Uncategorized

Kirkham Prison Debating the Differences Blog

In April of this year, criminology lecturer Laura Kelly, asked me if I would like to come along and watch the final event in the ‘Debating the Differences’ series of debates between Uclan students and the men of HMP Kirkham.  As the criminology team lead I was delighted to lend my support but more than that, I was really keen to learn more about how the debates were organised and how all the debaters felt about participating in them. As it turned out I had more to do than I had expected.  The final topic was, ‘Does religion do more harm than good?’.  I knew that Laura K was a little anxious about this, as it is a subject which can stir up very deep emotions and can involve challenging very deeply held beliefs.  For personal reasons one of the usual judges did not feel objective enough to judge this particular debate so Laura asked me if I would step in. No pressure there then!

On the way there (on a very large bus for 12 of us) the students were enthusiastic about this final debate and I could see that for some this was a very personal topic.  From their discussions I could certainly tell that they had done their research. On arrival at Kirkham we were made to feel welcome as we went through the usual security checks and were directed to the visitors’ room where the debates were held.  There I met the prison librarian, Michelle, who has been instrumental in getting these debates off the ground.  She is a mine of information about how the prison operates and I learned a huge amount from her on that afternoon.  We have a lot to thank her for in making these debates so successful. She was also the co-judge with me.

As the men joined us, what struck me immediately was the chemistry between them and the students.  They greeted each other as equals and the good natured banter that followed set the tone for the friendly rivalry which continued all afternoon. As the teams were selected there were some groans and moans as people were put on a team opposing their natural viewpoint, but there was no ‘kicking off’ and those people took it as the challenge it was designed to be.  As the teams separated to do their preparation I wandered round to listen.  What a delight!  There was no chit chat about last night’s Corrie or the footie scores (yes, that happens all the time in my classes back at Uclan) just complete focus on the task.   I saw groups of individuals demonstrating superb team working skills.  There were some people who had a lot to say and they were listened to, and challenged when necessary.  This was no pushover.  There were some with less to say but they were directly encouraged to participate to give everyone a chance to contribute.   Great prep work from the teams.

What of the debate itself? I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest.  Our students are well used to speaking in groups, some will even be assessed on it, so I expected them to run away with it.  How wrong I was.  Even our students can suffer lack of confidence at times and there were a few stumbles.  As for the men – well it quickly became very apparent that there were some intelligent, articulate deep thinkers amongst them. They had limited access to research materials for this debate but they more than made up for that by the construction of cleverly thought out arguments. This was going to be harder to judge than I had imagined!

The 1st round came and went with no clear winner – the arguments came thick and fast.  To be fair, both teams found the response stage challenging.  The 2nd round was equally tight.  Just when you thought one team had nailed it the other team pulled some other convincing point out of the hat. The rivalry did not only exist between teams but also between the students and the men themselves.  I reckon there were some interesting conversations in the billets that evening. What Laura and Michelle were able to tell me was the scale of the improvement in both the men and the students since the debates began.  The value added in this scheme seems to have been impressive.

Anyway a decision had to be made as to the winner … but Michelle and I could not do it!  We could not put a hair between them – it was a photo finish – it was a dead heat (you get the gist).  The depth and complexity of the arguments from both sides, together with the delivery of the points, when looked at overall meant it would have been unfair to choose one team over the other so it ended in an honourable draw. What a great afternoon of debating I witnessed.  Great work from everyone.

A few weeks later I went back to HMP Kirkham for the certificate awarding ceremony and celebration lunch to mark the end of the successful debates series. I was delighted at this stage to get to talk to the men at length about what their views were on the debates, what they had got from them and how we could improve them next time.  I had some really useful conversations and as a result of their feedback we hope to expand the debating programme even further next year. It’s good to know that the men have enjoyed the debates and feel that they have got something out of them on a personal level.

After lunch we were lucky enough to have a few of the men take us on a guided tour of the prison.  This was fascinating and it was made so much more impactful by having the residents talk us through the various sectors.  The prison is a hive of industry and it struck me what a range of skills are needed from the men to keep it ticking over and allowing it to be as successful as it appears to be.  For me though, it was the places away from the hustle and bustle which made the biggest impact on me: the library, with the corner set up so that dads can read a story to their kids and get it recorded, and the pride with which those who work in the library explain how, amongst other things,  they help men improve their literacy skills; there was the chapel, which soothed you as soon as you stepped inside and which acts as a tranquil place for men of any religion (or indeed none at all); and the gym, which acts as a different sort of  church for some of the men and which needs the skilful and powerful management which it gets from the staff there.

