Why We Need To Criminalise Cyberflashing Now

Kelly Johnson
Assistant Professor of Criminology, Durham University

Clare McGlynn
Professor of Law, Durham University

… and let’s get the law right first time

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen new forms of online sexual harassment such as zoomflashing where men have infiltrated Zoom calls and exposed themselves and zoombombing where unwanted pornographic images are flashed onscreen. Despite taking place on a new platform, these are not ‘new’ behaviours – rather they’re another version of what we already know as ‘cyberflashing’.

Cyberflashing is where a man – and yes it is almost always a man – sends a picture of his penis to another without their consent. Often the penis images are sent through Bluetooth or Airdrop technology, so the perpetrator is unknown. Sometimes referred to as ‘unsolicited dick pics’, women commonly experience this sexual harassment, in public spaces and on public transport. It’s also common on dating apps and, for many women, it’s an everyday experience on social media.

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Time for urgent action: Sexual violence and misconduct in UK universities

Sharon Cowan
Professor of Feminist and Queer Legal Studies
Edinburgh University

Clare McGLynn
Professor of Law
Durham University

Vanessa E. Munro
Professor of Law
University of Warwick

As the United States digests new national rules for tackling sexual misconduct and assault in universities and the Office for Students in England consults on possible new guidance – albeit with the deadline paused for now due to COVID-19 – the time is ripe to rethink the approach to sexual violence and misconduct on campus in universities across the UK.

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On Legal Consciousness, Legal Alienation and Friendship

Marc Hertogh
Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of Groningen

Simon Halliday
Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of York.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, the weekend edition of the UK newspaper, The Guardian, contained a regular feature called the ‘Saturday Debate’. It allowed two people on differing sides of an argument to exchange views on a given topic. It took the form of a series of short letters, one person to the other. This blog adopts the same format and takes as its point of departure Simon Halliday’s recent review essay ‘After Hegemony: The Varieties of Legal Consciousness Research’, which focused on Marc Hertogh’s book Nobody’s Law: Legal Consciousness and Legal Alienation in Everyday Life.  Readers can access this article for free via the SAGE e-Pub platform by clicking this link.

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The Temporal Life of International Human Rights Law: Three Ways to Think It Through

Kathryn McNeilly,
Senior Lecturer in Law,
Queen’s University Belfast

We all have a connection to time in our everyday lives. It is hard to imagine our existence without ideas of standardised time, clock screens, calendars, deadlines, time limits, transitions and other temporal objects and experiences. When it comes to our work as scholars, students or practitioners of law, however, we often do not consider legal domains, structures and institutions to also have an intimate connection to time. Yet, just like us, law has a temporal life which is diverse, complicated and even, sometimes, fraught. The limits of our understanding regarding law’s connection to time particularly come to the fore at the level of international law, including the sphere in which I research: international human rights. More is needed to apprehend the temporal nature of human rights internationally, and to grasp the socio-legal insights which may emerge in doing so.

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Neoliberal Reconciliation: Some reflections on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Josh Bowsher
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Brunel University

It is nearly two decades since the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) completed its work. And yet, it articulated a set of ideas and practices that continue to speak to the present. For my part, I want to suggest that a careful consideration of the Commission, which situates its work within the broader social and political landscape of post-apartheid South Africa, can shed light on how the human rights project has been shaped by neoliberal globalisation.

While the death of socialism has always been a more iconic signifier for the ‘end of history’, the defeat of apartheid in South Africa in 1994 was also an important symbolic marker for the new post-ideological era of neoliberal globalisation. The inauguration of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa propped up aspirations for an emerging global society that was avowedly “post-racial” and connected together by the value-neutral circuits of the free market. Indeed, South Africa’s rebranding as the ‘Rainbow Nation’ went hand-in-hand with its own neoliberal turn to the free market through the newly elected ANC government’s economic policies outlined in their Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy (GEAR). The latter’s heady mix of privatisation, trade liberalisation and entrepreneurial programs aimed at ‘black empowerment’ are a go to example of neoliberalism’s emaciated and economised vision of a multicultural society.

