have themselves been in very difficult and dangerous circumstances in their home country.

The Clinic has been able to help its clients to make successful applications for leave to remain on human rights grounds, secure visas for family members to enter the UK, and, in some cases, to obtain citizenship. For these clients, the Law Clinic is often the only source of cost-free legal services to which they have been able to gain access.

However, our services are limited in resource and, while our clinic can provide some cost-free legal advice, its members cannot themselves provide legal representation to members of the public. This shortcoming has been partially addressed by instructing legal representatives from local law firms to act for our clients in appropriate cases. However, the number of cases in which the Clinic can do so remains small. We are now looking for ways to expand the Clinic’s services to include full legal representation. As well as helping meet a local legal need, this would help deliver the University’s strategic objectives for community and public engagement and its commitment as a ‘University of Sanctuary’.

Nevertheless, the drought cannot be addressed by a university law clinic or third sector organisations alone; these responses are merely sticking plasters. We therefore make policy recommendations for Government on the structural changes that are needed. Undoubtedly, these are a hard sell in a continuing ‘hostile environment’ but essential in addressing the current access to justice crisis in immigration legal services:

  1. Reinstate legal aid for immigration cases. At the very least, legal aid should be reinstated for refugee family reunion cases and cases concerning parents with children who are settled in the UK. Such cases involve exceptionally high stakes for the families involved and are often legally and evidentially complex, requiring professional expertise.
  2. Amend the Immigration Rules on refugee family reunion to permit all those with refugee status to bring their parents, siblings and children to the UK (regardless of age). The UK should provide safe passage to the UK for all immediate family members of recognised refugees in the UK.
  3. Reduce the number of times that people must renew limited leave to remain before being able to apply for settlement. Currently, those on the ten-year route to settlement must apply for further leave to remain every 30 months until they have completed ten years, meaning that they must make a total of five applications for leave to remain in order to obtain settlement (and potentially more, if they also need to apply for fee waivers). This greatly increases the demand for legal services and the costs for applicants, who have already been granted leave and placed on a route to settlement.
  4. Amend the payment system for legal aid solicitors and barristers. Remove the fixed fee scheme and return to hourly rates (as is the norm in other areas of civil legal aid work). This would incentivise more providers to enter the market, helping to address the phenomenon of advice droughts and deserts, while simultaneously improving the quality of immigration and asylum law advice and representation that people will receive.
  5. Provide training and support for people who wish to register with the OISC as immigration advisors. It is crucial to increase legal advice capacity through public-funded training programmes made available to those interested in becoming OISC accredited.

We welcome feedback and engagement on these recommendations, including from those considering setting up their own clinics or advice and representation services.

Report authors: Nuno Ferreira; William McCready; Judith Townend; Erika Carrière; Hannah Farkas; and Samantha Robinson. Other contributors gratefully acknowledged in the report. Further details about the Sussex MLC here:  https://www.sussex.ac.uk/law/clinical-legal-education/mlc

Author: Nuno Ferreira William McCready and Judith Townend

Nuno is professor of law, William is lecturer in law and Judith is senior lecturer in media and information law and co-chair of the Sussex University of Sanctuary group, University of Sussex

A Holistic Perspective on the Kurdish Conflict in Turkey from the Framework of Transitional Justice

[This post is by Güneş Daşlı (Doctoral Researcher at the Jena Center for Reconciliation Studies, Researcher at DEMOS: Research Association for Democracy, Peace and Alternative Politics, Associate Member of the Sussex Centre for Human Rights Research and, in October-November 2022, visiting PhD candidate at Sussex Law School). Republished with permission from DEMOS’s #TJUpdatesFromTurkey Blog.]

Addressing transitional justice in the context of an ongoing conflict is a new field which has been expanded by recent studies. For example, the Norwegian Peace Institute (PRIO), in a research covering 204 conflict countries, has come up with important findings on the impact of transitional justice processes or its important pillar, trials and the impact of the judicial process on the conflict, which I will discuss in the article¹. 

There is little work on how transitional justice (TJ) can be implemented and addressed during the 40-years-old armed conflict between Turkey and the PKK, rather than waiting for the conflict to end². For Turkey, some mechanisms have been put in place to address conflict-related forced displacement and enforced disappearances in relation to TJ. In the existing literature, these mechanisms have generally been analyzed in isolation, in relation to TJ, but without linking them to each other³. Besides, TJ has been treated as a set of post-conflict mechanisms in the classical sense, based on the existing literature, but taking my analysis one step further, I evaluate the pillars related to TJ together. In a departure from the existing studies, I first take a picture of the official mechanisms implemented in Turkey in relation to three main paradigms of TJ: reparations, criminal trials, and truth. After describing the official mechanisms in Turkey, the article presents a critical analysis of TJ as a perspective rather than a set of mechanisms, which I will elaborate on below.

The main critical perspective of the article is that Turkey has not used transitional justice as a framework, explicitly or implicitly, in the mechanisms, it has established to deal with the injustices that have occurred in the context of the Kurdish issue. If the Turkish government had adopted TJ as an umbrella, that is, if the steps taken towards reparation, trial and truth had been constructed in dialogue with each other, these steps could have helped to make certain progress in dealing with the past despite the continuation of the conflict.

Reparations for victims of the Kurdish Conflict and the Compensation Law No. 5233

Reparation, which has long been recognized as one of the main pillars of transitional justice, includes mechanisms that are much diverse beyond compensation. In Turkey, the most fundamental step taken in the reparation pillar was the Compensation Law, which was enacted in 2004 as a response to the forced migration in the 90’s, with the long title “Law No. 5233 on the Compensation of Losses Arising from Terrorism and the Fight against Terrorism”. This law was widely criticized by civil society organizations. Rather than acknowledging state responsibility for violations and repairing damages, it was enacted in order to get rid of the “burden” of the 1500 cases pending before the European Court of Human Rights⁴. On the other hand, although insufficient, Turkey allocated considerable public resources for this law; the compensation process lasted 5 years in the first application where the applications were intense and dozens of civil servants were assigned for this process. 

Despite all these limitations, could the time and human effort spent on the Compensation Law and its implementation have contributed to an understanding of justice in the context of transitional justice?

The Compensation Law could have been a contribution, had it been implemented with a victim-centered approach. From a TJ  perspective, rather than allocating more resources or perfecting mechanisms, the active participation of those who suffered from forced migration, village burnings and enforced disappearances in the parliamentary process and in the commissions in the governorates could have transformed the law into a victim-led process. Such sense of ownership could, in my opinion, have had a much different impact, even if the reparative compensations were eventually paid in the same amount. 

The second problematic point was that the law was in no way linked to justice. However, many of the damages subject to the law were the subject of litigation. Even if it did not directly lead to criminal proceedings, a step could have been taken to point to the state’s responsibility at this point, such as the inclusion of immaterial compensations, which was also demanded by the victims.⁵ To the contrary, as an official interviewed by TESEV during the compensation process regarding the implementation of the law said, what dominated the compensation process was a logic of paying the compensation in a way that would pose the least burden on the state⁶ and the underlying understanding of the state as sacred over its citizens. Such mentality and the lack of a holistic perspective ultimately led to a failure to link compensation to TJ.