A heartfelt ‘Thank you!’ to all the debate participants, both students and men, to the staff at Kirkham especially the superb Michelle and most of all to Laura Kelly, who has been the driving force behind this initiative.   It has been a great learning experience for all involved.

Finally, going back to the debate – l learned that we all need something to believe in – it’s what makes us human.  You can choose to believe in your God, your family, your football team, or just yourself.  But whatever is your choice:

YOU GOTTA HAVE FAITH!!

by Laura Hughes

Uncategorized

Deploying The Blockchain Against Cryptocurrencies, Giving Regulators An Edge Over Criminals

Introduction

Whenever cryptocurrencies go under regulatory spotlight, the conversation quickly descends into what has become a cryptocurrency cliché, the use of crypto assets to fund criminal activities and terrorism. The point which regulators omit to also emphasise on is the fact that terrorism, drugs and all the other illicit activities under the sun pre-date crypto assets which were only discovered almost a decade ago. The 9/11 attacks occurred long before crypto assets arrived and to relate crypto assets to terrorism for example would be to put the cart before the horse. It cannot be denied though that cryptocurrencies make it easier for unscrupulous players to take advantage of a vacuum in this space.

Regulators would have to stop dithering about the rights and wrongs of crypto-assets and take affirmative action to protect consumers. In this regard, they should look no further than cryptocurrencies for solutions. The blockchain which powers cryptocurrencies is the biggest tool which regulators will need to quickly get familiar with in order to win the fight against crypto related criminal activities. The same attributes which cryptocurrencies have been lauded for-transparency, immutability and efficiency can enable regulators to discharge their functions without the need to expend the limited resources at their disposal.

Transparency

All cryptocurrencies function through the manipulation of a public distributed ledger. This ledger is available for anyone who wants to view it through a functionality called blockchain explorer for example. This displays all wallet addresses on a particular blockchain. A search using a wallet address reveals all transactions of incoming and outgoing transactions. The only problem is, you cannot tell who the parties involved in the transaction are-which is why most people confuse this for anonymity. Once you have a wallet address, you can find out more information such as dates when the transaction occurred and all wallets where assets have been sent to which can also enable anyone to then uncover the value of assets involved.

This information can be very useful for regulators as at some point the assets would have to be disposed of and brought back into the traditional financial systems at which point regulators can start asking questions about the source of funds.

Immutability

Immutability is hailed as one of the fundamentals of the blockchain which enables cryptocurrencies to be passed around on the blockchain without any concerns about double spending. Once a transaction has been recorded and the ledger has been distributed across the network, it is almost impossible to change the record on the blockchain. This is because one would have to conspire with the entire network of computers spread across the globe which were involved in confirming that transaction in the first place. This does not end there, one would also have to do the same by changing all subsequent transactions. This means that enforcement agencies can use the blockchain to nail criminals so long as they manage to get a wallet address.

Transparency, when combined with immutability, can enable regulators to bring prosecutions and enable prosecutors to discharge the burden of proof which is beyond reasonable doubt for criminal prosecutions. This is how assailants were nabbed in the famous Silk Road trial in the US where bitcoins were used in criminal activities. A prosecutor gets proof beyond reasonable doubt through the blockchain as this cannot be disputed in court.

Efficiency

One of the biggest benefits of the blockchain is its efficiency in as far as crypto assets are concerned. Anyone can simply input a wallet address and you get to view all the outgoing and incoming transactions which are recorded and kept on the blockchain. This means that you do not need to solve a difficult puzzle which is normally the case when tracing assets through fiat bank accounts whereby you have to jump through various privacy hoops, with the puzzle increasing in complexity where cross-border transactions are involved.

A combination of transparency, immutability and efficiency can help law enforcement agencies and regulators to stay ahead of criminals if the blockchain can be used effetively.

The pre-requisites

In order to be able to throw the book back at cryptocurrencies, law enforcement and government agencies will have to understand how blockchain technology works. Tackling crime within this sector requires enforcement agencies to adopt smart ways of investigating financial crimes. It also requires cooperation between various government agencies. The complexity of the issues surrounding regulation can be explained through an analysis of the regulatory regime in western countries.

The regulatory framework in the US is confusing as there are multiple agencies which claim jurisdiction-and as an example, the Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC) and the Commodities and Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) often clash. Cryptocurrencies overlap across these agencies as it is not possible to give a blanket definition to them as every asset is different in the sectors getting disrupted, how it was funded and functionality of the token. Bitcoin for example is classed as a commodity meaning that CFTC retains jurisdiction[1]. The SEC believes that most tokens distributed through ICOs are securities hence they fall under its jurisdiction[2]. The truth is that none of the agencies are wrong, it is simply a reflection of the complexity of issues involved which can only be solved through tailor made laws and regulations.

