FTRP Law & Politics Social Sciences

Has financial background and race impacted the crime rates in the UK for the past 10 years and why, and what are the ways to fix it?

This long-read article was written by lower-sixth former Zion Kim, and shortlisted for the 2020 Fifth Form Transitional Research Project. The following provides a short abstract to his full essay, which can be found at the bottom.

Estimated read time of abstract: 2 minutes
Estimated read time of essay: 12 minutes

When I was writing this FTRP project, it was during a time when every social media platform, every news site was flooded with ‘facts’ or posts about racial injustice, and racism in the police force. There was especially a huge outrage due to the death due to police brutality of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Eliah McClain. However all these cases being American, I wanted to find out how serious of a problem this issue was in the UK. I had watched John Boyega’s speech and thought that if I was going to do an FTRP that I was interested in, I should do it on how ethnicity and financial backgrounds effect crime rates in the UK.   

The moment I started my research, there was already a clear indication that there were more minorities being arrested in comparison to those of white ethnicity, the most ethnicity that was being arrested the most often being black. Not only this, but although it may seem as if the problem of racial prejudice has started to improve, data showed that whereas the proportion of white inmates in youth offender institutions overall decreased in the past decade, the proportion of black inmates had been experiencing an increase. This was not the only problem, as I also found out that those who were earning very low wages in comparison to the average, were much more likely to be victims of crime. So what could be the reason to all this imbalance?  

Upon further research, I realised that this was not an easy question to answer. There was no straightforward answer, there were many causes and many problems that led to a simple answer. One of the main causes was the fact that households with lower income were often underfunded by the government, and that most minority ethnicities had a lower income in comparison to the white ethnicity. My research indicated that poor funding, poor education and many other factors eventually led to many financially struggling individuals, many of a minority ethnicity committing crimes and being charged. This was made no better with the police force being predominantly white, which could lead to more tensions due to difference in race.  

However, what would be really useful would be to look at what can be done to improve the situation, as feeling down about the problem would not make anyone feel better. Although I wasn’t able to find the best solution to this problem, some things that the government could try to do would be to encourage higher employment rates in the education sector and the police force.  

To conclude, I would say that my project showed that there is a grave problem that needs to be addressed: ethnic minorities are at a disadvantage in face of the UK’s law enforcement and system. There are many causes to this, however what we can do to help solve this is something that everyone can have a think about.  

To view Zion’s full article, follow this link below.

FTRP Law & Politics Social Sciences

How can sport reduce the problem of overcrowding in British prisons?

This long-read article was written by lower-sixth former Barney Doyle, and shortlisted for the 2020 Fifth Form Transitional Research Project. The following provides a short abstract to his full essay, which can be found at the bottom.

Estimated read time of abstract: 2 minutes
Estimated read time of essay: 12 minutes

Britain has a crippling overcrowding problem in prisons costing billions of taxpayers’ money. Two thirds of prisons are overcrowded leading to increases in levels of violence and poor mental health amongst inmates. This leads to longer prison sentences exacerbating a catastrophic problem. However, in my FTRP I propose a solution that is unorthodox but potentially very effective in reducing rates of reoffending and hence prison overcrowding. 

There are many well documented benefits to physical and mental health from regular participation in sport – such as reduced risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, different types of cancer, reduced risk of depression, dementia, etc. Also, sport teaches lessons that are invaluable in life in general like: 

  • Teamwork 
  • Tenacity 
  • How to receive instructions – for example from captains or coaches 

There are also reports of how sport helps to reduce crime in communities all around the world.  For example, crime dropped by over 10% in Chicago when the Chicago Bears played American Football with potential offenders occupied by watching the game rather than committing crime. The chief custodial officer of New Zealand has spoken of the significance of participating in sport in prison saying it is ‘A great way of establishing a community spirit’.  