Criminal justice and accountability regarding human rights violations in the 90’s 

The biggest development on the criminal justice side of transitional justice was the trials initiated as a result of the Balyoz and Ergenekon trials that began in 2007. These trials, and the Temizöz and Others case in 2009, were part of the AKP government’s reckoning with the radical nationalist sector of the state, especially in the military, after AKP came to power by itself in 2002. However, many of the defendants in these cases were also the perpetrators of enforced disappearances and unsolved crimes committed in the 90’s. The involvement of victims and Kurdish lawyers as plaintiffs led to the opening of other cases. The trials, publicly known as the JITEM trials, were opened back to back in 2011 and 2015.⁷ JITEM, or Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti-Terrorism Organization, was a paramilitary group working together with the mafia and the military, established by the state to carry out crimes such as enforced disappearances, village burnings, and unsolved murders during the conflicts in the 90’s. This paramilitary structure, which the state has constantly denied, was built by the defendants who testified in the JITEM trials. On the other hand, we witnessed that the trials did not turn into a mechanism for coming to terms with the past, especially when the peace process ended in July 2015, with acquittals coming one after the other, decisions of non-prosecution, or the statute of limitations running out on the cases. The fact that these trials did not even come close to justice, despite well-prepared indictments, eyewitness accounts of enforced disappearances, consistent location and identification efforts, and confessions by the perpetrators, is of course highly related to the shortcomings of the domestic legal infrastructure. The meticulous study report prepared by Hafıza Merkezi following the trials points to such issues.⁸

Apart from the Turkish judicial system’s shortcomings, the prosecutions were not linked to the other mechanisms targeted to deal with the Kurdish conflict, such as the Compensation Law process, nor to the parliamentary commissions I will discuss below. Indeed, all were set up in the same time frame.  The content of the reports established in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM), which contain important information and testimonies on the violations of the 90’s, could have been utilized. 

This relationship was established only for the enforced disappearance of Mr. Kırbayır, who disappeared in 1980. For Cemil Kırbayır, who disappeared immediately after the military coup of September 12, 1980, the Prime Minister of the time, Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a meeting with Mother Berfo, the mother of the disappeared person, in 2011. It was a historic meeting to break the state’s denial of enforced disappearances, and in this public meeting, Erdogan promised Mother Berfo that the bones of her son would be found and the truth would be uncovered. The parliamentary commission of inquiry established in 2011 wrote a very detailed report that explicitly recognized the violation of enforced disappearance and recommended that the case should also be investigated in the judicial process. Although parliamentary commissions are not binding on judicial processes, the case went to trial shortly after the commission’s report recommended so. Although the Kırbayır case ended similarly to the other cases, the establishment of this relationship was an important experience in the context of TJ.

Apart from this isolated example, we see that such a relationship is not established between criminal trials and the truth investigated by parliamentary commissions established in similar processes. This lack of relationship is another indicator of the disconnected functioning of mechanisms in Turkey within the framework of TJ.

Truth-recovery and parliamentary commissions

Another pillar of the concept of transitional justice, as important as reparations and criminal proceedings, is truth-recovery. In Turkey, the mechanisms that correspond to this pillar have been parliamentary commissions of inquiry. Apart from the Susurluk Commission, which was established in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in 1996 in response to a traffic accident in the town of Susurluk, which was a breaking point in exposing the state’s dirty relations with the mafia, such as JITEM, the commissions established in the 2000’s were important. In 2011, the Kırbayır Commission was established, which recognized enforced disappearances for the first time, and the report of the research commission established in 2013 gave comprehensive figures on the human rights balance sheet of the conflict in the 90’s. The parliament’s petition commission also prepared a significant report on the Dersim massacre, despite its shortcomings. Although all these reports cannot replace a truth commission, they can be considered as mechanisms that serve to reveal truths in a situation where the conflict is still ongoing. 

In the context of TJ, although the parliamentary commissions adopted an ambivalent language⁹, they also played a significant role in uncovering the truth. The most obvious example was the parliamentary commission report’s recognition of enforced disappearance in the context of the Kırbayır case, drawing attention to the fact that the case was not isolated. However, other parliamentary commissions outside the Kırbayır case were not designed as mechanisms in relation to either the reparations processes or criminal proceedings. For example, during the process of the compensation law, a research commission covering forced migration and the violations and stories caused by this migration could have supported the compensation process. Likewise, during the judicial process, detailed commission reports on the commission of crimes in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey could have supported the judicial process, albeit indirectly. Since such a connection was not established, the commission reports were reduced to mere texts in the parliamentary archives. However, in the absence of a peace agreement, parliamentary commissions that could have operated in the context of truth could have been used more effectively in the context of TJ.

Turkey’s shattered picture of transitional justice

What do these steps I have evaluated under the pillars of reparation, criminal justice, and truth tell us about TJ in the absence of a peace agreement? Discussions in the literature on TJ regarding an ongoing conflict revolve around the questions of whether TJ is possible while the conflict is ongoing, and whether it is indeed conducive to eliminating the victimizations and injustices arising from the conflict. I agree with Sarkin (2016), whom I find more realistic, and argue that while the conflict is ongoing, TJ cannot end violations, but it can have a diminishing effect. Likewise, in the Turkish experience, when we look at the 2004-2015 period, including the solution process during which these mechanisms were established, albeit in a disjointed, incomplete and fragmented manner, even though they were implemented within the same timeline, we see that the number of deaths caused by the conflict decreased significantly.

Figures compiled from IHD’s annual human rights balance sheet reports from 1993 to 2020¹⁰.

The graph above reveals a striking picture. The chart shows that while there was a very high number of people who lost their lives between 1993 and 2004, this figure drops dramatically between 2005 and 2015. This period includes the establishment of the compensation program, JITEM trials and parliamentary commissions concerning transitional justice. Based on this finding, I argue that the implementation of TJ mechanisms, albeit disconnected from each other, had an impact on reducing the intensity of the conflict. I am not establishing this as a cause and effect relationship. The impact of the EU candidacy process and related reforms, the Kurdish movement’s legal struggle for democracy, and finally the peace talks between 2013 and 2015 cannot be denied. We can say that violations of the right to life have decreased as a result of all these initiatives. However, PRIO’s research concluded that the establishment of criminal trials and/or mechanisms such as truth commissions in countries where there is armed conflict reduces the intensity of conflict compared to countries where these mechanisms are not used at all.¹¹ The Turkish experience, as well, supports this finding.

When I look holistically at the Turkish experience in the context of TJ in ongoing conflicts, I see that Turkey has not contented itself with only one of the mechanisms of TJ, but instead mobilized all three. While this may seem positive, the fact that these mechanisms were disconnected, and the fact that the pillars of reparation, criminal justice and truth were not inter-connected appears as a critical shortcoming. The fact that such a connection was not established even to a certain extent shows that the violations that were being addressed in all three pillars (the reparations law, the JITEM trials and the parliamentary commissions) were injustices committed in the 90’s, and in the context of the Kurdish issue, truth was missed by the AKP government.

Finally, I would like to underline that despite all these shortcomings and disconnections, the process between 2004 and 2015 has turned into an enormous archive and memory thanks to the great efforts of victims and civil society organizations. Another important effect of implementing TJ mechanisms regarding an ongoing conflict is that it creates an infrastructure for transition processes that may occur in the future. In the Turkish experience, we can foresee that both the archives created and the increased experience of civil society have created an infrastructure for future processes of dealing with the past.

¹Binningsbø, Helga Malmin & Cyanne Loyle, Justice During Armed Conflict: Trends and Implications, Conflict Trends, PRIO, 2018.

²The most comprehensive and holistic of  these studies is Nisan Alıcı’s PhD study and unpublished dissertation conducted at the Institute for Transitional Justice at the University of Ulster.

³For a study analyzing the Compensation Law, which has been enacted in 2004 in the context of TJ: Yeliz Budak, Dealing with the Past: Transitional Justice, Ongoing Conflict and the Kurdish Issue in Turkey, International Journal of Transitional Justice, 9, 219-238, 2015. For an article discussing the JITEM trials in the context of transitional justice, see: Özlem Has, Discussing Transitional Justice in the Light of the Jitem Trials, “Transitional Justice: Subjects, Methods and Tools of Return”, Hafıza Merkezi Yayınları, 2020.

⁴Dilek Kurban and Mesut Yeğen, On the Verge of Justice: The State and Kurds after ‘Forced’ Migration – An Evaluation of the Compensation Law No. 5233 – The case of Van, TESEV, 2012.

