OFCOM Reports on Its First Year of Video-Sharing Platform Regulation

By Dr. Alexandros Antoniou, Lecturer in Media Law, University of Essex

Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, published its first report on video-sharing platforms (VSPs) since becoming the statutory regulator for such platforms established in the UK. This is the first of its kind under the VSP regime and reveals information previously unpublished by in-scope regulated companies.

Platforms’ compliance with the new VSP regime

Ofcom’s report outlines the regulator’s key outcomes from the first year of regulation (October 2021 to October 2022). Its findings stem from the use of the regulator’s statutory powers under section 368Z10(3) of the Communications Act 2003 to issue enforceable information requests to all notified VSPs.

Specifically, some platforms made positive changes to their systems and processes in light of new VSP requirements, e.g., TikTok’s dedicated online safety committee to provide oversight of content and safety compliance, Snapchat’s parental control feature, and OnlyFans’ age assurance tools for all new UK subscribers. However, Ofcom found that platforms provided limited evidence of how well their user safety measures operate, blurring as a result their effectiveness and consistency. It also emerged that some platforms are not adequately resourced, equipped and prepared for regulation. There is a clear need for some of them to improve the quality of their responses to the regulator’s information requests. Moreover, Ofcom found that risk assessment processes were not prioritised by platforms, despite their importance in proactively identifying and mitigating safety risks. Risk assessments, however, will be a requirement on all regulated services under future online safety laws that will eventually supersede the VSP regime. Finally, some adult VSPs’ access control measures were not found to be sufficiently robust in preventing children from accessing pornographic content.

Moving towards the second year of the implementation of the regime, Ofcom will dedicate most of its attention to the comprehensiveness of user policies (also known as Community Guidelines), including their application and enforcement; the availability of appropriate tools empowering users to tailor their online experience; and the implementation of suitable age verification (AV) mechanisms to protect children from harmful online content, including pornography.

To increase transparency of platform processes and raise awareness of how VSPs protect against harmful content, Ofcom’s report also sets out the measures adopted by some platforms to protect their users. The following platforms were reviewed in particular: TikTok, Snapchat, Twitch, Vimeo, BitChute, and some smaller VSPs including Fruitlab, ReCast Sport and Thomas Cook, as well as smaller adults VSPs like AdmireMe, FanzWorld and Xpanded. The report explains the governance processes within each regulated service (giving detail on their systems for online safety risk management) and the journey followed by users/ subscribers on each of these platforms.

Additional sets of research

Ofcom also made available a report on the VSP Landscape in the UK, describing the context in which providers apply protection measures. The report offers insights into: (a) who the notified VSP providers are; (b) how many users of VSPs there are in the UK and their demographics; (c) what the main business models used by VSP providers are; and (d) what information VSP providers make publicly available in their transparency reports.

With the aim of building its evidence base around the appropriateness of certain protection measures, Ofcom commissioned further sets of research to understand people’s experiences of using (and attitudes towards) safety measures on VSPs. The research explored a range of users’ perspectives, from parents (or carers) of children aged 6-17 to users of porn platforms.

More specifically, the VSP Parental Guidance Research looked at parents’ attitudes towards children’s online behaviours. In summary, it found that parents tended to perceive VSPs generally as having a constant and unregulated stream of content. Based on their current understanding and the information available to them, six in ten parents said they did not use parental controls on the VSPs that their child uses, because their child “did not need them”. Just over half of parents remembered seeing or receiving guidance on how to keep their child safe online from multiple sources (government websites being the most trusted). However, the study revealed that the process of finding information on online safety was described by many parents as overwhelming and often only prompted by a specific incident (e.g., school guidance, discovering their child was looking at inappropriate content). Parents were also appreciative of safety guidance from VSPs that was clear, digestible, accessible, and easy to understand.

An additional set of research, i.e., Adult Users’ Attitudes to Age-Verification (AV) on Adult Sites, found that, although there was broad support from adult participants for age assurance measures to prevent under-18s from accessing online pornography, UK adult sites were not doing enough to protect children. The biggest adult video-sharing site, OnlyFans, introduced new age verification in response to regulation (using third-party tools) but smaller sites based in the UK did not have sufficiently robust access control measures. Subscriber sign-on processes show that smaller UK-established adult VSPs have AV measures in place when users sign up to post content, but users can generally access adult content simply by self-declaring that they are over 18. Ofcom’s research showed that 81% of participants accepted AV measures where these were expected in general (e.g., whilst purchasing alcohol online or participating in online gambling). A similar proportion (80%) felt Internet users should be required to verify their age when accessing pornography online, especially on dedicated adult sites. The use of a credit card was the preferred means of AV for paid access to pornography. Serious concerns were expressed by participants about how user data might be processed and stored during AV processes to access pornography, reflecting a very low level of trust in the data privacy practices of adult sites.