Regular participation in sport has also been shown to have the potential to reduce the number of re-offending prisoners. Inspired by Project Alcatraz, a project in Venezuela using rugby to help prisoners in some of the toughest prisons in the world, I created a programme for newly released prisoners in the UK. Project Alcatraz has been extremely effective at reducing the reoffending rate in Venezuela and I describe this successful project in my report.  My proposals involve setting up a network of support groups using over 60 rugby and football teams to help provide ex-prisoners with counselling, food, courses in various trades, transport to and from games and free kit.  Arguably most importantly, my proposals would provide a support network of people all going through the same experiences and challenges who are able to offer advice and help when it could matter the most. In addition, I detail the costs of running this programme and demonstrate how it could be not only self-funding but in fact save the Government tens of millions of pounds every year. 

In my report I explain how sport is not only one approach, but in my opinion the best way to reduce the 18,000 people overcrowded in British prisons today. 

To view Barney’s full article, follow this link below.

Arts & Humanities FTRP Geography Law & Politics

USA vs New Zealand: To what extent do their national flags represent their population?

This long-read article was written by lower-sixth former Matthew Kassir, and shortlisted for the 2020 Fifth Form Transitional Research Project. The following provides a short abstract to his full essay, which can be found at the bottom.

Estimated read time of abstract: < 1 minute
Estimated read time of essay: 12 minutes

For centuries, flags have formed a major part of our national identity, a symbol for which we belong to and believe in. As times changes, so do nations, and this report looks at two topical, yet different flags, namely those of the United States and New Zealand; assessing to what extent these flags still accurately represent their population, and whether a change is due?

Arguably, The Star-Spangled Banner is one of the most compelling symbols of national pride in this world, with the rich history it entails, and its projected message of ‘the American dream’; the post-colonial flag, historically, has been synonymous with the strong patriotism of its citizens. However, as we see more controversies shroud the nation every year, in relation to racial and ethnic equality, Americans demand change – a change so drastic that a new symbol of their nation is vital? 

On the other hand, this report examines the flag of New Zealand, looking closely at the referendum in 2016, and how even though all roads led change for the pre-colonial symbol, 56% of voters decided this outdated and possibly discriminative flag should still represent their national identity. Whether that be due to respect for their fallen soldiers, or even the economic cost of changing it, the report will ask why the flag has not changed, and if it realistically ever should?

To view Matthew’s full article, follow this link below.

Independent Learning Assignment Law & Politics Social Sciences

Brown and Blue: An Assessment of British Indian Voting Behaviour

This essay was written by upper-sixth former Omeet Atara, and shortlisted for the 2020 Independent Learning Assignment. The following provides a short abstract to the full essay, which can be found at the bottom.

Estimated read time of abstract: 3 minutes
Estimated read time of essay: 90 minutes

In the last decade there have been radical changes in UK politics, with Brexit and Bojo becoming household names. However, behind the apparent shift towards the Conservative Party the role of the British Indian Community has been vastly understated. Since 2010, the British Indian vote has shifted rapidly towards the Conservative Party with over 30% of British Indians switching towards them. Hence, this psephology change has gone a long way to enabling the Conservative Parties success.  

However, we must ask ourselves why this change as occurred? In my ILA, I argue that fundamentally, the shift has occurred due to changing policy within the Conservative Party, historical deterioration, and active political strategy. Using personal heritage, a range of literature and media and first-hand interviews with leading political figures such as Lord Popat, Lord M Desai and Chris Grayling MP I construct an overall picture of British Indian Voting Behaviour.  

1.4 million British Indians are currently settled in Britain, and they all stem from historical immigration. Indians have to come to Britain since the 1700s and the formation of the East India Company. They began as sailors, however, then cooks and academics came over to supply the British with India cuisine. My ILA traces this heritage, through partition, immigration from Uganda and Kenya in the 1960s and 1970s then the Thatcher, Blair and Cameron years looking at immigration policy and how this affected the Indian diaspora. This combines with personal heritage, as my maternal grandfather travelled as an illegal immigrant in 1968, to escape the brutality of Jomo Kenyatta and then my father to escape Idi Amin in 1982. The hundreds of thousands of British Indians who have came to Britain in the period 1960-1990 are distinctly loyal to the political party which allowed them in country. I also explore how geographical location has affected generations to come, particularly South Indian workers coming to Britain in the 1940s, working in unionised jobs in the North.  