⁵ibid.

⁶ibid.

⁷For detailed information on the cases, see the website that provides a database: https://www.failibelli.org/tum-davalar/

⁸Hafıza Merkezi, The Problem of Impunity and the Prosecution Process in Serious Human Rights Violations in the 1990’s, 2021.

⁹It is possible to see  this ambivalent language in many texts of the Turkish state from the past. However, when I examine the parliamentary reports, it is possible to see that while on the one hand there is an attitude that recognizes the violations that took place in the 90’s and even admits that the state committed crimes by exceeding the legal framework, on the other hand, it does not spare vague definitions such as “fight against terrorism” or “public security”. This ambivalent attitude may further damage the already damaged trust in the state, especially among Kurdish citizens. How this trust, which has been eroded for decades, can be restored is a subject for a separate study.

¹⁰For the human rights balance sheets from  1993 to 2020 prepared by IHD, see: https://www.ihd.org.tr/category/c86-raporlar/c32-bilanar/page/3/.

¹¹For a summary on the findings of the related research, see the link: https://www.prio.org/publications/11004

This blog post has been produced with the support of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Turkey (FES Turkey). Responsibility for the information and views expressed in this blog post lies entirely with the author(s). 

What next 30 years after the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities?

[This post is by Dr Elizabeth Craig (Senior Lecturer in Law at Sussex) and is republished with permission from her blog Minority Rights – Reflections and Surmises]

Last week I attended for the first time the UN Forum on Minority Issues. This is an annual meeting, now in its fifteenth year. I had previously attended sessions of its predecessor, the UN Working Group on Minorities, and was impressed by what I saw at the fifteenth session of the Forum. The current UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes, and the Tom Lantos Institute have done a great job in initiating and running a number of regional forums, and certain common recommendations have emerged from these. It appears that support and demand for a legally binding international minority rights treaty is growing. At the Forum itself, panel contributions and the contributions from minority individuals, minority representatives and NGOs at the 15th session reminded us all of how much more needs to be done, and how limited the current framework is.

Below is the text of my intervention, delivered during the fourth session on REFORM (which starts 40 min into the video link). My particular thanks to Corinne Lennox, Anna-Mária Bíró and Farah Mihlar for the inspiring and productive discussions we had before and during the Forum. It is Corinne in the picture below, and who took the required selfie. It was also great to observe the strong interventions of the Minority Rights Group International delegation, which included a number of minority representatives, and to meet with other academics working in the field.

Corinne Lennox and I taking a selfie in the main room before the opening of the 15th session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva

C

MY INTERVENTION

Dr Elizabeth Craig, European minority rights researcher, University of Sussex

Firstly, I would like to support the call made already in this Forum to the UN Secretary General to commission a high-level panel to review the limitations of the current minority rights framework and to make recommendations for reform. The framework needs up-dating and we need to start to develop a vision for a minority rights treaty to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The work of the panel should also include a review of the legally binding treaty that does already exist, the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and its limitations, to see what lessons can be learnt.

Secondly, from my work as a researcher on minority rights in post-conflict and deeply divided societies, it is clear that minority rights are often neglected in peace agreements, with only passing references to relevant instruments, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities. In Northern Ireland, my home country, progress on a range of minority rights issues has as a result been very slow and there continue to be significant challenges almost 25 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The trend towards the exclusion of minorities from relevant peace processes, as we saw also in SE Europe, needs to be challenged.

Thirdly, international bodies have for too long glossed over the issues and the challenges facing minority groups and individuals in war, conflict, and post-conflict situations and the impact on minority groups also across borders. Minority rights should be considered not just with a conflict prevention lens, but also from an empowerment perspective. To do this (e.g. in the context of war in Ukraine) we need accurate and authoritative analysis on minority situations on the ground, regionally appropriate identification of best practice and significant minority participation and recognition of intersectionality. In short, we need to do better.

Thank you.

Demystifying the Junior Research Associate (JRA) scheme application process in five simple steps

Photo of Madeleine Vallier
Madeleine Vallier

This post is by Madeleine Vallier (final-year student on the LLB in Law at Sussex) and reflects on her experience applying for and undertaking a research project as a Junior Research Associate (JRA) in the summer between her second- and final-year studies. The piece sets out five steps for getting the most out of a JRA application: ‘Overcoming your imposter syndrome’, ‘Daring to take a deeper dive’, ‘Finding your courage’, ‘Channelling your commitment’ and ‘Conquering your fear’.

There is no greater illusion than fear

All students in the twenty-first century are acutely aware of the competitive state of the market when they complete their undergraduate degree and venture out into the big wide world. Whether that be into the jobs market or further study, this competitiveness can serve as a double-edged sword. While it should, and does, alert us to the fact that we must do more to stand out, this is accompanied by the unwelcome realization that we are to be judged against all of our peers, resulting in a state of perpetual self-doubt. Therefore, when opportunities such as the JRA scheme drop into our inbox, we are all far too hasty to hit the delete button. Being a student who has been through the process myself this summer, I have decided to reflect on my experience, in the hope that this may alleviate some doubts for future JRA participants – even if you don’t know that is you yet!

Step 1 – Overcoming your imposter syndrome

We naturally start at the beginning, possibly the hardest step in the process. It was an ordinary Thursday like all the rest; my inbox inundated with University emails. However, there was one particular email that popped in that day which piqued my interest: the subject read ‘JRA Scheme 2022 News’. It described the opportunity to take part in an eight-week, full-time, funded (yes you did read that correctly) research project over the summer, working alongside academic supervisors, to contribute to cutting-edge research.

In an instant, my imposter syndrome kicked in, telling me to click delete as this was not intended for the likes of me. This kind of moment has been termed ‘the butterfly effect’, where a seemingly small decision can have widescale effects. I want to point out that in order to overcome your imposter syndrome in this moment, you do not need to commit to applying to the scheme, you simply need to commit to moving to the next step.

Step 2 – Daring to take a deeper dive

This is the investigation stage, where I check the eligibility requirements and fixate on the words ‘a good academic track record’… which my brain interprets as ‘must be top of the class in everything that I have ever done’! Aware of the irrationality of my thought process, but unable to shift the self-doubt, I paused and made one of my wiser decisions: I contacted Carmel, the course coordinator, to arrange a Zoom call.

Within a couple of minutes of the call my worries began to dissipate as Carmel assured me that this scheme was open to everyone. Far from needing to be Sussex’s best-achieving student academically, it became clear that all I needed to get myself started were the three Cs:

  • Courage (to contact a supervisor);
  • Commitment (to the process); and,
  • Curiosity (to delve into a new area of research).

With that in mind, I signed up for the JRA information session.

Step 3 – Finding your courage

Upon deciding that the opportunity was too good to be missed, I commenced the third stage in the process, perhaps the scariest: contacting a supervisor. It was time to put my big girl pants on.

Possibly the most feared word of the academic experience is ‘original’ – the requirement to come up with an original research idea for your proposal.[1] However intimidating this prospect may seem, it is a necessary evil and a pre-requisite to contacting your supervisor; it is strongly advisable to have at least an idea to discuss, when making contact. While this seems daunting, you must take into account two things: you are only a second-year undergraduate student and you only have eight weeks to complete your research project, and both factors will be taken into account when assessing your application.

A tip that I can offer to rein in the disproportionate negative feelings I get from the word ‘original’ is to re-frame it. Instead of thinking of it as an original idea, think of it as an angle, a perspective – your perspective – on something that has almost certainly been written about before. Once you have formulated an idea it is time to begin the search for a potential supervisor.

The internal barrier that you face is that pesky devil on your shoulder, telling you that they will just laugh at your ideas and that the whole experience will be humiliating; you could not be further from the truth. You must remember that these ‘supervisors’ are academics who have made a career out of research and have chosen to work in an educational setting. This does not mean to imply that anyone you contact will say yes but, at the very worst, they will be flattered that you considered them and will politely decline.