These findings will inform Ofcom’s regulation of VSPs, including the rules on the protection of children, and its engagement with notified providers.

This article was first published on the IRIS Merlin legal database. The original pieces can be viewed here.

“The revolution will not go better with Coke”: Commemorating Sri Lanka’s 2022 Protest Movement

Sujith Rathnayake in his temporary studio holding a sign from GotaGoGama, August 2022. Photo by Lars Waldorf.

By Lars Waldorf, Essex Law School and Nilanjana Premaratna, Newcastle University

“Come, join us in jail!” read the invite to Sri Lankan artist Sujith Rathnayake’s exhibition-cum-provocation, “crisis and struggle” (8 – 15 February 2023). Indeed, a visitor to the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery in Colombo was quickly confronted by a police bus door, a remand cell gate, and paintings of fallen protesters. 

The exhibition was a timely riposte to a bankrupt regime’s lavish-under-the-circumstances Independence Day celebration on 4 February. It also was a timely commemoration of the Aragalaya (“struggle” in Sinhala), the mostly peaceful protest movement that upended the country from March to August 2022. Most importantly, though, it was a timely wake-up call to Sri Lankans that many more of them – not just Tamil and Muslim minorities or human rights activists – are now vulnerable to abuses of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

When we met Rathnayake last September at his temporary studio, he was surrounded by art, posters, and detritus salvaged from the art gallery he helped set up at GotaGoGama, the protest village (gama) on Colombo’s seaside promenade and named after the rallying cry for President Gotabaya (“Gota”) Rajapaksa to go. 

There, we saw a neo-expressionist painting of a protester on the ground holding a sign proclaiming “People’s Sovereignty.” 

At the exhibition, the canvas was set into a large, rusting iron frame with words riveted on the top (“Prevention of Terrorism Act 1979”) and the bottom (“Enforced also during the economic crisis of 2022”). When we asked him about this, he explained:

I used metal frames to show how we are restricted and trapped by this old, rusted, outdated Act. … to show how state terrorism makes all of us who are subjected to it vulnerable.

The (re)framing also captures what happened when the hopeful, prefigurative politics of the Aragalaya collided with a 43-year old law that legalizes state repression. 

“You Can’t Beat the Feeling”

At heart, the Aragalaya was a protest movement against an unprecedented economic crisis brought on by the ruling Rajapaksa family’s corruption, profligacy, and mismanagement. Faced with severe shortages of food, petrol, electricity, and medicines, thousands of ordinary citizens – many of whom had enthusiastically voted the Rajapaksas back into office in 2019 – started calling for their removal. 

On 9 April 2022, tens of thousands came together under the hashtags #OccupyGalleFace and #GotaGoHome at a site of political significance and potent symbolism. Galle Face is bounded by the Presidential Secretariat to the north and a hulking statue of Former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike to the east. Bandaranaike’s 1956 Sinhala Only Act laid the groundwork for a brutal, 26-year civil war between the majority Sinhala government and minority Tamil separatists that ended in 2009 with the then Rajapaksa government’s defeat of the Tamil Tigers amidst war crimes and crimes against humanity. Galle Face also reflects Sri Lanka’s highly indebted and highly unequal economic situation, hemmed in by a Rajapaksa construction boom gone bust: a luxury shopping mall and high-rise Shangri-La Hotel on one side and the Chinese-financed Port City on the other. 