In the United Kingdom, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is empowered to regulate financial services. Through a statement, the FCA acknowledged that cryptocurrencies fall in a grey area and this is not covered by law[3]. The conclusion has been that this new asset class will require parliament’s involvement before it can get regulated.

The US approach is in sharp contrast with the UK approach and this serves to illustrate how complex it is to tackle the issue of regulations in this space. It is by no way suggested that any country should adopt any of these approaches, however, something needs to be done. The difficulties involved probably explain why some jurisdictions have simply decided to take the irrational measure of a complete barn.

Collaborative approach

Successful regulation of cryptocurrencies will require a coordinated and collaborative approach across government agencies and countries. A better starting point would be for legislation to be passed through parliament which either split regulatory powers across various regulators by following the US approach or the other alternative would be to pass laws which give powers to only one institution to have oversight of all things crypto.

Taking a regulatory option to cryptocurrencies can bring benefits as trading these assets can attract revenue through taxes provided they are clearly defined in law. Germany took the lead in Europe by making cryptocurrencies more like a legal tender and German citizens will be able to use crypto assets for day to day transactions. Taking this approach will mean that it will be easier to develop tailor-made regulations whilst at the same time allowing law enforcement agencies to catch up with how the technology works.

The three attributes discussed above can be harnessed as tools for regulating the cryptocurrencies space. However, the implementation of regulations would have to be frontloaded with training across all sectors which may include training the public and raising awareness on the risks and benefits posed by cryptocurrencies.

Ineffectiveness of a ban

Whilst others may advocate for a ban and feel that this could solve the problem, this is not necessarily the case. A knee-jerk reaction ban can increase demand and drive prices up, cryptocurrencies are already trading at a premium in some parts of the world especially across the whole of Africa. A ban will simply drive this sector underground. The decentralised nature of cryptocurrencies means that enforcing a ban is almost impossible especially in circumstances where law enforcement agencies are under-trained and ill equipped in recovering the assets which are often stored online and can be moved across borders easily.

Conclusion

In as much as the establishment would like to see off cryptocurrencies, the reality tells a very different story. Cryptocurrencies are already becoming mainstream and 2018 has already been a defining period. Major global and traditional institutions which impact on the development of financial services have already signalled an intention to embrace digital assets. Big entities such as Mastercard and Barclays have since moved to file patents for various payments systems using cryptocurrency as a settlement method. Some regulated products such as futures have started to surface in the UK. In the US, despite several applications of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) being turned down by SEC, it appears to be only a matter of time before an approval occurs. There is consensus that this emerging technology is very disruptive, however, this does not call for taking what appears to be the easier option-a ban. Once this technology gets embedded elsewhere across the globe, playing catch up would be difficult and probably costly. Regulating cryptocurrencies appears to be the only reasonable option on the table. The blockchain which is the driver for cryptocurrencies can be used against this asset class to assist law enforcement and regulatory authorities. However, before this happens there is a need to consider the best approach to take to regulations and lay the groundwork possibly through clearly thought out legislation in parliament.

Post by Prosper Mwedzi

[1] ttps://www.cftc.gov/sites/default/files/idc/groups/public/%40customerprotection/documents/file/oceo_bitcoinbasics0218.pdf

[2] https://www.sec.gov/ICO

[3] https://www.fca.org.uk/news/statements/cryptocurrency-derivatives

Uncategorized

SLS Conference

Tina McKee and Rachel Nir’s trip to the SLS conference, September 201

The SLS conference was at Queen Mary’s University in East London this year.  One of the themes was ‘Law in Troubled Times’ and there was a lot of debate about BREXIT understandably.  There was even an interactive drama session focussing on legal problem solving, ranging from air pollution to teenagers being sent to prison on the basis of joint enterprise.  It was a sight to behold, gaggles of self-conscious legal academics channelling their inner lovies (fortunately no photographic or video evidence remains from that session) in the middle of a massive Victorian octagonal library.

library

The Octagon at QMU London

We delivered our paper on ‘The Participation Puzzle: Students, why don’t they come?’.  We were exploring why many LLS students don’t attend as well as we want them too, and how that affects their learning and assessment results.  Following a 2 year project, conducted with the help of our hard-working and imaginative student research interns, Jonathan Holmes, Declan Kenyon and Iana Morova, we had discovered for instance, that students who attend less than 60% of their classes, normally have to take resits to pass the year.  Our findings also suggest that we need to rethink our use of BlackBoard because students are failing to attend because they think that they can learn effectively from the materials online.  Student stress levels are far higher than anticipated, with 50% of those who returned surveys saying that they found their studies ‘stressful’.  These are issues that we need to tackle directly and we are drawing up plans about how to do this.  Part of this will involve talking to students for their input.