My two top tips here are the following: passion and persistence. Know your passions and align them with your supervisors. This may sound obvious but the key to an academic’s heart is an interest in their work… read what they have published! Equally important is persistence. We’ve all heard the saying ‘if you get knocked down get up again’. Well, guess what? That is great advice! So don’t be disheartened if someone says no – it wasn’t meant to be, but don’t give up, ask someone else.

You will learn a lot of skills just by going through this stage of the process whether or not you end up on the scheme. From a practical point of view, use the Sussex researchers search tool which provides you with information about each academic at Sussex, including their areas of interest and, importantly, access to their publications (don’t forget to read some before you make contact). Once you’ve found your match, drop them an email. Again, it may sound obvious, but proofread your email – first impressions count for a lot. Once you have secured your supervisor, you have survived the worst of the psychological torment that you have put yourself through, an achievement in itself. Give yourself a pat on the back!

Step 4 – Channelling your commitment

With the anxiety-inducing tasks out of the way and help at hand, it is time to channel your commitment and embark on writing up your research proposal. For most of you, the first step will be to narrow your topic; this is a skill which will be transferrable to every piece of academic work that you will do. Take your topic, narrow it, narrow it some more, and narrow it again.

Using myself as an example, I began with the topic of transitional justice in Colombia, then narrowed this specifically to the reparations pillar, then narrowed this some more to how land reparations provide for Indigenous and Afro-Colombians, and then narrowed it further to focus specifically on land reparation measures under Colombia’s Victims Law 2011. This resulted in the research question: ‘A socio-legal analysis of land reparation measures in Colombia’s Victims law 2011: can they provide effective restitution to Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities?’. This process is vital given the eight-week time constraint.

One of my main concerns at this stage was that the research proposal deadline ran alongside my second-year commitments. There is no benefit in sugar coating it, this is a balancing act, and you should treat it as such. It is not advisable to sacrifice your university grades by putting too much emphasis on the JRA scheme, the time for the JRA is over the summer. That said, it is a competitive process, and you need to demonstrate your commitment to it. Simply put, it is a matter of priorities. It could mean some juggling (or one less hour watching Netflix in the evening), but it can be done – I had a job as well as my university commitments throughout my second year and still participated in the JRA scheme. My best advice is that you pick a topic that interests you as this will make the necessary reading around your topic seem less like a chore and more like a hobby.

Finally, remember to utilize your supervisor. They are there to help so don’t suffer in silence. Once you have had your research proposal signed off by your supervisor, and have collated all of the necessary documents for the application, it is time to hit send and breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that you have done all that you can to put your best foot forward.

Step 5 – Conquering your fear

This journey finished much as it had started. It was an ordinary Thursday like all the rest, my inbox inundated with University emails. However, there was one particular email that popped in that day which piqued my interest: the subject read ‘JRA Scheme 2022’. It confirmed that my application for the Junior Research Associate award had been successful!

Six months later and I am now working alongside that very same supervisor for my final year dissertation, whilst preparing to apply for a Master’s, knowing that I have acquired skills which will bolster my application. However, what I am most grateful for is the confidence it has given me not to hit the delete button when an opportunity drops into my inbox and instead to dare to take a deeper dive.


[1] I should add a caveat by saying that it is possible to join an existing research project but this is less common, especially within the law department.

Why bullying in politics is a matter of democracy

[This post is by Becky Dobson Phillips (Lecturer in Corruption Analysis at Sussex’s Department of Politics). Republished with permission from The Conversation.]

Rebecca Dobson Phillips, University of Sussex

Dominic Raab, the UK’s deputy prime minister, has become the latest figure in the government to be accused of bullying. Bullying, harassment, and sexual misconduct are always serious matters. They can harm a victim’s personal and professional development and wellbeing, and create cultures of fear and intimidation. In political contexts, however, they have effects beyond personal health and institutional welfare.

The impact of bullying in political institutions has the potential to undermine liberal democracy itself. It can distort political representation, decision-making and the implementation of policies that affect the lives of the public.

When ministers bully civil servants there are clear consequences for the quality of governance. Ministers rely on civil servants to get the work of government done – a breakdown in this trust can have significant implications for society. As a civil servant stated in response to the bullying allegations levelled at Raab:

It’s shit for civil servants, but the overall culture is even shitter for the country.

Raab has denied these allegations.

The complaint that civil servants are vulnerable to bullying by ministers is a common one. Sir Gavin Williamson, former Cabinet Office minister, resigned at the beginning of November 2022 after denying allegations that he bullied civil servants and colleagues. The irony and potential hypocrisy involved in Williamson’s recent lead in the government’s anti-bullying campaign was not lost on the media, and his appointment resulted in reputational costs for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

In 2020 Priti Patel, the former home secretary, was also accused of bullying civil servants. Patel accepted the findings of a Cabinet Office inquiry into her behaviour and apologised. The Home Office paid £370,000 to settle a tribunal over her conduct, ultimately costing the tax payer.

However, there are broader social harms inflicted by bullying. Intimidation inhibits the ability of civil servants to speak truth to power and act impartially, affecting how well government policy is both formulated and implemented.

Bullying in parliament

In March 2022, an independent expert panel found John Bercow, former speaker of the House of Commons, to be a “serial bully and a liar” in relation to his behaviour towards House of Commons staff. MP Christina Rees lost the Labour whip in October 2022 for alleged bullying of constituency staff.

And Boris Johnson’s resignation as prime minister in July 2022 followed his handling of the Chris Pincher affair, when the deputy chief whip was accused of groping men. It emerged that Johnson had known about similar allegations but nevertheless appointed Pincher to a senior position of power and influence. Pincher subsequently quit as chief whip and apologised for his actions.

The power invested in the whips and its potential for abuse is well-known. In January 2022, William Wragg MP alleged that blackmail was being used by Conservative whips against his colleagues. And former Conservative MP Rory Stewart called the whole party system an “elective dictatorship”, with whips engaging in “blackmail and intimidation” to force party loyalty.

These tactics, while usually concealed within party machines, were highlighted in October 2022 during a “chaotic fracking vote”, in which Conservative Party whips allegedly “bullied and manhandled” MPs into backing former prime minister Liz Truss.

Why it matters

Multiple investigations over the years have confirmed that these are not isolated incidents but part of a wider culture. The impact this culture has on the freedom of debate, the representation of views, the quality of decision-making and the shape of public policy is impossible to quantify.

However, it’s clear that bullying can inhibit the ability of MPs and other parliamentary staff to represent their constituents and do their jobs effectively. Such behaviour is therefore a corrosive and even corrupting force in the political life of Westminster.

While anyone can be a victim of bullying, it is clear that it affects some groups more severely than others. In a political context, this can lead to a lack of representation of those more likely to be exposed to bullying, by undermining their willingness or ability to participate.

Allegations about sexual harassment in Westminster are common and overwhelmingly affect women. There are long-standing rumours about lists of bullies and sex-pests being circulated to new female MPs to help them avoid their advances. A culture that enables this kind of bullying can stymie the efforts and undermine the political aspirations of those subjected to it.

Despite earnest (if overdue) efforts, significant changes on paper, and some progress, institutional cultures interact with broader society and are notoriously difficult to change. Changing tolerance levels in parliament goes hand in hand with challenging tolerance for bullying and other forms of discrimination in society.

Evidence suggests that bullying has touched almost every kind of relationship in and around Westminster. This should alarm not only those concerned about the wellbeing of individuals but also those interested in the wellbeing of society, democracy, and our shared political future.

To counter bullying will take time, humility, and a clear signal from the top that these behaviours are not only unacceptable and personally harmful but also corrode liberal democratic institutions and values.