On 9 May, violence first erupted when Rajapaksa supporters rampaged through GotaGoGama and other protest sites, beating protesters and destroying structures, including the art gallery. Some protesters retaliated with violence, but, by the end of the day, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had resigned. A month later, on 9 June, former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa resigned as an MP. Another month later and another Rajapaksa brother made an exit. On 9 July, thousands of protesters stormed the President’s residence – though some couldn’t resist a dip in the pool. Four days later, Gota was finally gone (first to the Maldives and then on to Singapore, before quietly returning some months later). Stepping up to take his place was Ranil Wickremesinghe, a political fixture who had already done five stints as Prime Minister and whose house had been burned down on 9 July

GotaGoGama quickly rebranded itself as RanilGoGama. Despite his neo-liberal, technocratic reputation, the new President called protesters “fascists” and “terrorists” on national television. Less than 24 hours after his swearing-in, he had thousands of security forces clear protesters from the Presidential Secretariat and a large swathe of Galle Face Green in the early morning hours of 22 July. The government’s own human rights commission called that action “a total violation of the fundamental rights of the people by the executive.” A subsequent police order forced protesters to dismantle the remaining structures by 10 August. Since then, the government has used the Prevention of Terrorism Act to detain and prosecute protesters – even though Wickremesinghe, in an earlier liberal incarnation, had pledged to repeal that law.  

The Aragalaya may have lasted only about 124 days, but it accomplished something previously unthinkable in Sri Lankan politics: the removal of a sitting prime minister and president – the strong-man Rajapaksas no less – through popular protest. While the movement has been criticized for not paying more attention to minority grievances and demands, it did make important, symbolic efforts to bridge ethnic divisions that the Rajapaksas were only too happy to exacerbate and exploit. At GotaGoGama, people of different faiths came together during Ramadan to help with evening meals to break the fasting. More remarkably, people of different ethnicities at the protest site held a commemoration ceremony for the thousands of Tamils killed and disappeared during the final phase of the civil war – the first public commemoration ever held in the capital.  

The Aragalaya was many things to many different participants and observers. We would argue that it was – in part – a Sri Lankan variant of the inclusive populism that appeared in earlier Occupy movements and that has been theorized by Chantal Mouffe. And, just as in those earlier movements, artists and “artivism” played a key role” in building a shared aesthetic of political and affective solidarity.  

“Things Go Better with Coke”

Rathnayake hails from the rural south – a strong-hold of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism and the Rajapaksa family’s power base – but his politics have always been reliably left-wing. By contrast, his art is confoundingly unpredictable: he shifts between high and low art, gallery and street art, individualist and relational aesthetics, charcoal line drawings and impasto acrylic paintings, and Pop Art and Neo-Expressionism. In one of his Pop Art homages, Ka-Ga-Ja 10 (2004), he critiques the Sri Lankan fetishization of artistic authenticity, high art, political repression, and global consumerism by layering different signages against the familiar white on red swoop of a Coca-Cola sign. This work later featured in an exhibition of Sri Lankan “artful resistance” in Austria and Germany.

Rathanayake’s artistic resistance took on a more collective and participatory form when he helped establish the GotaGoGama Art Gallery. As he told us:

There are lawyers, doctors, trade unions, journalists … who set up their own tents here. I came here for the first time as a painter to represent my profession. My task here is to paint things relevant to the protest.

The gallery served several functions. It made posters, banners, and billboards for the protest, “represent[ing] their fighting slogans as art.” It gave free art classes. It “provided something for people to do when they came to the protest site.”  And it raised awareness of art: “The aesthetic appreciation of art seeps into society along with people’s conceptualization of the protest through art.” 

Rathanayake didn’t just manage the gallery, he also lived in a tent at GotaGoGama. He talked about the difficulty of doing his own art under such conditions: the heat, the noise, the constant interruptions, and, of course, the attack on 9 May.

I’m not someone who cries easily but … I couldn’t help but cry when I saw the gallery burning. Only one of my paintings was burnt but there were many burnt that others had drawn. … As a painter I cannot approve burning of art, whether it is at Galle Face or at Ranil’s house.

He rebuilt the gallery with help from other artists and GotaGoGama residents. 

“It’s the Real Thing”

The opening of the “crisis & struggle” exhibition recaptured the carnivalesque creativity of GotaGoGama with a noisy parade led by several performance artists and musicians, including Jehan Appuhami, Namini Panchala, and Ajith Kumarasiri. That performance emphasized how the exhibition “is a transition from unconventional, outdoor space to established, enclosed gallery space, to continue the aragalaya discourse and to assert that the overall struggle still continues” (in the words of the Exhibition Committee).  

The exhibition itself was an interactive mix of installation, sculpture, painting, and drawing that incorporated aspects of Rathnayake’s experience at GotaGoGama: his paint-splattered clothes and a burnt drawing with the lettering “Do Not Burn Art!” But that work’s title – “Artist’s painting set on fire by the artist (2023)” – laces that political didacticism with dark humour, while proving that Rathnayake’s iconoclasm extends even to his own work. In a similar vein, the police bus door with a painted policeman staring out is titled, following Magritte, “This is not the police.” And, like Rathnayake’s earlier Coke sign, hardly “the real thing.” 