However, there have been generation loyalty decline, with later generations being far less loyal to the party which originally “let them in.” This when policy from the Conservative Party has begun to appeal to the British Indian voters. From the surveys I conducted it was clear that, firstly British Indian voters are overwhelmingly voting on rationality, and often the rational policy which benefits them is from the Conservative Party. Economically, British Indians are on average the wealthiest race which often means they support the low tax policies. Culturally and Socially, they believe in harsh punishment and law and order, something which also aligns with the Conservative Party. In my ILA, I explore Cultural, Social, Education, Economic, Political and Foreign policies and the vast majority of British Indian interests align with Conservative Party Policy.  

Finally, I explored the directives of both major political parties. Kashmir is a deeply contentious issue, and the Labour Party have moved away from the Indian Government stance of non-interference. This angered many British Indians; how felt they could not support the Labour Party. One the other hand, the Conservative party has represented British Indians at the top level of Government, with 4 Cabinet Ministers having Indian heritage. Alongside this, the formation of the Conservative Friends of India has also involved the Indian communities in Britain within the Conservative party.  

I end my piece with my own political theory I developed based upon this research. Targeted Seat Theory is the idea that appealing to cultural politics within a seat is the most effective way to win seats. By using the majority interests and representing this on a local level you gain a significant vote proportion. This was seen in my case study, Harrow East.  

Overall, my ILA combines Politics, Anthropology, Sociology, History, Geography and Economics to create the picture of a British Indian voter. From this, I begin to work out how parties in the modern era have appealed to voters and then develop a wider political theory. The change I explore has gone unnoticed behind the bluster of sensationalist politics for too long and has crucial role in determining who the Government is.

To view Omeet’s full article, follow this link below.


FTRP Law & Politics Social Sciences

Why did ‘Workington Man’ vote Conservative? An analysis of the factors contributing to the fall of the ‘Red Wall’

This essay was written by lower-sixth former Dominic
Stagg, and shortlisted for the 2020 Fifth Form Transitional Research Project. The following provides a short abstract to the full essay, which can be found at the bottom.

Estimated read time of abstract: 1 minute
Estimated read time of essay: 16 minutes

Throughout modern British electoral history, the useof political stereotypes to identify potentially decisive voters has become increasingly common within the mainstream media, and influential in dictating the way in which political parties’campaign. In the 2019 UK General Election, this trend manifested itself as ‘Workington Man’-an older, white man who traditionally supported the Labour Party but voted ‘Leave’ in the EU Referendum in 2016. The Conservative Party’s substantial victory was characterised by the supposed fall of the Labour Party’s ‘Red Wall’, a term used to describe traditionallyLabour-supporting constituencies based in North Wales, Northern England,and the Midlands, regions in which ‘Workington Man’ is concentrated. This would therefore suggestthat‘Workington Man’was extremely significant in shaping the outcome of the election.

However, whilst the significance of ‘Workington Man’ was undoubtable, the reasons that caused this momentous shift from Labour to Conservative remain less obvious. It is true that the 2019 election was dominated and polarised by Brexit, yet the root causes of the breaking down of inherent social, political, and economic barriers between ‘Workington Man’ and the Conservatives would appear to be more complex and deep-rooted. Therefore, in this essay, I sought to gain a greater insight into the various short-term and long-term factors that contributed to ‘Workington Man’s’ disenfranchisement from the Labour Party, that ultimately caused the majority of such an electorate to vote Conservative in 2019. These are divided into three similarly important sub-sections: Brexit, in both its exaggeration of growing social polarisation and, more profoundly, in the way it offered political empowerment, as well as cultural issues and economic issues. I concluded that 2019 marked the culmination of the interaction between these separate but overlapping factors, a point in which ‘Workington Man’ and the Conservatives became politically aligned. Furthermore, I argued that ‘Workington Man’s’ reasons for voting Conservative were rooted not just in the Conservative’s appeal, amore recent phenomenon arising from both Brexit and the Conservative’s cultural shift, but also in a feeling of marginalisation from the Labour Party that can be traced much further back.