Rebecca Dobson Phillips, Lecturer, Centre for the Study of Corruption, University of Sussex

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Pitfalls and Potential of Researching and Teaching ‘Stuff’

Photo of Benjamin Thorne
Benjamin Thorne
Photo of Matthew Evans
Matthew Evans

This piece is by Benjamin Thorne (Lecturer at Kent Law School, and PhD graduate of Sussex Law School) and Matthew Evans (Senior Lecturer in Law, Politics and Sociology at Sussex and Visiting Researcher in Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg – and editor of this blog). It reflects on the authors’ experiences of navigating disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity in contemporary academia and highlights both pitfalls and possible advantages of attempting to work beyond disciplinary boundaries.

‘I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self’

Audre Lorde

Introduction

Within the world of academia, we live with constant reminders of how important interdisciplinarity is, and institutional discourse almost insistent that our research and teaching be engaged in it. However, the term ‘interdisciplinarity’ gets used fast and loose within the institutional mechanisms of the academy, and in reality is often very detached from how scholars who identify as interdisciplinary actually use and understand it.

Here we make some distinction between related terms, which (among others) are at times (sometimes unhelpfully) deployed interchangeably in institutional discourse:

  • We take ‘multidisciplinarity’ to involve ‘looking at an issue from one disciplinary perspective…and, separately but adding to this, from one or more other disciplinary perspectives’.
  • Distinct from this is ‘interdisciplinarity’, which we consider as addressing ‘an issue from a perspective which combines elements of more than one discipline’ at once.
  • We further distinguish this from ‘postdisciplinarity’, which ‘would mean the choice of analytical tools being guided by the questions raised by an issue or topic rather than questions being guided by the established scope of (even multiple or combined) disciplinary tools’.

This piece reflects on the authors’ experiences of navigating disciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and, indeed, postdisciplinarity, in contemporary academia. The following discussions are structured as a conversation between the two of us, one a lecturer nine years on from completing his PhD (Matthew), the other completed his PhD two years ago and is now teaching in his first – somewhat precarious – postdoctoral position (Benjamin).

Both of us come from multiple disciplinary backgrounds: we were both undergraduate students within the humanities – English and philosophy (Matthew), and media and cultural studies (Benjamin); we have both completed research degrees across social sciences and humanities disciplines – politics (Matthew) and law (Benjamin); and we have both taught across further disciplinary areas. Indeed, our research and teaching practice (which for both of us, broadly speaking, focuses on questions around the theory and practice of rights and justice) – the stuff we do – has been characterised by the permeation of disciplinary boundaries.

Throughout this piece, we use the term stuff to refer to research and teaching that perpetually originates with questions and problematics and then uses the appropriate theoretical and empirical tools to explore them, regardless of discipline – that which strives towards postdisciplinarity. Using the term ‘stuff’ is not done with the intention of advocating a deliberate vagueness for academic enquiry, or (only) as a form of protest against what we see as the institutional conditioning of research and teaching. Rather we use it as a way to navigate disciplinary influences and assumptions which are the common first port of call for research and teaching. We research and teach stuff, how that stuff is defined in disciplinary terms is less important than the substance of the stuff itself.

This discussion is not intended to subvert the importance of work based within a given discipline. Instead, this discussion emerges as a direct response to the mushrooming of the institutional discourse and prominence of interdisciplinarity and highlights some of the pitfalls, and potential, of researching and teaching stuff.

Indeed, the academy’s strong advocacy for interdisciplinarity sounds great to those of us who identify as interdisciplinary scholars – woohoo, we have an ‘edge’ in the market. This sense of positivity is seemingly further reassured when one conducts a quick internet search of the term. A recent search on the popular academic job site, jobs.ac.uk, returned 586 available jobs which have the term ‘interdisciplinary’ mentioned in the post’s description. Similar exciting times for potential undergraduate and postgraduate students who can choose from courses which state specifically that they are orientated around interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

However, our experience, and experiences discussed with other interdisciplinary academics, is significantly bleaker. Our experience suggests that ‘in practice there are severe limits placed upon those who seek to work across or beyond disciplines as they have been established and entrenched in the academy’. Moreover, in order to overcome these limits, as Andrew Sayer put it, even ‘[i]nterdisciplinary studies are not enough, for at worst they provide a space in which members of different disciplines can bring their points of view together in order to compete behind a thin disguise of cooperation’.

In such a contradictory world where interdisciplinarity carries significant institutional potency whilst simultaneously being a source of frustration, limitation and ‘punishment’, what space is left in the academy for those who are committed to researching and teaching stuff?

Pick a flag and stick it somewhere

“Tell us all about yourself, we pray!
For as yet we can’t make out in the least
If you’re Fish or Insect, or Bird or Beast!”

Edward Lear

Benjamin: A fairly common piece of advice given to interdisciplinary scholars from, often senior, academics is to find your discipline or make sure you ‘fit’ somewhere. This advice is founded on the assumption that scholars need to first and foremost locate and establish themselves in a discipline, and once these disciplinary foundations have been laid you can then do interdisciplinary work. This perspective can be heard in the advice I received from one senior academic stating, you need to pick a flag, tie it to a high mast, and raise it quickly so that everyone can see it. Whilst this type of advice is often said with good intentions, it misses one of the main points, namely: often the richest interdisciplinary research and teaching comes from continued experiences across disciplines, through the richness of exposure and encounters with scholars, teaching and students.

It is not only students who gain from interdisciplinary teaching and learning but importantly also scholars benefit from engagement with students from different disciplines. In short, interdisciplinarity, or postdisciplinarity, is not something we do as an add-on in order to further advance our disciplinary work. It is, instead, centre staging our research and teaching being guided foremost by a given problematic and/or questions.

Matthew: During my PhD I taught on disciplinary and interdisciplinary modules, and academic skills workshops, hosted in several departments and units – including politics, law and management – and a wider range of subjects (as, for example, international relations and international development teaching took place in the politics department which is not always the case). In the final months of my PhD, and especially in the curious period between several moments which could be defined as end points (submission, viva, graduation…), I applied for numerous academic positions – somewhere in the region of 100 – and was shortlisted for about five. These were across a range of stated disciplines, including politics, international relations, sociology and geography. In the end, I received one offer, which I took up, as a postdoctoral research fellow in a department of political studies. After this fellowship (and following interviews across a similar range of disciplines, including sociology, criminology and law) I was appointed to my current departmental location – ostensibly based primarily in a law school.

Since then I have sporadically been interviewed for positions, including in African studies, sociology, policy studies and criminology (which offered me the job despite, or perhaps because of, my presentation opening with ‘I’m not a criminologist’) – and in law, where (despite this being my current departmental ‘home’) a barrier to being appointed has frequently been, as I put it elsewhere, that

it is common for teaching jobs in UK law schools to require post holders to be qualified as lawyers themselves or to have experience of the core foundational subjects of the qualifying law degree. This means that scholars with interdisciplinary (or simply non-law) backgrounds pursuing human rights (or other interdisciplinary) research and teaching are less likely to be employed in the university departments where much human rights research takes place (and thus where the field, including its disciplinary norms, is shaped).

Having been appointed to a disciplinary unit (in my case, previously a politics department, now a law school) the question then becomes how to frame and describe (or shoehorn, or crowbar) the stuff I do into the disciplined language and expectations of the unit I am in. This hasn’t changed the overarching ‘stuff’ I do in any meaningful sense, but it does influence how I talk about it, and which aspects are emphasised (and which de-emphasised) in my teaching and research – especially publication – strategy.

The ‘discipline’ of writing and career progress

‘In the concept “discipline”, there is…ambiguity in that it both refers to the distinct forms of knowledge as we conceive them and to the action of bringing about obedience’

Barbara Grant

Benjamin: Pitfalls exist when we focus our writing processes on best fit journals, usually orientated by discipline, rather than being anchored by the questions and problematics we are attempting to address in our research and by relation our teaching. Writing research for academic journals is a daunting task for many early career scholars, and this is one of the reasons why we are encouraged to attend getting published workshops, and indeed I attended a few during my time as a PhD student.