Our presentation was well received and generated lots of discussion.  Other Law Schools across the sector are also experiencing the same issue with attendance.  We’ve been invited to get involved with other Law Schools in joint project work and to visit other Universities to present our findings.

Uncategorized

Lancashire Law School’s Law & Emerging Technologies Conference

The inspiration for Lancashire Law School’s Law & Emerging Technologies conference on 25th June 2018 came from the School’s desire to stay ahead of the curve on what is proving to be an exciting time for Law & Emerging Technology. From advancements in AI to worldwide data breaches, it certainly feels like we are on the cusp of a technological revolution. We were keen within our remit to explore the impact of emerging technologies on the law from the perspective of legal academics and practitioners.

The conference was organised by Viv Ivins, Simon Price, Omar Mashjari & myself. Without the help of colleagues, Maxwell Boardman & Mark Grundy the conference would not have run as smoothly as it did.

We got off to a great start with an address by Jane Anthony, Executive Dean of Culture & Creative Industries at UCLAN.

Our first speaker Darren Ansell, Space & Aerospace Engineering Lead at UClan gave great insight into the Flying High City Challenge proving that UClan is at the heart of drone technology in the UK. The Flying High project will place cities & people at the center of designing how drone technology could operate in complex city environments to address local needs. The Challenge is being run by Nesta in partnership with Innovate UK & the Department for Transport & the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. Darren described one project where his team had trained the Cambodian Army to use drones to pinpoint unexploded landmines surrounding schools in Cambodia.

blog 1

Justine Mitchell, Lecturer in Law at UClan followed with her mind-blowing ‘Mind Uploading in the context of Copyright & Cryogenics.’  A fascinating topic which elicited many questions and follow on discussions.

We were then treated to a presentation by our first year Mlaw student Terri Whitlowe. Terri had used her experience of working in the motorsport industry and had volunteered to work on a pro bono basis for the European Advanced Drone Academy. Terri had used her studies of contract law in real life practice alongside Richard Kennedy & Steve Kasch at the Academy. Her motivation, commitment, and energy was impressive and an absolute asset to Terri. A real example of what you can achieve if you set your mind to it.

blog 2

I then led the next session, with an introduction to my legally themed escape room ‘Legally Bound’. I was keen to capture the students’ imagination and create an environment where they could test their skills, learn & ultimately have a lot of fun. I took five volunteers from the audience (although due to the interest we had a few more delegates join us) and promptly led them to the Law School’s Moot Court room.

The students were presented with a brief, their client stood charged with racially profiling in contravention of the GDPR 2018 and her only hope was to present evidence that her subjects had consented. The evidence was in the form of a memory stick hidden within the room. The participants were handcuffed to each other initially, having to follow a series of clues to reveal codes to unlock safes & padlocked boxes. We used technology in the form of VR Oculus googles to give the students a virtual experience. Embedded within the virtual world were even more clues. In true escape room format, the students failed to escape before the time was up but not before they expressed their enjoyment of a novel learning concept. We are looking to roll out the escape room to our Year 1 Law students in November, so it proved an invaluable test of how interactive technology can enhance the learning experience.

The afternoon sessions were devoted to technology in practice. We were honoured to have esteemed practitioners from DWF Ventures & Riverview Law with us.

John Patterson (DWF Ventures) a pioneer in the business of law with particular interest in service design and innovation explained the importance of working with clients in a rapidly changing legal market, developing new products and services that combine specialist legal expertise with emerging technology, resourcing models and processes. When questioned by student delegates what qualities would serve the next generation of lawyers well, John responded that in the rapidly changed legal field problem solvers would flourish. Lawyers who are able to adapt to the changing technologies, developing them & utilising available advancements for the clients’ best interests. John stressed that we are very much at the dawn of emerging technology within legal practice, and that the face of legal practice will change over our lifetime.

blog 4

Sonia Williamson, Head of Managed Projects and Services at Riverview Law is head of a technology-led legal business providing dedicated teams of lawyers, trainees & paralegals working as a true extension of their global customer in-house legal teams across numerous industries. Sonia impressed upon us that the success and growth of their business was due to the unique service they offered their clients. That they were ahead of the curve and due to this found global leaders opting for their input with their business processes.