To view Dominic’s full article, follow this link below.

Arts & Humanities FTRP Geography Law & Politics Social Sciences

Why did the UK withdraw from Singapore and Malaysia and what were the consequences for the region?

This essay was written by lower-sixth former Alexander Downey, and shortlisted for the 2020 Fifth Form Transitional Research Project. The following provides a short abstract to the full essay, which can be found at the bottom.

Estimated read time of abstract: 2 minutes
Estimated read time of essay: 12 minutes

When Harold Wilson took over as Prime Minister in 1964 from Alec Douglas-Home, he inherited a country riddled with financial difficulties. Macmillan’s supposed “Age of Affluence” left a remarkable balance of payments deficit of £400 million. The economic downturn was the trigger for calls for a review and a change in the way money was being spent and invested in foreign affairs and the military when the number of Brits at home who needed financial support grew.

Ever since the end of the Second World War Britain’s influence on the world stage had been in decline along with her empire. This led to Wilson taking the decision to continue with the post-war consensus idea of focusing on becoming a political power in Europe and adapting a role there rather than a worldwide role. Part of this meant reducing military commitments around the world, the term “East of Suez” was coined to refer to all British military bases and territories in the Eastern hemisphere, this included Malaysia and Singapore.

This region had a rather unique political situation due to the unique way in which Malaysia and Singapore were linked as well as Malaysia’s internal divisions. Following the decision to give independence to Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, and Borneo forming the Federation of Malaysia, the internal politics of this new country were chaotic to say the least. The Malaysian-Chinese population were discriminated against by the Islamophilic regime leading to violent protests, Britain then feared they would be drawn into a Vietnam style conflict, especially when Singapore separated itself from the Federation forming its own sovereign state. The political tensions along with Britain’s changing international role were important factors in the decision to withdraw from Malaysia and Singapore. 

However, one can argue that the role of pressure groups in the UK were more important as they emphasised Britain’s changing role and the dangerous political atmosphere of the region at the time. Whilst the importance of the pressure groups is often overlooked, the main point they pushed was the economic situation and the cost of having military bases in the Eastern hemisphere, Wilson was aware of this, so the importance of the pressure groups was much less than the economic situation at home at the time. The consequences for the region have been, in the long run, intrinsically positive. Malaysia’s economy in particular initially suffered an economic downturn but both countries are now amongst the most powerful Southeast Asian economies and continue to grow. 

To view Alexander’s full article, follow this link below.

Arts & Humanities FTRP History Law & Politics

To what extent does Mao Zedong deserve his reputation as one of history’s most notorious dictators?

This essay was written by lower-sixth former Austin Humphrey, and shortlisted for the 2020 Fifth Form Transitional Research Project. The following provides a short abstract to the full essay, which can be found at the bottom.

Estimated read time of abstract: 2 minutes
Estimated read time of essay: 11 minutes

Mao Zedong was Chairman of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 to his death in 1976. Mao was a Communist revolutionary, described as having an ‘emphatic aura’ and ‘exuding overwhelming power’. He is known globally as an infamous killer, responsible for the deaths of millions, but can he be compared to the likes of Hitler or Stalin? Another question to consider is what makes a notorious dictator, and due to these factors we can determine whether or not Mao deserves his reputation. 