One piece of repeating advice is to make sure you have a specific journal(s) in your mind at the start of the writing process – this way you can ensure that you are in the best position to meet the aims and objectives of the journal, i.e. have your article accepted for publication. Whilst this advice is almost mandatory at these workshops, it is far less clear if there is much evidence beyond the anecdotal that this approach to publishing research actually increases the likelihood of a journal accepting your article, as opposed to writing the piece and then deciding where your think is the most suitable outlet. If there is evidence that the former approach actually increases journal acceptance it would be very interesting to see.

This normalisation of advice prescribed regarding publishing is one example of the academy, and publishers, conditioning interdisciplinary research. Writing research for a specific journal, such as a law publication, almost certainly leads to conscious or subconscious (possibly both) decision making to reshape, reorient, and curtail our writing, that may well not occur, or at least not occur in the same ways, if during the writing process the spotlight remained firmly on questions and problematics.

Connected to this, there is further ‘discipline’ taking place in relation to how university departments, during staff recruitment processes or the staff annual review process, will have their decisions on who to hire/promote informed by which journals an individual has been published in and whether these are deemed to be leading, or appropriate, journals for this field of research and the teaching of it.

Matthew: The most recent published criteria for promotion at the University of Sussex, for instance, do not make any mention of interdisciplinary work, but do set out the need to contribute to the ‘field’ and the ‘discipline’ several times. Full professors, for example, ‘will be expected to have made a broad, sustained contribution to their field and discipline nationally and internationally’.

Whether and how work outside narrowly understood fields and disciplines might be taken into account is not clear. Indeed, one way applicants might consider demonstrating such contributions would be through reference to works which have been favourably graded against the criteria used in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) by internal or external readers. This, however, is highly disciplined. I am not alone in having been told at least some of my publications would not be submitted to the REF due to being outside the disciplinary Unit of Assessment my department intended to submit to.

If my contributions are not made in the discipline within which my work is measured, how can I demonstrate a contribution to ‘my’ (externally assigned) discipline? Certainly, I have experience of choosing publication venues in part because of their disciplinary connotations (surely everything published in a self-declared law/politics/whatever journal counts as contributing to the discipline of law/politics/whatever, right?). I have also had the experience of making revisions to articles based on reviewers’ requests for explanation of the relevance of interdisciplinary work to the particular discipline of the journal in question.

Benjamin: Perceptions. Having taught in departments of media and cultural studies, and international relations, as well as successfully completing a PhD in a law school and being a visiting researcher at one of the UK’s leading socio-legal studies centres, I thus (somewhat naively) thought that the abundance of institutional discourse on interdisciplinarity would play very well to my advantage as I started my academic job hunt journey.

A bump in my journey. Having made in excess of 80 applications to a host of disciplinary based teaching/teaching and research jobs I have had a total of five interviews. During my journey I have received advice from some academics strongly stating that discipline X is not for you instead you should situate yourself in discipline Y. Interestingly, the advice varied regarding which discipline I should and should not ‘stick’ to in my job search.

As a side note, all of the interviews I have had are within the same disciplinary area – criminology, albeit none of the advice I was given as to where to locate myself recommended criminology. It was after the fifth criminology interview that I was offered my current post.[1]

Whilst there may well be practical substance in the advice that I should focus only on one discipline, this is, however, at total loggerheads with the bombardment of institutional credence given to interdisciplinary research and teaching. Fundamentally, my research and teaching expertise and skill have undoubtedly been enhanced, and will continue to be, through interdisciplinarity; that would not have been so if my experiences to date had been structured purely by discipline.

The absence of stuff: the (inter)disciplinary curriculum and disciplined research funding

Matthew: Regardless of the departments I have been based in (or applying to), the substantive areas of my specialist teaching and research – the stuff I do – has remained fundamentally the same, yet it has had to be packaged in different ways, and has been made available (and unavailable) to different audiences based on this disciplinary packaging. Reflecting on this in a recent article, I noted, for example, that

in designing a module on socioeconomic rights for delivery to master’s students (in a UK law school) it was not only necessary to include the word ‘law’ in the module’s name for it to be approved for delivery, it was also necessary to adapt and apply heavily law-focused learning objectives from the overall degree programme.

However,

in designing and delivering an interdisciplinary postgraduate module on human rights at a different institution (covering some of the same topics and material) it was necessary to meet the requirements of a (South African) politics department. Indeed, that module…was not offered to law students or others outside the unit within which it was based.

This experience encapsulates one of the key tensions in navigating the disciplinary university as an interdisciplinary scholar. In terms of topics and areas of focus in my teaching I have largely been allowed to do what I want (and the institution will happily proclaim interdisciplinarity as a selling point). There is clearly some potential in this as it shows that course design and teaching need not be completely constrained by disciplinarity.

However, pitfalls are also evident. The freedom to do the stuff I want to in teaching design exists only inasmuch as it fits the rules of the department, and these rules set limits on how courses are defined and measured and which students are able to take them. For instance, is a module I teach categorised as a law course open (or not) to politics students, or a politics course open (or not) to law students, or something else? Ultimately these distinctions are arbitrary but consequential.

Benjamin: The institutional discourse on the importance of interdisciplinarity is also evident within postdoc funding calls. It is common that the major postdoc funders, and schemes such as the junior research fellowships at Oxbridge colleges, will state the value of interdisciplinary research while simultaneously, and contradictorily, requiring applicants to specify their discipline. Notwithstanding the fact these are ferociously competitive posts, and almost every applicant will ultimately be unsuccessful, my main frustration with this process is the ways in which the language of interdisciplinarity is used fast and loose by these funders, which misleadingly gives the impression that interdisciplinarity is highly valued whereas the reality, based upon my experience of completing a number of these application processes, is somewhat different.

Some of these schemes do afford applicants who so wish to state that their research is ‘cross discipline’ and say which disciplines the research crosses. However, this is not the same thing as interdisciplinarity or postdisciplinarity. Crossdisciplinarity, while engaging more than one disciplinary influence (and combining these to greater extent than in multidisciplinarity), usually assumes that there is a ‘host’ discipline in terms of knowledge and contribution, and that this host will benefit from ‘insights’ from the other disciplines. Whereas the stuff I do in my proposed research originates from a problematic of interest and from this problematic a set of questions arose. This stuff takes tools from criminology theory, memory studies, critical theory, arts methods, international criminal justice, and peacebuilding, as the layers of scaffolding for the research. Thus, while this work may well offer insights to some of these individual disciplines, its main contribution would be to answer the stated research questions and extend understanding of the research problematic, which are not defined by discipline.

The choice of discipline that I declare in applications has varied – law, international relations, criminology, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies – depending on what packaging I need to use to ‘sell’ my research to a given disciplinary audience. The main reason for this declaration of discipline is in order to allocate a suitable ‘expert’ to assess the quality and suitability of the research for the stated discipline, and thus decide whether or not to advance an application to the next stage. Applications which seem to fit somewhat awkwardly within the mandatory stated discipline may be more likely to be interrogated sceptically in terms of contribution to that specific discipline.

Added to this is the inconsistency of discipline within my CV, which is often one of the main sources of information for funding panels’ decisions to longlist/shortlist a candidate. Given that expertise within a discipline is a repeat focus within these applications, both explicitly and implicitly, the (apparent) incoherence of discipline within my CV – from cultural and media studies, to international relations, to law through to criminology – alongside the explicit statement that my current and future research is interdisciplinary might well sit uneasily with these gatekeepers of postdoc funding.