But Rathnayake’s show was more concerned with connecting the treachery of images to the treachery of the state. Three paintings of subjected bodies and two paintings of incarcerated faces are titled “Aragalaya and the Rusted [Prevention of Terrorism] Act.” The installation with Rathnayake’s clothes on a metal bed and a copy of the Sri Lankan Constitution underneath is titled “Rusted Constitution operational also during the 2022 economic crisis.” As these works make painfully clear, Sri Lanka’s latest Executive President has, once again, turned the people’s rule of law into the state’s rule by law. While that counter-revolution may not get televised the way the Aragalaya did, Rathnayake has ensured that it will at least be exhibited – and artfully resisted

This article was first published by Groundviews and is reproduced on the ELR Blog with permission and thanks.

Essex Law School Researcher’s New Book Nominated for Two Awards

Photo by Mikołaj on Unsplash

Author Dr Jaime Lindsey from Essex Law School, researched mental capacity law in practice by observing Court of Protection hearings, reviewing court files, and conducting interviews with social workers, mediators and lawyers, in addition to theoretical and doctrinal analysis. 

The Court of Protection can make decisions about a person’s mental capacity and make best interests rulings on financial, health, or welfare matters for people who may lack the capacity to make their own decisions. 

This can include a range of decisions across a person’s life, including decisions about medical treatment, where to live, whether a person can have a sexual relationship or whether they can manage their finances. 

Analysing the court through a procedural justice lens, she concludes that procedural justice is not always secured for the person at the heart of Court of Protection cases, as they often do not participate, their experiential evidence is discounted and the court is not designed with the person at the centre of its practice. 

This impacts upon their ability to secure access to justice. 

Dr Lindsey’s book, Reimagining the Court of Protection: Access to Justice in Mental Capacity Law, outlines her main findings and goes on to make a case for reimagining the Court of Protection as an institution that better secures access to justice for its subjects, with specific recommendations for reform. 

The book has been shortlisted by the Socio-Legal Studies Association for the Hart SLSA prize for early career academics, and the Hart SLSA book prize 2023.

Dr Lindsey said: “I am delighted and honoured to have been shortlisted for two prestigious SLSA prizes for my book, Reimagining the Court of Protection. 

This is an area which impacts so many people daily and this book, looking at the realities of mental capacity law in practice drawing on empirical socio-legal research, shines a light on the work of this important jurisdiction.”

The winning book in each category will be announced at the annual SLSA conference in April.

This story was first published on the University of Essex’s news webpages and is reproduced on the ELR Blog with permission and thanks.

OPINION: Why the European Convention on Human Rights matters to LGBTQ+ people

Photo by Katie Rainbow on Unsplash

By Lee Marsons, Essex Law School

The ECHR has been instrumental over the past few decades in terms of moving the dial forward for LGBTQ+ rights in the UK

Rishi Sunak, the British Prime Minister, is said to be actively considering withdrawing the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

This would be a very bad decision. The ECHR is an international treaty that most European countries signed after the tragedies of the second world war, committing them to protect fundamental human rights. It is separate from the European Union.

The UK’s membership of the ECHR has played an important role in increasing the protection afforded to LGBTQ+ people over many years. There are three legal cases in particular that demonstrate how the ECHR has prompted Parliament and the government to respect the rights of LGBTQ+ people. LGBTQ+ people should reject calls to withdraw from the ECHR and raise awareness of the good that this treaty has done.

Homosexuality and the army: Until 2000, the UK Ministry of Defence had a blanket ban on gay men and lesbian women serving in the army. This was based on the prejudice that homosexuality was “incompatible with service in the Armed Forces”.

When the case was heard by an English court in Smith v Ministry of Defence, the judges concluded that the ban was lawful. By contrast, when the case was heard in the Strasbourg Court – the international court that interprets the ECHR – the judges concluded that the ban was a violation of the UK’s obligation to respect the private life of gay men and lesbian women and found it unlawful.

Though controversial at the time, the Strasbourg Court’s opinion is now wholly mainstream, with the Ministry of Defence issuing an apology in 2007, and the current government establishing an “LGBT Veterans Independent Review” in 2022 to explore the effects of the ban on LGBTQ+ veterans.