The conference was brought to a close with a panel discussion led by Sonia & John. It was an inspirational day, from Drones and Cryogenics to the future of legal services and beyond. What we hope delegates will take from the day is that as a Law School we stay one step ahead. In an ever-competitive world, we owe it to our students to create an environment to thrive and develop skills, which will set our graduates in good stead for a legal future. With that in mind, preparation is already underway for our Law & Emerging Technologies Conference in February 2019. Watch this space!

Uncategorized

2nd Young Leaders Network Event continues to inspire and develop tomorrow’s lawyers

Lancashire Law School and leading North West law firm Harrison Drury held the second Young Leaders in Law event at the law firm’s Preston office on a warm and sunny evening in late May.

The partnership was created to give students opportunities to meet professionals, find out more about what it was like to work in a law firm, build a professional network and develop key employability skills. The evening started with some excellent networking training from Harrison Drury followed by an evening of networking and chances to put into practice what had been learned. Feedback from students and Harrison Drury professionals after the event was very positive, so as with the previous event I asked a couple of law students who attended to explain what they thought of the evening.

Emma Jane Darley  (3rd year MLaw student)

I was really excited to be invited to participate in the networking event with Harrison Drury, having researched local firms I was excited to see if they were really as nice as they sounded on their website. I was not disappointed; I was greeted at the door by Kris the Marketing Manager. He was really genuinely friendly and I enjoyed talking to him about his varied career and hearing more about the company ethos. I got to speak to some other members of staff who were as equally welcoming. It was a really fantastic safe environment for Law students to tentatively attempt networking.

The Harrison Drury team had no expectations of us and were genuinely trying to help us by providing a real networking experience. Whilst lecturers at Law School have tried explain how to network in a classroom environment the real thing was always going to be different. I’ve learnt that I am not very good at excusing myself from one conversation to go and talk to someone else, so this is a skill I will need to work on.

Everyone was really happy to share their own networking experiences and their do’s and don’ts. Including do not excuse yourself to go to the toilet then walk off to the middle of the room to talk to other people. It’s always helpful to hear about different people’s real life world experience. I left the event really excited and looking forward to tackling more networking.

Kallen Jenkin (1st year Law with Criminology student)

As a first-year mature student I am hoping to achieve a career as a solicitor. I was lucky enough to be one of a small group of students invited to attend the Young Leaders Network hosted by Harrison Drury.

I volunteered for this event as I am keen to gain as much networking experience as possible. Upon arrival, I was given a name tag and greeted by Marketing Manager Kris who instantly made me feel at home and directed me to the buffet and a glass of water; which was much appreciated as I was dressed in a suit on such a warm day!

I had some really interesting conversations about social media and body language with Kris. Kris also gave advice on knowing how and when to end a conversation and excuse yourself, in order to move on to speak with someone else in the room. Next, I spoke with Rebecca who specialises in Family Law which was particularly interesting to me as I have chosen to study Family Law and the Law Relating to Children in my second year. Rebecca explained her route to where she is today which was very insightful. Finally, I chatted with Alex. Although Alex practices Commercial Property which is not of immediate interest to me we had a conversation about our love of music and our love of guitar.

The experience overall was tremendously rewarding, and I was made to feel confident and comfortable in a situation I was initially nervous about attending.

Bright futures

Thank you to everyone from Harrison Drury who attended the event and helped make the evening a big success and of course, thanks to the students who overcame their nerves and took part, I hope you all found it worthwhile and see you at future events.

Simon Price is a Senior Lecturer in Innovation and Employability at Lancashire Law School and is part of the school’s employability team.

Uncategorized

Debunking the blockchain for lawyers

 

Introduction

Technology has brought a lot of benefits to various sectors. No one would have imagined that there could be another discovery capable of revolutionising the world to the same extent as what the internet did when it was invented. Blockchain technology is now being dubbed as the ‘re-discovery of the internet’ due to the varied application to which it can be used. It is very likely that lawyers will encounter this technology in one form or another. This could be through advising clients or using the technology as consumers in law organisations.

About Blockchain Technology

The starting point to understanding blockchain technology is to understand the problem which it was aimed to solve in the first place. It is almost impossible to mention the term blockchain and avoid a discussion of bitcoin as this is the technology underlying the famous or infamous digital asset (depending on one’s persuasion). This has resulted in the new phrase ‘crypto-currency’ being coined. Bitcoin was founded by the shadowy Satoshi Nakamoto. Mystery still shrouds who Satoshi Nakamoto is or whether it is an individual or an organisation.

