Category Archives : Shauneen’s Blog

How to Use the Law for Social Change

jfk-cropped-tigere-coverBringing about social change is hard work and there are always many barriers, but there are also many methods to bringing about change. The law, in its many guises, is a tool for social change that is not always used by civil society organisations.

The ‘law’ can mean many things; from drafting legislation, proper implementation of existing legislation to litigating in courts. Some organisations may be wary of going to court, but when used carefully litigation can play a key role in helping achieve their aims.

To get more NGOs in this country to consider litigation as a tool for change, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Paul Hamlyn Foundation commissioned separate reports evaluating two instances where litigation was used successfully by NGOs which brought about significant change.

The first report prepared by IVAR focuses on strategic litigation by Detention Action, a small, non-legal NGO. Detention Action took legal action over the Detained Fast Track (DFT), a process where asylum seekers were routinely detained in high security centres while waiting for their claims to be decided. Detention Action and its legal team brought a series of challenges that took several years, culminating in the Supreme Court upholding a Court of Appeal decision that the DFT was ‘systematically unfair’.

The report finds that strategic litigation can be a highly effective campaign tool although it is a huge undertaking for a small organisation. The report examines the process surrounding the litigation, the factors that led to the litigation being successful, as well as the risks and challenges that Detention Action faced. The report finds that

– Detention Action’s ethos of building relationships with their legal team, the wider sector, and the government was an important factor in the litigation’s success.

– The litigation was a vital tool in a broader advocacy strategy. While Detention Action chose not to seek media coverage given the highly politicised nature of the issue, lobbying and policy work alongside the litigation [helped to ensure / enabled Detention Action to work towards] change in the longer term.

– Detention Action’s experience of working directly with people in immigration detention gave the organisation substantial credibility.

– The litigation would not have been possible without a supportive management committee and a protective costs order.
The second report prepared by Dr Vanhala of UCL looked at Just for Kids Law’s intervention in R v Tigere in the Supreme Court. The case was about the denial of student loans to lawfully resident young people who were not British citizens. The findings were similar to the IVAR report, concluding that:

  1. Being involved in a strategic litigation requires leadership on the part of senior management and trustees, on both the legal and communications side over the course of the campaign
  2. Proximity to those with lived experience of the issues is important;
  3. Getting lawyers with different expertise if the issue spans two areas of law;
  4. Awareness of the potential costs involved and risk assessment of the implication of those costs;
  5. Recognition that a communications strategy requires investment at a senior level and can take up significant time and resources to be able to shape the media narrative in a constructive way. The value of training key spokespeople cannot be underestimated.
  6. The importance of what the report describes as ‘legacy activities’, to ensure that whatever the outcome of litigation, work continues to be done to ‘achieve an effective remedy’.

Dr Vanhala had previously been commissioned by the Baring Foundation to write a report on Successful use of Strategic Litigation by the Voluntary Sector on Issues Related to Discrimination and Disadvantage. There have also been reports commissioned reviewing strategic litigation in other jurisdictions. In 2013, Atlantic Philanthropy analysed what successful public interest litigation might look like, building on lessons it had learned with 20 years experience in South Africa. Atlantic concluded that while litigation is a useful tool in bringing about social change, it is most effective when used in conjunction with other social change tools rather than in isolation; including the support of key communities, public education, media coverage, political lobbying and policy reform.

We hope that these reports are a useful starting point for NGOs and lawyers in the UK who are considering becoming involved in using the law to bring about social change.


School to Prison Pipeline


Since I have arrived in the USA many of the organisations I have met with have been talking about the ‘school to prison pipeline’ when I realized that what was being discussed was how schools have become a pipeline into the criminal justice system it resonated with what we see in the UK.

We have discussed in Just for Kids Law how the presence of police in schools can escalate behaviour that would historically have been considered disciplinary into the criminal.