Transgender recognition: Until 2004, UK law did not allow trans people – including those who had had surgery – to live as their true gender for legal purposes. A trans woman could not, for example, marry as a woman and would be registered as a man for all legal purposes, such as employment and social security.

In 2002, in Goodwin v United Kingdom, the Strasbourg Court concluded that this was a disproportionate interference with trans people’s right to respect for their private life. This case did not consider exactly when legal recognition should be possible – such as through self-identification – but it did decide that the failure to provide any legal recognition, including for post-operative trans people, was unlawful.

This case was a major factor in the trend towards legal recognition of trans people.

In 2003, the British courts in Bellinger v Bellinger concluded that UK law should be brought into line with the Strasbourg Court’s decision and, through the Gender Recognition Act 2004, it eventually was.

Decriminalising gay sex: While homosexual sex was decriminalised in England, Wales, and Scotland in 1967, consensual homosexual sex remained a criminal offence for which men could be imprisoned in Northern Ireland until 1982.

This was reversed only after a Strasbourg Court case called Dudgeon v United Kingdom, which found that the criminalisation of consensual homosexual sex was a disproportionate interference with the private lives of gay men. After this case, ministers changed the law of Northern Ireland so that gay men could have sex without being imprisoned.

LGBTQ+ History Month is a good time to reflect on how we have succeeded in moving closer to equality for everyone in the UK over many years. Naturally, there are no simple answers.

The effective promotion of LGBT rights has involved a network of political, social, legislative, judicial, domestic, and international action.

The ECHR will never be the only answer, but it has been and remains part of the answer and the government is wrong to contemplate withdrawal. LGBTQ+ people in the UK should reject calls to withdraw from this important treaty.

This piece was first published on Openly and is reproduced on the ELR Blog with permission and thanks.

The piece was also cited on the floor of the House of Commons by Alison Thewliss MP here.

Essex Law School Professor Accorded the Title of Sérgio Vieira de Mello Chair

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Upon the nomination of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Professor Geoff Gilbert has been accorded the title of Sérgio Vieira de Mello Professor of International Human Rights & Humanitarian Law in the Essex Law School & Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex!

Sérgio Vieira de Mello worked most of his life for the UNHCR, retired and was then asked to serve as Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq. He was killed in the Baghdad bombing of 2003. He was Brazilian and the government immediately created Sérgio Vieira de Mello Chairs that were meant to be available across the whole of South and Central America to promote education on and for, research regarding, and solidarity with forcibly displaced persons.

The expansion beyond Brazil did not happen until Goeff took on the role of inaugural Chair of the Secretariat of the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network and there are now SVdM Chairs in Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Ethiopia, with plans for Mozambique and Thailand. Geoff’s initial plan was for the chairs to be established in low- and middle-income countries that host the vast majority of the 103 million people within UNHCR’s mandate, but UNHCR wants to expand these globally akin to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Chairs. 

Geoff is the first Sérgio Vieira de Mello Professor in the global North, reflecting his education, research and solidarity regarding forcibly displaced persons for the past thirty (30) years.

Congratulations to Professor Gilbert!

Adjudicating the Right to Liberty: The Use and Appropriateness of Discretion at the European Court of Human Rights

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By Dr Sabina Garahan, Essex Law School

Dr Sabina Garahan, Lecturer at Essex Law School, has completed her AHRC-funded doctoral research on “Adjudicating the Right to Liberty: The Use and Appropriateness of Discretion at the European Court of Human Rights”. The thesis critically assesses the level of protection offered by European human rights law against arbitrary detention. Dr Garahan argues that the appropriateness of discretion granted to Contracting States in this sphere requires the Court to recognise the need for a progressive interpretation of the right to liberty (as enshrined in Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights). The thesis develops a new framework for determining the appropriateness of discretion by linking the Court’s use of its methods of interpretation to their underlying approaches. Dr Garahan’s development and application of this framework in the Article 5 context is rooted in thorough doctrinal and theoretical analysis as well as empirical findings on the practice of the European Court of Human Rights as gathered through interviews with serving judges. 

On this basis, the thesis finds that the Court neglects an evolutive reading of Article 5, thereby stifling the progressive development of the provision. It is argued that, at the same time, an increased turn to subsidiarity has undermined the Court’s oversight role. A new framework for allocating discretion that takes consensus as a starting point in the Court’s review is suggested to address these challenges. It is argued that centring the role of consensus as part of an evolutive approach to Article 5 will not only achieve the progressive interpretation mandated by the Convention, but will also create a more consistent and thus legitimate body of Article 5 jurisprudence. 