Firstly, we can examine the death toll of Mao. In 1958, Mao’s ‘Great leap forward’ killed approximately forty million people, by forcing peasants to stop work on farms and begin production of steel. Mao took over all agriculture in China, with no farming experience. He demanded that farmers kill sparrows, to stop them eating the crops. However, the sparrows were only eating pests, thus improving crop yields. Hence Mao’s arrogance and ignorance caused one of the most devastating famines in history.  

To compare Mao’s numbers here, we should look at Pol Pot, the former dictator of Cambodia. Pol Pot killed only two million people, which seems inconsequential compared to Mao. However with perspective, Pol Pot is responsible for the death of a quarter of his while country, while Mao only 6%. Therefore one reason for the extraordinarily high number of deaths is just because China’s population was so much greater than other nations’: 670million.  

Just examining the number of deaths may not be as important as analysing the intent behind them. Whilst the number of people Mao killed was almost double what Hitler and Stalin killed together, his primary intention was to increase China’s industry to make it a world superpower. This highlights Mao’s noble intentions whilst in power. 

On the other hand most would agree that Adolf Hitler’s intentions were horrific. When he murdered eleven million people in death camps, he singled out groups in society as second class humans, then purposely slaughtered them. Therefore, as death by ill-judgement is not the same as death by ill-intent, Mao doesn’t deserve to be compared with the likes of Hitler, who set out with the aim of genocide.  

Mao wasn’t completely innocent of malicious aspirations. In 1956 he launched ‘The Hundred Flowers Campaign’, which was an opportunity for everyone to present ideas on how to improve China. After a few months, the campaign stopped and anyone who criticised the government was persecuted. Many people, including former deputy chief of MI6 and British diplomat in China at that time: Sir Gerry Warner, believe that ‘The campaign was a deliberate attempt to flush out those who opposed Mao and Communism’. 

In conclusion, there are many ways to judge notoriety, the most important of which I believe is intent. Therefore due to Mao’s mass number of killings, but honourable intention on the whole, he deserves his reputation as one of history’s most notorious dictators, but falls short of the notoriety of those who intended to harm others. 

To view Austin’s full article, follow this link below.

Independent Learning Assignment Law & Politics Social Sciences

Pot-Luck Politicians, A Parliamentary Chamber from Sortition

This essay was written by upper-sixth former Tom Welsh, and a finalist for the 2020 Independent Learning Assignment. The following provides a short abstract to the full essay, which can be found at the bottom.

Estimated read time of abstract: 2 minutes
Estimated read time of essay: 1 hour

Sortition is the random selection of individuals, and in this paper I sought to understand its political application in legislatures before providing a potential application in the United Kingdom via a third House of Parliament. The motive being sortition’s inherent equality and true representativeness. 

In order to do so, an investigation of sortition’s use in history was made, before its role in political theory was considered. I then briefly looked at its current application in both juries and citizens’ assemblies, before considering sortition’s hypothetical applications and existing use outside of the United Kingdom. 

Once the theory was covered, I then took to explaining the functioning of the existing UK government before looking at current UK political participation in both formal methods (elections and referenda) and informal (social movements and pressure groups). 

Having discussing the underlying theory, and the use-case it was being applied to, a substantial portion of my paper attempted to outline a comprehensive description of why I believe sortition’s best application would be as an addition to the existing Parliament given the important role that both the existing Houses of Parliament play. That is not to say that I felt the chamber from sortition would have a small role to play – far from it. 

I then ended the paper with an overview of some of the potential issues that such an implementation might entail, with an attempt also being made to explain how they might be dealt with and why if they cannot, on balance, that is of little concern in any case given the many positives associated with sortition. Furthermore, if you have an interest in either Plato or Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the absolute ending of the paper comes in the form of a synthesis of both, achievable, in my opinion, through sortition. 