Most of the UK school heads that I have spoken to like the presence of a police officer in school; they believe it makes the community feel safe and builds good relationships between the police and young people. But for me this is not the whole picture. There is not a single private school, that I am aware of, that has its own police officer on the premises. I guarantee that if it was a good thing they too would be looking to bring that service into the schools. I suspect that private schools do not have a police presence partially because they rely on the money of parents who choose that school, reputation is therefore important and arrests of students would not look good for prospective parents but also to protect their students from criminal investigation the process of which is traumatic and the outcome a hindrance to future possibilities rather than an asset. I am sure private schools try and avoid any police investigation unless absolutely necessary. What I do not believe is that the kids in the private schools are not doing the kinds of things that we can see ending up in criminal investigations in state schools; naked selfies, cannabis. Whether inadvertently or not we are creating a segregated society where those who are rich can pay to shield their children from an entry point into the criminal justice system.

Don’t all kids deserve to be protected from criminal investigations unless it is absolutely necessary?

I am reminded of the case that was in the press earlier this autumn, the 14 year old boy who sent a naked photograph of himself to another teenager – he has a police recording against him because he sent a picture of his own body. The law that was designed to protect children is now being used against them giving him an unnecessary hurdle in his future.

This kind of work is one of the main focus areas of Appleseed in Austin Texas Their research shows that in the 1990’s society became afraid of children, the media began developing the idea of the ‘super-predator youth’, young people out of control, no respect, no one living by the rules. Now youth crime is falling but the response has not. The role of police in society is to prevent crime and solve crime, their roles in school the same. As I heard a judge here say ‘people find what they are looking for’ police look for crimes, it is their job but a push in the playground can either be dealt with internally or it can be an assault, the lens that you see it through depends on who you are.

Many parents, teachers and children have been convinced that police in schools make them safer places but the research shows otherwise. So how can we begin to change the perception? Partly it must be through having the conversation and looking at the evidence and exploring; or ideas like the small innovative parents and young people coalitions being set up who have negotiated oversight of the school’s discipline – an example is Padros and Jovenes Unidos in Colorado

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Another idea that has had great success in schools are restorative justice models such as the one run by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency

Pilot schemes have been working in schools on offences ranging from sexual assaults to bullying. There are no police involved, parents or carers of both young people attend and the young people themselves. When there have been group fights these become circles. Everyone agrees a way forward together. There is no need for the police or the criminal justice system yet everyone leaves with a sense of justice being done.

Last week shocking footage was released of a teenage girl in North Carolina being dragged out of a classroom by a sheriff. .

That sheriff has now lost his job, but if the incident hadn’t been caught on camera he may well still be in post. I still can’t shake the image that was shown to me by our education and community care team at Just for Kids Law of a 5 year old child in one of our London primary schools cowering against the wall when the head teacher called the police to deal with a discipline situation.

I understand that there is a role for police in society but maybe we don’t need them in our schools to keep our children safe or to learn from their mistakes.




In 1995 Patricia Puritz decided that there should be specialist trained and accredited lawyers to represent children in criminal proceedings in the United States. She set about charting that course. She began convincing people with power that child-centred, culturally appropriate, legal representation was essential for children who were by their very definition vulnerable and facing the weight of the state.

She created the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) to bring about this goal and in 1996 set about creating leaders across the United States who would become the ‘Regional Juvenile Defenders’. In 1997 these groups of defenders had their first summit and in 2000 NJDC developed a national standard of representation which could be assessed, these have now been adopted by nearly all 50 US States.

Patti Puritz then set her sights on the abolition of the juvenile death penalty, which was abolished by the US Supreme Court in 2005 in the landmark case Roper v Simmonds. Roper is considered landmark not just because it abolished the death penalty for those under the age of 18 but also for the first time the Supreme Court considered neuroscience and medical evidence that the brains of adolescents are fundamentally different to adult brains. This is particularly true of the frontal lobe, the area that affects consequential thinking. Amicus briefs were filed by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association setting out the medical communities findings on the adolescent brain and these briefs made up a significant part of the Supreme Court’s decision in abolishing the death penalty for children. An Amicus brief was also filed by the Bar Council in the UK opposing the death penalty for children.