Nevertheless, the problem which was solved was that of double spending. The easiest way to explain this concept is through fiat, the conventional currency such as USD and GBP which is issued by governments. Each money bill gets issued with a unique serial number, making any other note of the same denomination bearing the same unique number a counterfeit note. With digital assets, this question of double spending was of fundamental importance as there was a need for a mechanism to ensure that a digital asset is not used to honour different transactions without any means of verification by the other party receiving it. Through a whitepaper, Satoshi proposed a way of solving this problem by implementing a public ledger which records a transaction instantly and keeps a permanent record of it. The successful implementation of this concept marked the inception of the blockchain- which is a distributed digital ledger.

Mechanics of first use case

To ensure the integrity of the ledger, Satoshi proposed a network of computers all over the globe known as miners. These miners were suggested to be ‘guardians’ of the ledger who would validate all transactions for a fee by making use of computational power to solve complex algorithms and storing the information in blocks with timestamps. It is for this reason that blockchain technology has proven to be hack-proof as one would have to conspire with the entire network in order to compromise the concept. The element of distributed ledger comes from the fact that every computer on the network stores pieces of information about the transaction. A series of these blocks of information when filed is what makes a blockchain.  Once the filing has taken place, there is no way of changing the transaction as one would have to also change all past transactions and all subsequent transactions.

Although crypto-currencies have become the most popular application of the blockchain, this is only a tip of the iceberg. Block-chain has proven to have far much wider application and the rise of crypto-currencies, though a positive development, fails to do justice to the wider use of this technology. In order to demonstrate how widely this technology can be applied a few examples would be useful.

Other Use Cases of the Blockchain

Recently in Sierra Leone, the power of block-chain was put through the paces through a pilot[5] of blockchain voting on what is called a permissioned blockchain. This enables selected participants to view the ledger and it can enable real time monitoring of votes which has the potential to eliminate the counting process at the end. This can bring efficiency and reduce costs of running elections. However, the negatives are that if the system is compromised, the effects could be irreparable. Still related to voting, another use case which has been floated is for company shareholders to vote remotely on a permissioned blockchain in situations where a shareholder resolution is required. This could take away the need for shareholders based across borders to use proxys thereby bringing efficiency to this sector. Another use case proposal is for legislators to be able to vote for critical legislation without having to turn up at Westminster. These are all use cases which show the potential which the blockchain might be able to deliver.

In divorce proceedings, digital assets are already causing complications for divorce lawyers. It was reported[6] that a UK law firm handled transactions where bitcoin and other crypto assets became the subject of contention. The law firm which was named in the media has since issued some useful information on dealing with crypto assets[7].These assets pose a lot of complication as the law is not privy to this asset class. This leaves the lawyer in a precarious position where some understanding of the basic mechanics of this technology can come in handy.

In Carlifornia, Sweden and Georgia, blockchain technology was trialled for land registry purposes to record land ownership and the benefits of this were found to include the degrading of capabilities for fraudulent disposals in land transactions. It has also been established that this can bring efficiency[8]. In relation to Intellectual Property Rights (IP), blockchain technology is expected to afford effective protection of IP rights, as once ownership is recorded on the blockchain, it becomes difficult to claim ownership of the same invention. A verifiable and immutable record would be available to refute any new claim with proof being held on the blockchain.

Lastly, smart contracts have already taken off and these will eventually remove the need for lawyers to draft lengthy and costly agreements as this can simply get executed with precision using computer code once conditions are met. Some blockchain enthusiasts even go to the extreme of declaring that lawyers will soon get replaced by code.

Conclusion

It might be too soon to make these sweeping claims about blockchain technology and how it will transform the world as it still in its infancy- the jury is still out on digital assets and the blockchain. However, what remains clear is the fact that lawyers would have to come to grips with how this technology works in order to be able to best serve their clients.