If I gone some way to perhaps intriguing you about my, perhaps controversial, proposition then do consider giving my ILA a read. In fact, even if I haven’t – undoubtedly it is not easy in a short abstract to fully convey the true nature of a piece of work – maybe consider giving it a read in any case. A word of warning though, perhaps read the paper one chapter at a time, as I apologise it is not exactly short. Nonetheless, if you do choose to read the full work, thank you. Yet more importantly, I hope I cause you, even if you disagree with my conclusions, to reconsider your own political views – indeed if you don’t already have any, that is fine too! 

To view Tom’s full article, follow this link below.

Law & Politics Social Sciences

How far should the Supreme Court be bound by its previous decisions on what the law is?

This article was the 2nd Prize winner of the Lord Toulson Essay Prize in Law competition, written by upper-sixth former Tom Welsh.

Estimated read time: 6 minutes

‘How far, if at all, should the Supreme Court be bound by its own previous decisions on what the law is?’

In the UK the principle of ‘stare decisis’ is key to our legal system. As the birthplace of common law, huge weight is placed upon judgements as they form precedent which sets the future direction of the law. Precedent is also firmly rooted in our hierarchy of courts with the Supreme Court the only court to be capable of overturning it. This is vitally important to the development of the law because, as the final court of appeal, often it must decide whether to continue the existing tradition of law or to flag it as outdated and/or inequitable when applied to the case before them and change it. It should though be recognised that as the final court of appeal for Scotland, a country with a hybrid legal system, the Supreme Court must also occasionally consider points from civil law too.

From the turn of the 20th Century until 1966 the predecessor of the Supreme Court, the House of Lords, did not have the ability to overturn precedent it had previously set. However the Practice Statement was then issued in order to provide for the adaption of English law to meet changing social conditions. This was a broader aim of Harold Wilson’s government, shown also through their widespread liberal reforming legislation. In effect, they wished for both the statutory and case law to be brought in line with their ‘civilised society’ and the associated moral values.

The statement also served as a recognition of various competing aims within the law: predictability through simplicity; its proper development, and the desire for fair outcomes. Essentially admitting that it may not be possible to serve all three in every case it thus pithily struck at the heart of the difficulties the Supreme Court faces.

In the forty years following its introduction, the power to overturn previous precedent was used sparingly. The crucial dilemma being when was it to be deemed that the law was outdated and that the precedent needed changing. Many judges, with their tendency towards being cautious and conservative, would posit that this need for reform of the law must entirely outweigh the benefit of sticking to clearly defined principles. This does however lead to cases where the Supreme Court may believe an outcome to be unfair, but that the judgement should not be overturned due to the damaging effect on core principles of law.

Moving to the question of why overturning of precedent should be avoided. The law in its origins, exists in order to benefit those subject to it. In order to achieve this it must be clear to people what is and what is not legal.

This has obvious merits. A product of the modern legal system is that there are many definites in the eyes of the law. If one person kills another they are liable to be charged with and tried for murder. Even young children are aware that some actions have legal consequences. It is not just criminal law that this certainty applies to though. Within contract law there are rules and principles that can be taken for granted. In fact, it is entirely logical to suggest that the modern economy is predicated on the Rule of Law. Predictability of the law is of huge benefit to society. It must however be remembered though that the law only reached its current state incrementally over time; if we wish it to evolve further it must change to do so.

In addition, as new technology emerges the law must adapt. It often falls to case law to determine what the law will be in cases lacking relevant legislation. Looking strictly at past precedent, which by nature is based on past fact, would make this task hard to achieve.

Another benefit of precedent is its capability of minimising judicial tyranny. Humans lack moral and mental perfection and thus it is of benefit that modern judges must outline a ‘ratio decidendi’ for a decision; it prevents arbitrariness. Further there can be renegade judges who propose radical legal reform through judgements in line with their opinion rather than relevant prior precedent. For the Supreme Court to have a last say on things is crucial in preventing power being too centralised on individuals. Not in the least because it sits in larger panels of judges.