Alongside working on the juvenile death penalty Patti Puritz was building a national community of juvenile defenders who were committed to protecting and serving children and whose mission was to make the USA a better place for all kids by ‘cloaking every child in the constitution’.

Yesterday in Salt Lake City that community of over 300 lawyers and policy makers celebrated Patti’s career and achievements as she stepped down from the helm of NJDC. I felt privileged to be among them and found myself crying (with the others) when she made her thank you speech. I was crying for all that she had achieved but also because I felt a sense of belonging and a part of a bigger legal community that I don’t feel in the UK.

As I lamented our lack of specialization, accreditation and community, Marsha Lavick the deputy director of Juvenile Law Center, who have been doing this work for 40 years, said ‘Don’t worry we are going to help you change that’, maybe with their support we can have our first summit of youth defenders in 2017, 20 years after they did in the USA.

Small steps are being made in that direction, the Independent Parliamentarians Inquiry into Youth Justice chaired by Lord Carlile in 2014 recommended that lawyers are specially trained and accredited before they represent children in criminal proceedings.

In response to the recommendations of that inquiry the Bar Standards Board has commissioned the Institute for Criminal Policy Research to conduct an evaluation of the standard of representation for children in criminal proceedings. That report is due to be published in the next couple of weeks and hopefully will find that lawyers representing children in any legal proceedings need to be specifically trained and accredited. The Law society requires that lawyers representing children in family proceedings are trained and accredited before they can become part of the children’s panel. It is accepted by the Law society that children require specialist lawyers in the family court, the same must be true of children, who appear in criminal proceedings.

So to all those potential fellow youth defenders out there in England and Wales who may feel alone and want to be a part of a community of defenders. Let’s build it.

The Arc of History is Long but it Bends Towards Justice

blog6There is a growing conversation in the United States against the criminal justice system which extends beyond the usual circles.

It seems that much of the interest in this topic has come out of an economic necessity. The recession in 2008 has left America looking to save money, just like the UK, and the country that locks up more people than anywhere else in the world has just started to realise how much it costs them to do this.

But there is another conversation growing too, although perhaps this is narrower in its reach, a book called The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. The book begins with the voting history of Jarvious Cotton’s family, a client of my friend and colleague Emily Bolton 15 years ago. Jarvious a black man unable to vote due to a felony conviction, his father was unable to vote as was his grandfather and great-grandfather due to various controls preventing men of colour in the South from voting from literacy to slavery. Emily, it seems was ahead of the curve, highlighting this ineligibility at the time she did.

Alexander argues in her book that the criminal justice system has become the new control mechanism ensuring that African Americans are treated as second class citizens unable to participate in civic society. Much like the Jim Crow laws after emancipation from slavery, created a complex web of legislation and regulations that created segregation.

It is not only mass incarceration that prevents people from being included in society (in some US urban areas over 50% of black men will be incarcerated) but also all the regulations they face if they do leave prison. Many are unable to vote due to rules that exclude felons, many are unable to get housing, jobs, education and spend the rest of their lives under correctional control. The Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s marked the beginning of the reversal of Jim Crow; Alexander argues that the time has come for a new movement against the criminal justice system.

She claims that there are more African American adults under correctional control today than there were slaves in the USA in 1850 and there are more people of colour unable to vote now than there were in 1870, the year that the 15th Amendment to the constitution was passed prohibiting the denial of the right to vote based on race.

I remember wondering as a young lawyer leaving Angola, the State Penitentiary of Louisiana, named because it was a plantation that had been farmed by slaves from Angola, what had actually changed? It was still a plantation of many thousands of acres and the land was still being toiled by men of colour who were not free. We were told that more people left Angola in coffins than ever walked out of the gates, it felt like a place storing African American men to keep them away from a society that was afraid of them.