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Reconsidering risk algorithms in the penal realm: Performativity, homogenization, and the certainty of threat

Robert Werth,
Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology
Politics, Law & Social Thought, Rice University

In recent decades, the usage of algorithmic devices for predicting the risk of criminal (re)offending has proliferated across a variety of settings and institutions. For instance, risk assessment instruments are currently used to inform an array of criminal justice practices, including in the areas of pretrial detention, consideration for diversion programs, prison security level, the provision of correctional resources, and case plans for probation and parole. Further, risk instruments – often framed as a form of data-driven, technocratic governance – are almost certain to continue expanding in coming years. In an article published in Social and Legal Studies (Werth, 2018), I explored an understudied element of algorithmic risk technologies: their performative (i.e., world-making) effects. Here, I draw from that article in order to focus on the ways in which attending to the performativity of assessment complicates our understandings – and even suggests some possible reconceptualizations – of risk in the realm of crime control. 

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When Universal Rights Meet a Universal Virus

Richard Cullen

Adjunct Professor, School of Law, University of Western Australia
Visiting Professor, Faculty of Law, Hong Kong University

The concept of universal human rights is a relatively new one.[1]  It is a model for mediating human interaction that is widely regarded in a positive way.  It is also a concept that is deeply sourced in Europe’s past.

Using a Chinese metric, one can credibly describe the long era of European history following the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD until 1945, as, more often than not, a “Warring States” period.  Before and after that fall, powerful tribes invaded by land from the North.  Vikings later did likewise by sea.  Within much of Europe, numerous kingdoms were recurrently engaged in conflict with one another.  Islamic invasion from the East had also begun by the 8th century leading to frequent confrontational responses, including the Crusades.  Then came the Reformation in the 16th century.   Christianity was split as never before.  Still more savage levels of warfare followed.

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Forms, Standardization and the Production of Justice

Lucy Welsh
Senior Lecturer in Law, School of Law, Politics and Sociology, University of Sussex

I think it is fair to say that neither Matt nor I predicted, when we both began our PGR studies at Kent Law School back in 2011, that we’d end up writing an article together. Matt specialises in issues relating to land law, and is interested in exploring the role objects play in mediating peoples’ relationships to law. I specialise in researching access to justice in the criminal process, and in using empirical research methods to track the impact of policy change. These two areas of expertise don’t obviously lend themselves to collaborative work, but we were keen to see how our seemingly disparate interests could be used to complement and further our respective fields of research.

I had been keen to explore how documents are used to shape criminal process and, by extension, the administration of justice since I noticed how prolifically forms were used in magistrates’ courts while conducting observations for my doctoral research. As a former criminal defence practitioner, I had been used to completing forms in criminal cases, but it was only when I stepped back as an observer that I realised how much they seemed to govern every stage of the process in a criminal case. I spent the equivalent of one month observing magistrates’ courts from the public gallery in a particular region and then interviewed both Crown prosecutors and defence lawyers about magistrates’ court practices. Subsequent to the observations, I included some interview questions about the use of forms. As a result, I ended up with a rich set of raw empirical data about the use of, and attitudes towards, document-based forms in magistrates’ courts.

However, that was something that was only tangentially relevant to my PhD so I was (wisely – thank you Rosemary Hunter and Helen Carr) advised to set the issue aside until I had actually finished what I set out to do. It was a year later that Matt and I had the idea to collaborate. Both of us were excited by the idea that documents, though seemingly benign bureaucratic instruments could actually shape the way that justice is delivered. It was fortunate that we had both read the seminal work of Annelise Riles, and that interest in how documents (somewhat insidiously) shape legal process was growing. So, when we presented our ideas at the SLSA Annual Conference in Bristol in 2018, we were met by a sympathetic audience which gave us plenty of useful feedback.

We quickly realised the need to make clear to audiences that we were not suggesting that documents have agency, but that documents – particularly the way they are structured for guided, limited response – can collectively shape thought processes and behavioural patterns that directly affect, via standardisation, the way that cases are managed. When a particular group is already susceptible to their work being standardised (in this case, the court workgroup, in consequence of funding cuts), the use of forms to further standardise case management presents as simply another streamlining tactic. But it is a tactic that ignores (or chooses to ignore) the process by which justice is administered, making the participants more passive and the system less reactive to the particularities of any given case. It is, of course, possible for those who directly engage with such documents to perform micro acts of resistance, for example, by ignoring sections or rewording a standard question and answer format. However, we were keen to examine how a seemingly inoffensive instrument was actually loaded with assumptions and instructions that directly affect an individual’s experience of the state administration of justice. We concluded that one must not ignore the seemingly mundane procedures through which cases are managed, because they have the potential to quietly transform (and undermine) traditional interpretations of justice.