Potential: initial steps forward

‘The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated’

James Baldwin

It sometimes seems that the very earliest stages of academic careers are the least disciplined – in a positive sense – and there may be lessons to learn from this. It is not uncommon for PhD students who teach during their doctoral studies to do so across more than one department, if, for example, their current or past research, educational or professional experience aligns with the themes of another department’s modules. In our experience, very little attention or concern is given to the journeying across disciplines by PhD students who teach, and those who do are pretty much left to get on with it. Indeed, our experience of teaching across disciplines during our doctoral studies was both enjoyable and even more importantly enhanced our own thinking, knowledge and approaches to teaching.[2]

A basic question then: why can’t this crossdisciplinary fertilisation work for faculty members? Our answer is, but it can work. Indeed, to some extent this does happen already – but, we would suggest, not as much as it could and should. Whilst it is far from unheard of for modules to be taught by teams based in multiple disciplinary units, this is still not the norm. Moreover, very often, such teaching moves beyond singular disciplinarity only inasmuch as each session is delivered by a different faculty member from a different disciplinary perspective – falling into the trap of multidisciplinarity rather than interdisciplinarity, by lacking genuine collaboration, exploration across or intertwining the insights of the multiple disciplines involved. However, we suggest that such collaborations and openness to multiple disciplines can work, and work best (for teachers and students), when those involved think and act as part of the same endeavour, contributing to the same interdisciplinary (perhaps even postdisciplinary) area – to the same overall stuff – rather than contributing from a distinct, siloed disciplinary position.

Indeed, the potential for forging greater coherence in intellectual endeavours is one of the clearest advantages of moving towards more postdiscplinary working. As Sayer put it, in moving towards postdisciplinarity, ‘[o]ne can still study a coherent group of phenomena, in fact since one is not dividing it up and selecting out elements appropriate to a particular discipline, it can be more coherent than disciplinary studies’.

This also leads onto a possible route out of some of the difficulties discussed above. Whilst on the face of it a CV appearing to show numerous changes in discipline might be perceived as incoherent, for those open to seeing it, there may be a coherent narrative present, describing an interdisciplinary intellectual journey which is only made to appear incoherent by the distorted view provided through a narrowly disciplinary lens.

For instance, Matthew’s first degree in English and philosophy might appear to be largely unrelated to his role as an academic in a law school, but looking more closely – beyond the disciplinary titles of the degrees he holds or which he teaches on – it is more apparent that the stuff he works on draws on the whole history of his (multi/inter/post)disciplinary journey.

Themes and questions around rights, justice, social movements and protest, capitalism and resistance (and many more besides), which consistently re-emerge in Matthew’s teaching and research, were present also in his earlier studies (whether it be in undergraduate modules on postcolonial literature, African American texts or political philosophy). The theories, methods and ways of thinking which these studies facilitate (from metaphysics to reading poetry), likewise, endure and run alongside, in conversation and in combination with those of other disciplines in shaping how he approaches the stuff he does.

The challenge for interdisciplinary scholars similarly situated is to bring a coherent narrative to the surface, above the disciplinary distortion, so it can be understood by others. The corresponding challenge for others is to set aside any particular disciplinary lenses with a view to seeing the coherence that is already there, if hidden or disguised by disciplinary cloaks.

As Matthew has put it, ‘[i]ndividual scholars can (to some extent) resist, and they can (at times) refuse’. One example of this could be within something that academics have significant influence over, the optional module. Sometimes, if not often, optional modules have a multidisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary tilt and, in principle at least, are open to students outside of the host department. However, in reality the ‘openness’ of these modules often comes with heavy caveats and limitations, in terms of how many students and students from which departments. This is where academics might initiate small acts of resistance by removing at least some of these caveats where they are afforded the power to do so, or even by refusing to convene modules which in practice stymie interdisciplinary learning and crossdisciplinary student engagement. This initiative is not without implications, but given the weight academics have in the context of optional modules this seems like an act of resistance which might in a small and localised way bring about change.

Conclusion

‘My only name is the Scroobious Pip’

Edward Lear

To further build on existing interdisciplinarity, and tentative moves towards postdiscplinarity where they exist, and to move past the barriers limiting such work, it might be ideal to abolish disciplines. However, fully dismantling and reimagining the disciplinary university, would, we acknowledge, require significant, if not seismic shifts both in a practical and philosophical sense. However, in the absence of a largescale movement to reshape (or even abolish) the academy as it currently exists, there are things that can be done to move away from disciplinarity and the constraints this can bring. Small acts of resistance to the disciplinary academy can be pursued by scholars, both individually and collectively. As Alan Cribb and Sharon Gewirtz note, ‘[i]ndividual academics cannot disentangle themselves from the broader institutional milieu in which they work, but they can and…should struggle to do so’. At times, it is possible for scholars to define themselves in their own terms – like the Scroobious Pip – rather than in the externally-imposed categories of disciplines. Moreover (as Matthew suggests elsewhere), in doing so, and in collectively and individually pursuing research and teaching which likewise refuses such categorisation, the abolition of the disciplinary university ‘can be prefigured and lessons learned from this’.


[1] Since writing this piece Benjamin has been appointed as a Lecturer at Kent Law School, having previously been in a more casualised position as an Associate Lecturer in Arden University’s School of Criminal Justice.

[2] Nevertheless, in learning lessons from the positives of doctoral researchers teaching across programmes and departments it is also at least as important to learn the lessons of the negative aspects of early career scholars being thrust into a highly exploitative, precarious existence, navigating the neoliberal university in part through taking on a wide range of insecure, casualised teaching. It (we hope) goes without saying that we do not envisage overcoming the limitations of disciplinarity by imposing precarity – it is one thing to be willing and able to benefit from thinking and working without regard for disciplinary boundaries and quite another to be forced by necessity to take on as much teaching as possible regardless of whether it aligns with one’s interests and experience.

Why has the Polish government raised the German war reparations issue?

[This post is by Aleks Szczerbiak (Head of Department and Professor of Politics at Sussex’s Department of Politics). Republished with permission from The Polish Politics Blog.]

Poland’s right-wing ruling party is using the war reparations issue to undermine Germany’s moral narrative that it has come to terms with its Nazi past, and attack the liberal-centrist opposition for allegedly colluding with foreign powers to undermine the Polish government ahead of next year’s parliamentary election. The opposition appears to have defused the issue for now by offering the government critical support, but it could still provide an effective means of mobilising the ruling party’s core electorate.

Poland’s moral and legal case

On September 1st, the eighty-third anniversary of Nazi Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland, the Polish government, led since 2015 by the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, officially launched a campaign to seek war reparations from Berlin for the devastation caused by the country’s 1939-45 occupation. The announcement was accompanied by the publication of a report completed in 2019 and prepared by experts for a Law and Justice parliamentary commission which presented detailed analysis supporting the Polish claim from a political and legal, as well as moral and historical, perspective. The report calculated that the war losses suffered by Poland as a result of the occupation amounted to a colossal 6.2 trillion złoties (as of 2021), three times Germany’s annual state budget. Poland as a state never received significant financial compensation for the destruction caused by Germany; only individuals, such as victims of forced slave labour and pseudo-medical experiments in concentration camps, were awarded small symbolic sums by Polish-German foundations.

However, despite Poland’s renewed efforts Germany responded by reiterating its long-standing position that the issue of reparations had been settled conclusively in 1953. The then-communist Polish government renounced its claim in exchange for East Germany accepting Warsaw’s takeover of former German territories. Germany argues that, until now, no Polish government has raised the issue, even after the collapse of communism in 1989. Law and Justice rejects this interpretation arguing that reparations are still due. Supporters of the Polish case argue that: the two countries never concluded any legally binding bilateral peace treaty or liquidation agreement on the effects of the Second World War; the 1953 renunciation was never officially ratified nor even published; and, as it was part of the Soviet bloc, communist Poland did not have international sovereignty at that time. At the beginning of October, Warsaw issued an official ‘diplomatic note’ to Berlin formally making its claim for compensation.