When I left the USA in 2002 it felt like 9/11 was going to change things. At that time America was still a country in shock, and it still seems like a country in fear, but I wonder if there has been a transfer of fear away from the black man onto a new more present enemy, the terrorist. I have often speculated whether without 9/11 Obama could have been elected as president because in the part of the country that I worked black men seemed to pose a threat to society.

Alexander points out that many of today’s young adults can’t remember the war on drugs which led to the mass incarceration of black men. They live in a world where their war has always been the war on terror.

Perhaps the mainstream is beginning to hear the theories in Alexander’s book, just last night CNN featured a piece on fathers in prison trying to parent their children, and the current interest in the criminal justice system will not just be about a costly, ineffective system but a recognition that it is also steeped in prejudice and fear. As the head of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) says on the cover this book is a “call to action”.

I hope this signifies a shift and the UK will follow suit. We have the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe (over 100 children serving life sentences, France has only 1 yet a population of 10 million more). In the UK black men make up over 15% of the prison population although only 2.2% of society. We may feel we have a better race history than America but it seems like our present matches theirs.



In Veritas on Global Dignity Day

Life is going to kick your butt at some point and there is no way to avoid it. But I hope that it is partly the knowledge of it that allows me to be grateful for all the times that it doesn’t and appreciate every day that is free from hardship.

blog 5There is both a beauty and an arrogance to the extremely high achieving young people at Harvard. Perhaps we, the older generation, should celebrate their apparent ignorance of hardship because it means we have succeeded in our duty to look after the younger generation. All we can wish for the young is that pain and hardship doesn’t come for a long time and when it does they will be equipped to cope with it.

I went into the Harvard bookshop today, called the coop (pronounced like a chicken house not a cooperative). The coop takes up blocks of Harvard; it has internal bridges and many entrances on different streets. The entrances are filled with Harvard memorabilia and t shirts for babies which state ‘future Harvard graduate’. This memorabilia is not just for tourists it is for the students themselves (perhaps not the baby grows, I don’t think they envisage undergrads with babies). But all the students I saw carry Harvard water bottles and wear Harvard hoodies. We had a meeting today with Jill Abramson the former and first female managing editor of the New York Times who told us that she has an H tattoo to represent her Harvard years.

As you enter the book department in the coop the books immediately displayed are titles like ’50 essays to get you into Harvard’. Moving quickly through I went to look in the discount section and found 30% off a book called ‘Very Good Lives’ by JK Rowling. As the parent of an avid Harry Potter fan I was confused not to have heard of this book before. I picked it up and looked on the back where it said ‘We do not need magic to transform our world we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already.’ The front cover told me that this was the commencement address that JK Rowling gave to Harvard, all proceeds from sales of the book going to her Lumos charity, which helps kids, (‘30% less going to the children now’ I thought).

I opened the book at a page that made me really like JK Rowling, not only is she funny but she is also empathetic ‘ I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartache. Talent and intelligence never inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates.’ She says ‘life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.’ However many people ‘choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are.’ We collude in evil through our apathy.

America is a country that feels like it is still living in fear, still reeling from 9-11, and trying to prevent everyone, or at least those on the right side of the tracks, from ever experiencing trauma. It is like a big hyper-vigilant helicopter parent. But amongst the mainstream there seems to be little understanding of the lives outside its borders or affluence, casting them as alien, other and not quite as good. I realised that these are the barriers every single one of the young people we work with face everyday whether they suddenly find themselves prejudiced against because they were not born in the UK or because their country was torn apart by war or because their parents sent them away in hope of a better life. This country that I am visiting was built on immigration, built on people fleeing persecution for their religious beliefs built on aspiration and hope but it seems that the human memory is short.

blog5aJK Rowling finishes her commencement speech with a quote from Seneca “As is a tale, so is life; not how long it is but how good it is, is what matters.’ On Global Dignity Day we should make a commitment to make life good for all young people not just the privileged as JK Rowling says with privilege also comes a burden and those who have unique status also have a unique responsibility.