Dr Garahan makes the argument that an inappropriate level of discretion is accorded to States in determining whether the aims of detention, in particular in the fields of pre-trial detention, the detention of minors and immigration detention, have been met. The lack of progressive advancement of the right to liberty in the Convention system also results in the right being disproportionately ceded to both individual and public interests in proportionality testing. Dr Garahan therefore ultimately concludes that continued neglect of a progressive interpretation of Article 5 risks undermining not only the further realisation of the right to liberty, but indeed its continued maintenance as a vital tool of human rights protection.

Teaching the Right to Information without Chairs: Human Rights Education on a Kathmandu Dance Floor

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By Professor Lars Waldorf, Essex Law School

Once again, I was called on to be living proof that anyone can dance. I showed off my worst moves. I told how my wife recently abandoned me on the dance floor. The facilitator confirmed that I was the tensest person he had ever encountered in his inclusive (mixed-abled) dance workshops. Once again, we put my own embodied embarrassment to some use: to begin the process of breaking down barriers, reassuring workshop participants, encouraging inclusive dance aesthetics, and thereby co-creating a safe space for bringing dance, disability, and rights together. 

What was different this time is we were training Nepali dancers, lawyers, and, most importantly, war-disabled activists in a pioneering method of transformative human rights education developed by VisAbility in Sri Lanka (with support from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), British Council, Goethe Institute, and Schmitz Stiftungen). What was also different is we were focusing specifically on the Right to Information (RTI) as a way for war-disabled people to demand more transparency and fairness in the provision of social protection and reparations. 

This South-South training and knowledge exchange was led by Mahesh Umagiliya, a Sri Lankan choreographer/dancer and a co-founder of VisAbility, alongside Vinothine Balasubramaniam, a Sri Lankan RTI activist. The Nepali participants came from the National Network of Disabled Conflict Victims (NNDCV), the human rights NGO Advocacy Forum, and the music school NAAD Sangeet Pathshala. I was there not only as an ice-breaker, but also to provide some (much less fun) training on project evaluation, ethics, and data management in my role as Principal Investigator on our Performing/Informing Rights project.


Civil war inevitably maims and mutilates. After war, people with conflict-related, physical impairments are likely to experience extreme poverty, social exclusion, and illegal discrimination – notwithstanding the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to “leave no one behind” and notwithstanding 184 states ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is certainly the case in post-war Sri Lanka and Nepal where disabled people frequently lack the knowledge, confidence, resources, and access to claim their rights, benefits, and reparations. 

Our earlier AHRC-funded Performing Empowerment project (2016-18) brought together transformative human rights education, legal empowerment, and inclusive dance to enable war-disabled people in northern and eastern Sri Lanka to claim their rights and benefits. However, a few disabled participants became understandably frustrated and discouraged by a lack of government response to their applications for disability benefits. As a result, we saw a need to empower disabled people to chase up their claims-making to government officials using Sri Lanka’s strong RTI law. Hence, this new AHRC-funded Performing/Informing Rights project (2021-23) that not only adds RTI to VisAbility’s trainings in Sri Lanka but also tests whether VisAbility’s methods can be adapted and applied to Nepal’s post-war context.

Both projects develop a novel form of transformative human rights education for disabled and non-disabled people using dance. According to a 2011 UN Declaration, human rights education is all about “empowering persons to enjoy and exercise their rights and to respect and uphold the rights of others.” Transformative human rights education takes this further through experiential learning focused on how rights can address everyday forms of political, economic, and social exclusion. It also emphasizes playful, participatory, and embodied learning. Indeed, dance has been used to teach, perform, and campaign for human rights, perhaps most famously with the One Billion Rising Campaign.

Both of our projects also pioneer a more holistic form of legal empowerment. Legal empowerment is a form of rights-based development by which the poor are enabled to use law to make rights claims and improve their livelihoods. Despite the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ call to empower disabled persons and provide “equal access to justice for all,” there has been surprisingly little attention to how legal empowerment might help war-disabled people. VisAbility has started filling that gap while also using inclusive dance to combine somatic and psycho-social empowerment with legal empowerment.  