[1] https://www.nasdaq.com/article/sierra-leone-pilots-blockchain-based-voting-for-political-elections-cm938309 accessed 31/05/2018

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-43070849 accessed 30/05/2018

[3] https://www.roydswithyking.com/solicitors-for-life/family/hiding-bitcoins-in-your-divorce/ accessed on 30/05/2018

[4] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/Innovation/deloitte-uk-blockchain-app-in-public-sector.pdf accessed 230/05/2018

[5] https://www.nasdaq.com/article/sierra-leone-pilots-blockchain-based-voting-for-political-elections-cm938309 accessed 31/05/2018

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-43070849 accessed 30/05/2018

[7] https://www.roydswithyking.com/solicitors-for-life/family/hiding-bitcoins-in-your-divorce/ accessed on 30/05/2018

[8] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/Innovation/deloitte-uk-blockchain-app-in-public-sector.pdf accessed 230/05/2018

Written by Prosper Mwedzi

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAMeAAAAJDllYjZhNTIxLWVhMTEtNDdjYS1hOWQyLWI0MDA1MzJkNzAxZQ

Uncategorized

LEGAL VISUALISATION PROJECT – TENANTS’ RIGHTS

Michael Doherty and Chelsea Cully

This blog post describes the development of a project to use graphic design principles and techniques to produce a visually engaging guide to tenants’ rights.

Inspirations

The project drew on a number of sources of inspiration. Michael Doherty had created OpenLawMap, the world’s first jurisdiction-wide geographical map of legal places, in 2012. This allows users to mark places of legal significance on an online map, to blog about them, and include pictures of the location. It invites users to explore the role of ‘place’ in legal developments (an aspect which is rarely considered) and allows people to see the physical and visual context of important legal events (rather simply textual representations of these events). He developed a legal history walking trail based on OpenLawMap as an induction tool. This model has been adopted by a number of other UK law schools and the overall project won the Routledge / Association of Law Teachers ‘Teaching Law with Technology Prize’ 2015. It led him to explore the wider range of non-textual ways of communicating legal information.

 

There are a number of other legal visualisers, to use Emily Allbon’s phrase [1], working in the UK. These include Amanda Perry Kessaris who works at the interface of law and design and whose projects include the Pop Up Museum of Legal Objects [2], the Graphic Justice Research Alliance which promotes research on comics and notions of justice [3], and RightsInfo, which aims to develop understanding of human rights issues through accessible online resources [4].

The more direct inspirations for this project though came from the US where there are developing practices of using graphic design projects to promote social justice and the public understanding of legal rights.  These include NuLawLab at Northeastern University [5], and Margaret Hagan at Legal Design Lab at Stanford [6].

Benefits of design

Hagan has argued the general benefits of design thinking; that it can ‘center our work on real, lived human problems’ and that ‘Design is concerned not so much with the means by which new legal processes may be carried out, but rather with the experience of the humans who will be using these processes’ [7].

MD blog post image 2

The Center for Urban Pedagogy funds advocacy groups to work with artists and designers to address these real, lived human problems. A key example is the ‘Vendor Power’ poster produced by Candy Chang to summarise and explain the New York street vendor code. This illustrates the strengths of a design approach;

  • a majority of New York City street vendors have English as a second language,
  • the legal code is in detailed and dense legalese,
  • infractions of the code are common.

Rather than using the resources of pro-bono advice groups to try to resolve infractions when they occur (what is negatively described in environmental law as an ‘end of pipe’ solution), the aim of the poster is to reduce infractions in the first place. Important features of this are;

  • the prioritisation of the most common infractions,
  • the reduction of text and use of visual representations of the regulatory regime,
  • the provision of text in multiple languages and
  • the physical production of advice posters and delivery to the target audience of street vendors. [8]

The Tenants’ Rights Visualisation Project

When I sought to apply some of this design thinking to a UK legal context, I realised that I would need to work with a graphic designer. I am fortunate to work at an institution that has a vibrant undergraduate research culture and applied for an undergraduate research intern to work on the project for 10 weeks. I was even more fortunate that Chelsea Cully applied. Chelsea is a second year BA Graphic Design student and she quickly grasped the aims and nature of the project.

Our next step was to select a topic for legal visualisation. We chose tenants’ rights because it appeared to be the most common issue presenting at law clinics, based on consultation with the Lancashire Law School Clinic and research on Essex and Swansea law clinics by Richard Owen [9]. This also suited the aims of the project because student tenants in shared housing represent an appropriate target audience – we could design the information for them and have a good chance of delivering that information into their hands.

We scoped out the key problems facing tenants by speaking to the Law Clinic and UCLan Student Accommodation Office. Chelsea was also able to give me some of the lived experience of student tenants in 2017. This consultation produced a host of issues, including;

  • Contract commitment – that students were not understanding the nature of a commitment to a (typically) 42-week contract.
  • Damage and repair – it was sometimes a struggle to get landlords to adhere to their legal commitments to make repairs in a timely fashion.
  • Tenant’s noise / litter nuisance – tenants failing to understand their responsibilities sometimes led to conflict with the landlord and neighbours.
  • Privacy – this was an issue that did not arise in Law Clinic referrals but from the student ‘lived experience’ insights. Tenants have a right in law to privacy vis-à-vis their landlord, and in practice this is a right that is sometimes breached, but it is not the sort of issue that a student would necessarily seek legal advice on.