A Rap on Race

A Rap on Race

In 1971 James Baldwin and Margaret Mead sat down for 3 days and had a conversation. That conversation became a book called ‘A Rap on Race’. In the book James Baldwin an African American gay, author, admits that he had to move to Paris to understand what it meant to be an African American. Margaret Mead was a celebrated anthropologist who had become infamous in the 1930s for writing about the sexual relationships of girls in Papua New Guinea.

James Baldwin is one of my favourite authors, he writes beautiful, revealing sentences; he is also the creator of the quote that we use to define Just for Kids Law: ‘For these are all our children and we will either profit or pay for whatever they become.’ But Margaret Mead has a global perspective she is not anchored to a culture like he is and therefore is able to challenge accepted cultural norms.

The conversation was recorded at a crucial time in African American history. Not many years after the assassination of Martin Luther King and at the rise of a more angry black movement. In the book James Baldwin explains that he understands the anger of African Americans and how people of colour could no longer tolerate the culture of oppression that had existed in the USA for so long.

blog4 -firstpicThis Sunday there was a march in DC to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the Million Man March. Over 100,000 people gathered in the capital for a peaceful march, the title of the march was ‘Justice or Else’.


I have been shocked watching on the news here the incidents of police brutality. When did it become acceptable for the police, who were created to protect society from violence, to become the part of society that people fear?

The balance needs to be redressed – but what I love about being in America is that people get out on the street and stand up to be counted for the matters they believe in. I was told by a community organiser that there was no money put into organising the march, people turned up hearing about it through their own networks and communities and through their great belief in the cause.

And all the community activism made a difference – in the debate between the presidential hopefuls for the Democratic nomination there was a question around ‘Black lives Matter’ a community- organised campaign that has gained a national identity. Hilary Clinton bragged that when she was last in Vegas she was there to meet the Dreamers, the young undocumented migrants whose campaign has captured the heart of the nation and who have inspired and trained us at Just for Kids Law and Let Us Learn.

blog4 secondpicIt was particularly poignant to visit Martin Luther King’s monuments in DC the day after the march. The monuments set in an expansive park are mostly to presidents, but Martin Luther King’s stands out because he wasn’t a president. His monument was packed and the sculpture of his image is partially carved into the bare rock, incomplete, like his life. He looks out across the lake directly at Thomas Jefferson.

I would love it if in the UK the people who are oppressed, undermined, shadowed felt empowered enough, or relevant enough, to come out in the numbers that I saw here, in peaceful protest and demand the attention of the politicians and the decision makers.

So this is my challenge and I share it with all of you in Let Us Learn – can we make it happen together?

Feel the Shame England


Occasionally as part of the fellowship we attend meetings together, when there is a cross over of our areas of interest. Yesterday I found myself walking to meet with the National Juvenile Defender Center ( with Hadeel from Jordan.

Hadeel is amazing, in 2008 in a response to the lack of legal aid in Jordan (lawyers were only provided by the state if you were facing execution or life without parole) she decided to create a legal aid system! She now runs 24 offices across the country with over 110 employees. (

I was looking forward to meeting with NJDC, who started originally as part of the American Bar Association but now are a separate NGO. When we were setting up Just for Kids in 2005 we used their materials to help design our training program for lawyers representing children in the criminal justice system. Over the years their materials have been extremely helpful in trying to advance the need for specialization of lawyers representing children in the UK. Their materials were brought to the attention of Lord Carlile when he headed up the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into the Youth Justice System last year.

