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Law on Trial 2018: Punishment and Rights Violations

The School of Law’s annual ‘Law on Trial’ event offers a week-long programme of free public lectures and panel discussions, which focused this year on themes of punishment and rights violations.

Both nationally and internationally, recent years have seen much disparate debate about the stark disjunctures that exist between the justifications for and the outcomes of punishment in the criminal justice arena.

In our 25th Anniversary year, Law on Trial 2018 turned a spotlight on these debates, bringing together a host of scholars from Birkbeck and beyond to weigh the factors that have shaped the current landscape and provide space for rigorous reflection on the possibilities and prospects for change, asking:

• When is wrongdoing subject to punishment within the criminal justice system?

• Under what circumstances, and to what extent, should the punishment of crime be mitigated?

• When and how are rights infringed by policies and practices of punishment?

• How do judges balance competing individual and collective rights and interests?

• Do clashes between individual and collective rights and interests that reach court effectively serve as a barometer of nation’s political and cultural values and beliefs?

Monday 11 June 2018 - Othello on Trial

  • Convenors: Adrian Howe and Tanya Serisier
  • Hamlet. The Macbeths, of course. Richard 111 — they’ve all been tried for murder in modern-day criminal courts. But what of Othello, Shakespeare’s notorious wife-killer? How has he escaped prosecution?
  • Othello on Trial puts him on trial for murder at the Old Bailey. He has a lawyer and the best available defence. There’s a prosecutor and a judge with the audience taking the role of jurors in Act 2 which doubles as an open forum to discuss the key issues. Is his crime murder or manslaughter? Should extreme emotions — ‘being wrought/Perplexed in the extreme’ as Othello puts it (‘seeing red’ as 21st-century wife-killers put it) — mitigate murder today?
  • This is the first play in a planned Theatre in Education trilogy that recruits Shakespeare for a project designed to encourage young people to engage critically and actively with the social problem of continuing high levels of violence against women and girls in the UK. Weaving scenes from Shakespeare’s Othello, his uncannily timely ‘domestic’ tragedy about a man’s homicidal rage against his wife, with excerpts from historic and contemporary trials of wife killers, Othello on Trial dramatises the still pervasive problem of intimate partner femicide.
  • Find out more here.

Tuesday 12 June 2018 - Public Opinion and the Politics of Punishment

  • Mike Hough, Melynda Price, Leonidas Cheliotis and Sappho Xenakis
  • One of the most contentious debates in contemporary penology centres on the trajectory of punishment in the United States and its high level of punitiveness by international comparison. In the early 1970s, following fifty years of stability, the use of imprisonment in the US began a long and rapid ascent; over the next four decades or so, the country’s imprisonment rate more than quadrupled, reaching levels far above those found anywhere else in the world. At the same time, whilst recent years have seen the number of executions and death sentences in the country decline significantly, the US remains firmly amongst the 10 most prolific executioners across the globe.
  • Scholarship has become increasingly divided in accounting for the punitiveness of the US. One perspective has argued that harsh punishment has been driven by public concerns about crime, to which politicians in office responded by toughening criminal sanctions. Another perspective has held that politicians themselves cynically aroused public anxieties about crime to promote punitive policies with the intention of serving a select array of private interests.
  • This panel holds up these accounts for scrutiny and, in so doing, considers the significance of the deep racial, socio-economic and political inequalities that characterise the US environment.
  • Find out more here or watch this event here.

Wednesday 13 June 2018 - School Dress Codes - in Whose Best Interests? The Inaugural Lecture of Professor Daniel Monk

  • Professor Daniel Monk
  • Stories about pupils challenging school dress codes frequently appear in the media. In these stories pupils are disciplined, and sometimes excluded, for wearing types of clothing and jewellery and for covering, cutting or styling their hair in ways that contravene school policies. Few disputes reach the courts, but when they do judges are confronted by and have to balance competing individual and collective rights and interests.
  • Professor Daniel Monk’s inaugural lecture will put school dress codes under the spotlight. It will argue that the stories have much to tell us about contemporary understandings of childhood and children’s rights and that disputes about school dress codes go to heart of complex political and cultural fault-lines about religion, sexuality, gender and social class.
  • The response will be from Professor Laura Lundy, Director of the Centre for Children’s Rights at Queen’s University, Belfast and Co-Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Children’s Rights
  • Find out more here or watch this event here.

Thursday 14 June 2018 - Punishment on Trial

  • Dr David Maguire, Penelope Gibbs, Dr Janet Foster, Catherine Heard, Tiggey May
  • The Institute for Criminal Policy Research is pleased to be involved in ‘Punishment on Trial’. We will be hosting an evening exploring the nature and repercussions of punishment within the criminal justice system. In putting punishment on trial, we intend to explore who is punished, why and how they are punished, and with what effects. To do so, we will examine processes and decision-making within three major constituent parts of the criminal justice system: the police, the criminal courts and prisons. Experts in the field will discuss how certain forms of wrongdoing, through the actions of the police, are brought into the formal justice system; how the courts determine levels and types of punishment; and how punishment is delivered in our prisons.
  • After an introduction by a keynote speaker, the evening will take the form of discussant-style question and answer sessions, in which an expert in each area will respond to questions posed by a representative of ICPR. The experts will then come together as a panel to take questions from the audience. A key part of the day will be identifying the challenges facing our current system of punishment and potential options for policy and practice reform across the spheres of policing, the courts and imprisonment.
  • Find out more here.

Friday 15 June 2018 - Building the World We Want: Prison Abolition and Gender, Racial & Economic Justice

  • Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Beth E. Richie
  • Join us for the public launch event of Abolitionist Futures: Building Social Justice Not Criminal Justice, the 2018 International Conference on Penal Abolition. We are excited to host Beth Richie and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, two leading organisers/thinkers/strategists in the global movement for prison abolition. Reflecting on movement building over the past the two decades, Beth and Ruthie will discuss key lessons learned, as well as successes and challenges of current struggles. How can we grow and strengthen our movements from grassroots to global? How can we connect our struggles and build solidarity across feminist anti-violence organising, environmental justice, anti-poverty and racial justice? What will it take to dismantle the prison industrial complex and build safe and sustainable communities? Be part of the discussion and debate on how we build the world we want.
  • For more information about Abolitionist Futures, please see the conference webpage.
  • Find out more here.

Past Law on Trial Events

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