Mixing Rights and Dance 

It’s not easy to combine rights and dance. For one thing, law privileges words, whereas dance relies on embodied expression. For another, there is a risk of instrumentalizing dance and thus losing some of its creative potential. Furthermore, the most visible examples tend to be professional performances, such as William Forsythe’s “Human Writes” and Pichet Klunchun’s “7 Decades of Human Rights,” rather than grassroots, education projects.

VisAbility is still experimenting with how best to mix dance and rights – something that Mahesh has likened to “putting sweet buns with chilli sambal”. Initially, its workshops had separate sessions on each. With the Performing Empowerment project, VisAbility started explicating dance movements through rights language and teaching rights using those movements (partly as mnemonic devices or body memories). 

With this new project, VisAbility is aiming for a more ambitious synthesis of dance and rights. That first meant Vinothine training Mahesh on RTI and him leading an RTI training himself. It also meant Mahesh training Vinothine on dance and VisAbility’s methods. They then worked closely with Helena-Ulrike Marambio, the project’s Post-Doctoral Research Associate, to develop a draft training resource. However, Sri Lanka’s economic and political crisis meant Mahesh and Vinothine had to do this all online in the face of electricity outages. It wasn’t until they got to their Kathmandu guesthouse that they could actually start working through the resource together in the same physical space. 

For Mahesh, one of the biggest challenges is that RTI training involves “a lot of information you have to deliver” which is “really hard to put into a dance task” because it needs to be learned “as information, not as something else, not as something realized in a symbolic way.” Another challenge was to “create a methodology that was not only suitable for Sri Lanka but can be used in another country also.” 

Training and Knowledge Exchange

Even though the Nepali participants knew they would be learning dance and RTI, they were wrong-footed from the get-go. As Amisha Adhikari, one of Advocacy Forum’s lawyers, told us afterwards: “When they first entered the workshop venue, they were stunned because they did not see any chairs, any writing materials, projector, all that stuff. So, they kept coming to me asking … How are you going to talk about RTI [without that]?” What Mahesh and Vinothine quickly demonstrated is that moving bodies are a whole lot more fun than PowerPoints. As Vinothine put it, “without boring [them], we can deliver our knowledge and participants are engaged with the dance.”

Mahesh and Vinothine didn’t hesitate to deviate from the training resource as they read both the mood and bodies in the room. Still, some of the RTI exercises proved too complicated, which prompted me to suggest we “simplify and exaggerate” – simplify the RTI content and exaggerate the movements to make things more memorable. So, we focused on five key stages of the RTI process rather than trying to teach all 13 stages. Participants proposed movements to represent each RTI stage and we voted as a group for the ones we liked the best. Mahesh then helped us simplify and exaggerate the five chosen movements and had us rehearse the sequence over and over, so the RTI process became muscle memory. As Amisha later said: “The law is very complicated, right … but once they perform it by themselves through movements, through gestures, they will be able to remember those gestures and movements even if they don’t remember the legal provisions.” Earlier, though, she had had some doubts: “As a law student and as a lawyer, I always felt like law requires seriousness. … Dance is more like entertainment. So, I was confused how the two of them will work [together].”

Mandira Sharma, a prominent human rights lawyer and founder of Advocacy Forum, told me that she too had initially been “very puzzled” and “a little bit sceptical” about how dance and rights could be combined. But she explained that the training had “really opened our minds” as they saw how dance made it “easier for a non-legal person to really understand what the RTI process is about.” She added that dance is “really an empowering tool – even for us [as human rights activists].”

Moving from Dance Performances towards Street Theatre

On the last afternoon of the workshop, Mahesh choreographed a short work of “street theatre” (often a mix of theatre, dance, and music performed outdoors) that depicted a war-disabled woman using the RTI process to gain the government-issued disability card that entitles her to interim reparations. After just three, rather free-wheeling rehearsals, we performed for staff of the Taragaon Museum that had so generously hosted us. Afterwards, one audience member encouraged us to perform in more venues, including hospitals and rehabilitation centres.

VisAbility usually caps its workshops with dance performances at parks, outdoor markets, and street junctions. The performances serve three important purposes. First, they build cohesion and solidarity among the workshop participants. Second, they help empower participants: once they have danced in public spaces, they are less shy about performing their rights to government officials. Finally, they challenge the stigmatizing, shaming, and invisibilizing of disabled people in everyday life. As Gerda König, the German choreographer and VisAbility co-founder, has said: “Yeah, [people] are staring at them, or they look away, or they don’t even see them, but [for the workshop participants] to be as a crowd there [gives] so much power.”  