Kim Dvorchak is the new director of NJDC and as we sat around the table we realised how much work (struggle) we had in common. Embarrassingly, when Kim and I were discussing the way we deal with children, we both discovered that Jordan was much more progressive than either of our countries – thanks to Hadeel and the amazing work of her organisation and civil society in Jordan.

blogthreepicWe were discussing children being tried in adult courts when they are jointly charged with adults; Hadeel informed us that due to civil society efforts including Hadeel’s organisation this had just been abolished in Jordan.

When we were discussing the age of criminal responsibility Hadeel informed us Jordan had just raised the age of criminal responsibility to 12. (In England and Wales it is still the same as it was in 1933 – 10 years old.)

When we were discussing life sentences for children Hadeel informed us these had been abolished in Jordan.

I left NJDC thinking ‘Come on England, this is embarrassing, we can be better than this!’


But it has definitely motivated me to get on with doing the things that we all know- as a humane society- are right. Gen. Colin Powell said, when we met with him on Thursday, ‘No good idea happens without champions. No bad idea is killed without action.’

Everyday here I am reminded how lucky I am to have this opportunity of a life time to travel around the States for 7 weeks and to learn. I am so grateful to the Eisenhower Fellowship for giving this to me it is hard to contemplate the level of organisation that goes into providing 25 people with tailor- made itineraries to enable them to meet individuals and organisations that are most helpful to them. Perhaps the thing that I am most impressed with (today) is the agility with which our individual program officers respond. I had 2 days space in my schedule and suddenly an opportunity arose to meet with the Black Lives Matter folks in St Louis (yes please!) It seemed as soon as the e mail arrived logistics were being arranged. Then NJDC told me about their annual Juvenile Defender Summit in Salt Lake City Utah and would I like to come as their guest (yes please!) One phone call later and my programs officer Kari is seeing if she can arrange a trip into St Louis with a flight out to Salt Lake City to make it in time for the conference. It will be amazing if I can but what is more amazing is that there is someone in Philadelphia who not only is excited about these new opportunities but sets about –right away- to try to make them happen.


Thank you Ike – this is amazing.



A key and a ticket (on the road to Washington D.C.)

blogs2We are on the road again, literally, this time going to the Nation’s Capital on a coach with 25 women from around the world, nations literally from A-Z (Argentina to Zimbabwe with all the other letters in between). We have a meeting with Colin Powell who is the chair of the Eisenhower Fellowship. I am interested to hear about his experience growing up in the Bronx before desegregation.

The last couple of days have been fascinating in Philadelphia and I didn’t think that I would like the city as much as I did but last night I found out that many artists who can no longer afford to live in Manhattan or Brooklyn are moving to Philly. My inner hipster must be stronger than I thought.

We had many discussions amongst ourselves in Philly but I have been thinking about the idea of ‘memory spaces’ which I hadn’t heard of before but is a beautiful way of describing memorials and the importance of gestures. Memory spaces are there to remind people of what has happened in the past but also often to act as a note of caution to prevent what happened in the past recurring again. These memory spaces can be big or small, for example on the Miami buses there is always a seat reserved for Rosa Parks, this symbolic gesture reminds us all and teaches every child the importance of change that you believe in.

The Eisenhower Fellowship has created a powerful symbol for each of the fellows. When we went to the Eisenhower house in Philadelphia for the first time we were each presented with a key to the house – we can come here any time we like for the rest of our lives and let ourselves into the house. And the key actually works. It is such a powerful gesture and made us feel so welcome and part of a family everyone was touched by it.

Now that I have a home in Philadelphia it seemed that I should also find a job. I loved meeting with Bob Schwartz and Marsha Levick at the Juvenile Law Center ( They have been representing kids for 40 years working on the abolition of the juvenile death penalty to children sentenced to life without parole – they are inspiring and brilliant. The office space was filled with lawyers doing the kind of work that we love to do. I hope that Just for Kids Law will still feel the same in 30 years time.