There are areas in which we would welcome development of these ideas. For example, are people in fact performing micro acts of resistance in the way that they complete documents? To what extent do they feel that what is written in a form is merely performative and can be circumvented at a later stage? To what extent is this simply another example of the neoliberalisation of public services, and what, if anything, can or should be done about that? Ultimately, to us, the paper served as a warning – a warning not to simply accept seemingly nonthreatening practices as necessary, and to examine the use of disciplinary tools (broadly defined) from critical perspectives. We hope also to alert others to the creative possibilities of combining disciplines and perspectives. We enjoyed both being challenged to think about our work in a different way, and hope others enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.

This blog follows the publication of L Welsh and M Howard, ‘Standardization and the Production of Justice in Summary Criminal Courts: A Post-Human Analysis’ (2019) 28(6) Social & Legal Studies 774-793

The article is free-to-view for a limited time at this link (correct on date of publication).

About the author

Lucy Welsh has a long-standing interest in all aspects of criminal law and criminal justice. She spent 10 years working as a criminal defence solicitor before moving into academia. Prior to joining Sussex Law School, Lucy previously held posts at Kent Law School, University of Kent. Lucy is currently co-authoring (with Dr Layla Skinns (Sheffield) and Prof Andrew Sanders (Warwick)) the 5th edition of Sanders and Young’s Criminal Justice (OUP). She is also undertaking research commissioned by the Criminal Cases Review Commission and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council on the impact of legal aid cuts on criminal appeal cases. Lucy has a particular interest in analysing policies which facilitate or hinder access to justice, both in terms of legal representation and legal process. Lucy uses empirical research methods to examine the impact of policy on procedures which affect due process.

The story behind ‘Performing Expertise’

Dr Emma Rowden
Senior Lecturer in Architectural History and Theory, Oxford Brookes University

Professor Anne Wallace
Adjunct Professor, La Trobe Law School, La Trobe University

Social & Legal Studies recently published an article that we co-authored, entitled ‘Performing Expertise: The Design of Audiovisual Links and the Construction of the Remote Expert Witness in Court’ (2018). This is the latest in a series of articles we have written, (some with other co-authors, some on our own and others individually: Rowden, Wallace and Goodman-Delahunty, 2011; Rowden et al 2013; Wallace, 2013; Wallace, Roach Anleu and Mack, 2017; Rowden, 2018; Wallace, Roach Anleu and Mack , 2018; Rowden and Wallace 2019b) that draw on qualitative data collected as part of a research project that explored the use of audio-visual links (‘AVL’) in Australian courts.

In this blog, we discuss the purpose of the article, situating it in the broader context of existing research into the use of this technology in courts.  We also reflect on our experience as researchers in the larger project and the nature and evolution of our collaboration as researchers from two different disciplines (law and architecture).

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In the Leviathan’s hands? Rethinking the institutionalisation of restorative justice

Giuseppe Maglione
Lecturer in Criminology, School of Applied Sciences, Edinburgh Napier University

Over the last 30 years, restorative justice’s (RJ) very idea of involving direct stakeholders in dealing with social harms (even when they are expressed as crimes) and their consequences, through consensual dialogue, has appealed cross-nationally to both grass-roots justice reformers and policy-makers. This has led to the increasing incorporation of RJ into policy and legal frameworks (i.e. the institutionalisation of RJ). The recent EU Directive 2012/29 on crime victim’s rights[1] has further contributed towards pushing this process ahead, imposing on EU member states a requirement to legislate on RJ as a ‘victim service’ (article 12). However, such a growth clearly does not automatically equate with an increase of the actual provision of RJ services, which in fact remains very patchy and inconsistent, with a few exceptions (e.g. Belgium). Instead, it raises doubts around the idea, and forces consideration of the effects of turning something which originally was very much conceived of as a bottom-up, decentralised approach to social harms into a penal instrument “imposed” from the top down by policymakers.

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