Until now, VisAbility’s dance performances have been mostly abstract or non-representational. There was some resistance to using dance didactically to tell stories about challenging discrimination and claiming rights. But with this new project, VisAbility is moving towards more representational movements (partly due to more co-creation with workshop participants) and then integrating that with verbal storytelling about RTI. This may prove more resonant for participants and audiences. After all, there is a rich tradition of using street theatre to challenge injustices in Nepal and Sri Lanka. And street theatre has been used to promote RTI awareness in places like BangladeshIndia, and Sri Lanka

While all of us were energized by our three days together, the real test comes when our Nepali colleagues start conducting their own dance and RTI workshops, as well as performances, with war-disabled and non-disabled people at the grassroots level. 

This article was first published on the project website https://performingempowerment.wordpress.com/  

Reimagining the Court of Protection: Access to Justice in Mental Capacity Law

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Dr Jaime Lindsey of Essex Law School has recently published a book titled Reimagining the Court of Protection: Access to Justice in Mental Capacity Law with Cambridge University Press. Dr Lindsey provides an original account of the workings of the Court of Protection as one of the first researchers authorized to observe hearings and access the court’s files. Using original empirical data, the book takes a socio-legal approach to understanding how the Mental Capacity Act operates in practice to achieve access to justice.

Dr Lindsey contributes to the call for the reform of this important court from a procedural justice perspective, to ensure a better experience for those who use it, and to meet the requirements of access to justice.

A piece detailing further information about this book was published on Cambridge Blog and can be found here.

Competition Law in Context: Workshop Retracing the Work of Professor Steve Anderman

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In collaboration with the Oxford Centre for Competition Law and Policy & Journal of Antitrust Enforcement, the Swedish Network for European Legal Studies (SNELS) invites the public to a workshop in honour of emeritus Professor Steven Anderman at Essex Law School.

Björn Lundqvist (SNELS/Stockholm University) and Hedvig Schmidt (Southampton Law School) will host the workshop which seeks to capture the common theme oriented towards the “big ideas” which kept Professor Steven Anderman’s attention throughout his academic career: ‘competition’ as a means to secure the very basis of the EU’s legal order. Steven has an outstanding talent to place legal problems into a broader context and framework. This is what the workshop would like to retrace in his work, and what the workshop will seek to portray.

The workshop will be held on 26 January 2023 in the Harold Lee Room at Pembroke College, Oxford from 1.20pm-7pm GMT.

For registration and any further questions regarding this invitation, please email the network coordinator Palle Söderberg at palle.soderberg@juridicum.su.se.

Policing Priorities: Essex Law School academic submits evidence to the Home Affairs Committee

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Policing in England and Wales is under more scrutiny than ever, following high-profile criminal and disciplinary cases involving police officers, low charging and detection rates (not least for rape and sexual offences cases), and lingering concerns about how forces deal with women and people from minority communities.

On 21 July 2022, the Home Affairs Committee launched an inquiry into the priorities of policing at a time when public confidence in the police is low and six of the nation’s forces have been hit with special measures. The Committee will publish its final report in early 2023. Dr. Simon Cooper responded to the Committee’s call for evidence.

Dr Cooper’s research, previously reported exclusively in The Times and published in Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, found that Police and Crime Panels (PCPs), introduced as part of flagship Conservative reforms in 2011 are ‘toothless’, leaving police accountability, for the first time in history, largely dependent on the one-to-one relationships between Chief Constables and elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).  

His submission to the Home Affairs Committee argues that the relational accountabilities of Chief Constables, PCCs and PCPs are unbalanced, untested, and risky. 

In addition to recommending that the role and powers of PCPs be strengthened, a key conclusion of his submission is that the Home Secretary must exercise their statutory power and consult with the parties bound by the Policing Protocol to examine if the Policing Protocol should be varied or possibly replaced.

Notably, Dr. Cooper’s submission also calls on the Home Secretary to introduce a Memorandum of Understanding to bind PCCs and Chief Constables to ensure ‘effective, constructive working relationships’ are not just a quixotic pursuit but a practical reality that helps safeguard the accountability and governance of policing.

Dr. Cooper’s previous work was cited by the House of Commons in its 2021 report on Police and Crime Commissioners and the House of Lords in its 2022 report on Police and Crime Commissioners: Powers and Functions. Previous recommendations made by him were also adopted by the Strategic Review of Policing in England and Wales in 2022.