My trip happened to coincide with the preparation of a case in the US Supreme Court next week – Montgomery v Louisiana where the Court will decide whether the abolition of life without parole for children applies retroactively or not. There are many prisoners here, who have been serving sentences since they were children, some dating back to the 1950s, with no hope of release who are waiting on tenterhooks for the result.

I was keen to let them know that I would love to come and hear the case being argued next since I was going to be in DC. Only to find out that not only is attendance at the US Supreme Court a ticketed event but also the tickets are coveted and very hard to come by. No chance that I would be able to get in – too late in the day. Apparently law schools take their classes to go and hear the submissions and the seats are like gold dust. I love the idea that in the UK the Supreme Court will become like that and remembered all the seats that the UK Supreme Court set out for overspill when we attended with all the Let Us Learners in the summer. It made me realise our own technological progress with the livestreaming of the Supreme Court hearings. Nothing like that here – I will have to wait for the judgment, which may be months, but I am glad to know that my parallel life in Philadelphia is pretty similar to my life in London.


On the road with Shauneen 04.10.15 Philadelphia


I had intended to call this blog ‘On the Road with Jack and Ike’ in recognition of the great American road tradition and in gratitude to the Eisenhower Fellowship who have given me this opportunity to experience the best that the USA has to offer in my line of work. It was exciting then to find out that President Eisenhower was the president who set up the inter-state highways. He felt that connectedness was the way to evolve society – and that is also the aim of the fellowship that was set up in his name. In the Eisenhower House there is a note from the president stating that the creation of the fellowship was the best birthday present that he ever had.

blog1The first stop and home to Eisenhower Fellowship is Philadelphia the City of Brotherly Love and standing at the centre of it all in the JfK Plaza is LOVE.

Philadelphia is the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 followed closely by the US constitution signed in 1787. As you arrive at the airport the text from the constitution is written largely all over the walls proudly announcing that it was in this city that “all men are created equal”.


As a lawyer it feels great to be in a city where the protection of civil liberties was created and documented, these protections have been enshrined in the fabric of this country for nearly 250 years but also the document that formalized these protections is a living and evolving thing that just this year ruled that it entitled people of the same sex to be married – a protection that could never have been envisaged at the time of its drafting but is enabled through its vitality. But thinking of the constitution also makes me sad thinking that back in the UK where we have only had the Human rights Act for 17 years it is now under threat from our government. (When you tell lawyers and non-lawyers here about the Conservative government’s proposals they cannot believe that any government would try and abolish a treaty that was created to protect the rights of individuals). Even the extreme right in this country wouldn’t want to abolish the Constitution; it is used in public litigation for both the right and the left. The idea that the Rights of Humans are aligned with the left, which is the positioning of the current British government, is not proven over the length of time. Even people who are libertarian should support a treaty that can protect the individual from intervention by the government.

blog3Philadelphia is also the city where Rocky is from and driving in in my taxi I couldn’t believe how much of the city still looked the same as a boxing movie from the 1980s. As soon as I checked into my hotel I set out to try and run up the Rocky steps – to see if I was ready to take on the metaphorical Apollo Creed.                                                    .

So I am here and in my first few hours I have learnt

  • That at the heart of JfK is love (I like that)
  • And that my first city on this journey is a city that decreed equality for all and for going the distance in the ring……..Sounds the right place to start.

I suppose I should get some sleep so that the training can begin.


Shauneen Lambe on Human Rights Day: Why the Government should raise the age of criminal responsibility

The 10th December is International Human Rights Day, when people and organisations around the world  celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights<>. Despite the significance of the day, my human rights day will begin like most of my other days: with the 9am chorus of  ‘I love yous,’  as I leave my son’s primary school.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the driving force behind the Universal Declaration, recognised that human rights begin: ‘in small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world’. She was referring to places like my son’s school, his playground, and the neighbourhoods we all live in. The former First Lady recognized that unless adults and children have equality, justice and dignity in the small places, they will never have these things elsewhere. ‘Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere,’ she said. (more…)