Some issues that caused fewer disputes such as deposits, and health and safety regulations (fire, gas, electrical safety) were included because they are so important.

The design process and format

Once we had our topic and prioritised list of issues we could start on the graphic design process, including ideas boards, colour schemes, and image banks. This was a challenging brief. We had to summarise a range of legal rights and responsibilities in a way that balanced text and visuals in the most effective way to communicate important information. In the words of Ambrose and Harris we had to make ‘that which is difficult to understand understandable, and that which is uninteresting, engaging’ [10].

Chelsea wanted the urban design of the poster to reflect the types of vernacular architecture of the streets close to the university campus that housed much of this shared accommodation – typically redbrick terraces. I wanted the characters in the poster to move beyond generic figures and look like 21st century undergraduate students. Chelsea explains ‘I sketched and painted houses by hand and used my drawings as a reference for the digital development of this work. The interior of the pamphlet was done in much the same way but with close ups of rooms and different utensils.’ We took our design structure from the Center for Urban Pedagogy, i.e. a fold out poster, but tweaked to make it A3 size which suited the design (and our printing budget better).

MD blog post image 3The process of developing a visual guide to a legal area was a different experience for me from more traditional legal research projects, though the process of summarising complex legal issues and considering how to communicate them in the clearest and most engaging way does cohere with my approaches to teaching and text-book writing.

  • User-centred design – we were not producing a summary of a code, or in this case a bundle of disparate Acts and Regulations. The temptation would have been to take the structure of the law (or even the way it is summarised in Government guides) as the template. We decided we had to approach the design thematically and think about the best way to visually organise the material. This meant that we had a mix of text and infographics in the panel on contract obligations and grouped a range of safety and good practice issues together in our kitchen panel (electrical safety; heat sensor; waste and recycling).
  • Visual representation – the text remains an important part of communicating legal information but at each stage we asked ourselves – how could this be represented visually? What is the right balance between text and images?
  • MD blog post image 4Distribution – I am hopeful of obtaining external funding to further test and refine the poster before distribution. Even in the absence of this, we will print the poster and work with the Accommodation Office to distribute it to the almost 2000 students currently in University accommodation and to more students through the annual Accommodation Fair.

It was enormously gratifying to be able to present this process and poster to colleagues at the Association of Law Teachers conference at Keele, March 2018, and to win the Stan Marsh Prize for Best Conference Poster.

Conclusion

 

This has been a fascinating process for me as a legal academic;

  • It is interdisciplinary in a new and exciting way.
  • It provides different ways of thinking about legal communication.
  • Perhaps most importantly it seeks to have real world impact by delivering accessible information into the hands of people who need it.

The poster could be used with very little amendment by other university law clinics and accommodation offices. With some re-design it could be usefully adopted by local authorities, advice centres, and even by housing association or lettings agents. We hope that the project so far is merely the first step.

Michael Doherty is a Principal Lecturer in Law at Lancashire Law School. His main interests are in Public Law and in legal education, in non-standard ways of communicating legal information and in public legal education.

Chelsea Cully is currently working as a graphic designer in Liverpool on a sandwich year as part of her BA Graphic Design course.

References

[1] E Allbon, ‘Seeing is believing: We are all converging’ [2016] Law Teacher 44

[2] A Perry Kessaris, The Legal Treasure Project https://legaltreasure.wordpress.com/collections/pop-up-museum-of-legal-objects-2017/

[3] Graphic Justice Research Alliance, https://graphicjustice.wordpress.com/about/

[4] RightsInfo, https://rightsinfo.org/about/

[5] NuLawLab, http://www.nulawlab.org/about

[6] Legal Design Lab, http://www.legaltechdesign.com/

[7] Margaret Hagan, Law by Design http://www.lawbydesign.co/en/home/

[8] Center for Urban Pedagogy, Vendor Power http://welcometocup.org/Projects/MakingPolicyPublic/VendorPower

[9] R Owen, ‘Law Zone: Digital mapping of unmet legal need’ (Association of Law Teachers Conference 2017, Portsmouth).

[10] G Ambrose and P Harris, The Fundamentals of Graphic Design (AVA Academia, 2009)

Vendor Power image © Center for Urban Pedagogy