Undermining Germany’s moral narrative

However, while Law and Justice certainly hopes that Poland will receive reparations at some point there is broad agreement that Germany is extremely unlikely to agree to its demands, not least because of the precedent-setting consequences. Any campaign for financial compensation is only likely to bear fruit in the very long-term, if at all. So what is Law and Justice hoping to achieve by raising the issue at this time? In the foreign policy sphere, the party wants to undermine the German government’s moral narrative that it has fully come to terms with, and settled accounts for, its Nazi past. By ensuring that other countries understand the full scale of the tragedy wrought upon Poland during the Second World War, for which Germany has never undertaken a proper financial reckoning, the Polish government hopes to undermine Berlin’s claim to be an international ‘moral superpower’.

Law and Justice also hopes that, by putting Germany under pressure on this question, it can create its own moral narrative that could be used to strengthen Poland’s bargaining position in the international diplomatic arena on various other issues, notably in its ongoing ‘rule-of-law’ dispute with the EU political establishment. The European Commission has blocked 35 billion Euros of payments due to Warsaw from the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund. Law and Justice argues the EU political establishment is, in effect, synonymous with Germany which, it says, sees a strong and assertive Poland as an obstacle to its project of turning the Union into a federal bloc under its dominance.

Law and Justice believes that this is an opportune moment to raise the reparations issue because Germany and the other main EU powers have lost a great deal of political and diplomatic authority through their perceived weak response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Law and Justice has long criticised Germany for disregarding the interests of the former communist states of central and Eastern Europe through its over-conciliatory approach to Moscow, over-reliance on Russian energy (exemplified by the controversial ‘Nord Stream’ gas pipeline, which runs directly from Russia to Germany across the bed of the Baltic Sea by-passing Poland and Ukraine), and, following the outbreak of the war, slowness in providing Ukraine with military aid. Poland, on the other hand, has, for a long time, warned about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s expansionist designs on the region. Indeed, Warsaw has been one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies, at the forefront of efforts to persuade the Western international community to develop a common, robust response to the Russian invasion and ensure that sanctions are maintained and extended.

Is the opposition colluding with foreign powers?

In terms of domestic politics, raising the German war reparations issue was expected to help Law and Justice regain the political initiative by putting pressure on its political opponents – especially the liberal-centrist Civic Platform (PO), Poland’s ruling party between 2007-15 and currently the main opposition grouping, led by former prime minister Donald Tusk. Although Law and Justice is still ahead in most opinion polls its edge over Civic Platform has narrowed in recent months. According to the ‘Pooling the Poles’ micro-blog that aggregates voting intention surveys, Law and Justice is currently averaging 35% support compared with 29% for Civic Platform. Moving the war reparations issue up the political agenda puts the government’s opponents in a difficult position because it resonates strongly with the Polish public. The opposition either has to back a Law and Justice administration, that it despises and harshly criticises at every turn, on this issue, or distance itself from the government’s restitution claims and risk being accused of kowtowing to Berlin and failing to defend the Polish national interest. Indeed, Law and Justice argues that Mr Tusk personifies the opposition’s pro-Berlin orientation and has, on numerous occasions, drawn attention to his strong ties to the German political establishment. Polish state TV, which is strongly supportive of the ruling party, frequently shows clips of Mr Tusk saying ‘Für Deutschland’ (‘For Germany’).

These two elements come together in one of Law and Justice’s main attack lines against the opposition: that it is colluding with Berlin and Brussels who are undermining Poland’s sovereignty and independence by interfering in the country’s domestic politics. The withholding of coronavirus funds by an allegedly German-dominated EU political establishment is thereby portrayed as being part of a politically motivated effort to help its opposition allies oust Law and Justice in the upcoming parliamentary election, scheduled for autumn 2023, and ensure the installation of a more co-operative pro-Berlin government. Germany is an easier target for Law and Justice than the EU in general because it evokes less instinctive sympathy among Poles. While Poles support their country’s continued EU membership overwhelmingly, a September survey conducted by the Ipsos polling agency for the liberal-left OKO.press portal found that 47% of respondents agreed that Germany was using the Union to subordinate Poland (49% disagreed). According to a February survey for the Institute of Public Affairs (ISP) think tank, since 2020 the number of Poles who evaluated Polish-German relations positively had fallen from 72% to 48% while those who viewed them negatively increased from 14% to 35%.

Has Civic Platform defused the issue?

All of this explains why the opposition, especially Civic Platform, reacted so nervously to the government’s moves and found it difficult to develop a clear line on the issue. Initially, Civic Platform simply argued that the government’s demands were not really about war reparations at all but part of a concerted anti-German campaign to shore up support for Law and Justice ahead of next year’s election. The fact that Law and Justice had waited more than three years to publish the parliamentary commission report and raise the issue with Germany in a significant way, in spite of the fact that it had been talking about war reparations since it came to office in 2015, showed, they said, that the government was instrumentalising the memory of Polish war victims as a political manouvre. It was an effort to distract the public from its other problems, such as: the economic slowdown, high energy prices and potential winter fuel shortages, and mounting criticisms of the government’s handling of surging inflation (now more than 17%). The opposition also warned that raising the issue in this way threatened to further undermine Poland’s relationship with Germany in the midst of the worst international crisis since the fall of communism in 1989. Indeed, one Civic Platform politician, ex-party leader Grzegorz Schetyna, actually appeared to echo the German narrative when he said that the question of war reparations was ‘closed’.

However, realising the risks of appearing insensitive to the traumatic history of Polish-German relations – and concerned that, by rubbishing the call for reparations, it had fallen into Law and Justice’s trap – Civic Platform very quickly undertook something of a course correction, particularly as polling showed that most Poles supported the government’s approach. For example, a survey conducted by the IBRiS agency for the ‘Rzeczpospolita’ newspaper found that, by a margin of 51% to 42%, respondents agreed that Poland had the right to seek financial compensation from Germany. As a consequence – while still accusing Law and Justice of raising the issue primarily for electoral purposes, and criticising the ruling party for not having a schedule of diplomatic activities to take it forward – Civic Platform began to stress that it felt that the government’s call for reparations was justified. In the event, virtually all of the party’s deputies voted in favour of a parliamentary resolution supporting the government’s efforts. Indeed, Civic Platform even tried to outflank Law and Justice by saying that the government should also pursue financial compensation from Russia as the successor to the Soviet Union which invaded Poland along with Nazi Germany in 1939 (the ruling party responded that linking these two issues risked diluting the more clear-cut case for German reparations).  

Mobilising Law and Justice’s core electorate

By announcing its intention to seek war reparations, Law and Justice looks set to make Polish-German relations central to its bid for re-election next year. One of its main lines of attack is that the opposition is colluding with Berlin and the EU political establishment to undermine the Polish government ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary poll. However, Civic Platform’s pivot on this issue has under-cut Law and Justice’s electoral strategy and defused German war reparations as a question of domestic political contestation sharply dividing the Polish political scene.

In fact, although the issue is likely to return to the political agenda with greater or lesser intensity between now and the election, it was never going to be a dominant one or a political game-changer. While most Poles may agree with Law and Justice’s stance on war reparations, they care more about, and their voting preferences are likely to be determined by, issues such as rising prices, falling living standards, and possible energy shortages. Nonetheless, some commentators argue that Law and Justice has lost ground in opinion polls mainly because its supporters are demoralised and, if an election were held today, rather than switching to other parties they would simply not turnout to vote. So the ruling party is likely to continue raising the reparations issue because, apart from continually setting a trap for the opposition to portray themselves up as the defenders of German interests, it is a highly emotive one and seen by Law and Justice primarily as an effective way of solidifying and mobilising its own, currently rather demotivated, electoral base.