The many apparent benefits of precedent lead one to the conclusion that in the main it is a good thing. There must, in my view, exist a strong reason to change the legal precedent if it is to be done. The Supreme Court agrees, with the original wording of the Practice Statement suggesting that precedent should only be overturned ‘when it appears right to do so’.

One strong argument to be made in favour of overturning precedent is that the Supreme Court should be capable of rectifying its own recent mistakes. The law frequently assumes that the existing precedent is infallible, and whilst this seems more reasonable for long-standing principles that laid the foundations, recent decisions cannot be argued to be so. If the Supreme Court believes it made a mistake, it should be dealt with now before it plagues centuries of subsequent cases due to binding precedent.

Further, if the law is to work for the people it cannot exist in a vacuum. Opinions on human behaviour change, and social and cultural norms frequently expire. There exist many cases where miscarriages of justice occurred resulting from views we hold to be incompatible with modern life. A counterargument to be made is that moral questions belong in the realm of politics and its elected representatives and should not be addressed by case law but by legislation. This view is, in my opinion, too doggedly apologetic for previous custom to hold much weight. This is especially true since it is not the role of the Supreme Court but the Law Commission to actively review the state of the law and suggest improvement through legislation. The Supreme Court can only address an issue of law as and when a relevant case comes before it; as such it has a relatively low impact on the changing of controversial issues in the law.

There can also be seismic events that change the legal groundwork. For example, the long-established supremacy of EU law is soon to be abolished and consequently the Supreme Court will face cases were its previous rulings will be incompatible with the cases before it. The inflexibility of a final court of appeal being strictly bound by its own decisions would severely hamper that second aim of the law, namely its proper development.

In conclusion then, one could make a claim that the legal orthodoxy should always be maintained in order to safeguard the integrity of the principles of the common law. Under such a scenario the Supreme Court could, as it already does in certain situations, merely highlight areas of the law that the government should re-consider in legislation.

This, I believe, would be the wrong course of action though. Partially due to its castrating of the development of the common law but also due to the unintended consequences such as increased legislative slowdown and issues regarding statutory interpretation. Additionally, when counsel draft legal argument, the exception to precedent would become crucially important. What might happen upon the reinstatement of prior precedent from the Supreme Court being binding on itself is that the court would frequently find that the particulars of a given case are an exception to the rule of a precedent. This would lead to a state where, rather than consolidating and clarifying the principles underpinning the common law, there would exist an intricate web of exceptions to rules.

It is worth noting at this point that when the Supreme Court was founded from the House of Lords it adopted the Practice Statement because it believed the right to overturn its own precedent was essential to its ability to function as the court of final appeal.

Where I believe the fine line exists that balances the aims of the common law in perfect harmony is for the Supreme Court to be allowed to overturn its own previous precedent only when it believes it was previously incorrect to such an extent that: not only is it the wrong stance for the common law to take on an issue; but that it was, all importantly, unfair retrospectively and also unfair if it is applied to the case before the court. English law has always found ways to improve itself, often by recognising its own pitfalls and providing solutions; the emergence of equity for example. And just like the motive behind equity, the issue of a final court of appeal being able to overturn its own previous decisions on what the law is revolves upon avoiding unnecessary inflexibility. Law should be assessed by the ends it achieves, and clear and principled law, whilst elegant, is only good law to the extent that it leads to justice in the majority of cases, not solely by virtue of its nature.

Arts & Humanities History Law & Politics Social Sciences

Irving vs Lipstadt- The Precedent on History

This article was written by sixth-former Omeet Atara.

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

In the case of Irving vs Penguin Books Ltd, the law was embroiled in a difficult case, which forced them to decide on the validity of a historical claim. Whilst it was labelled a libel case, this was a fundamental question about history. Experts included Richard J Evans were called to the stand to work as witnesses throughout the trial. The significance of this trial is not in the actual arguments, but the result delivered by the judge and historical judgements made.  

History is a complex subject and is about interpreting and understanding the past. Historians use a variety of primary and secondary sources to, put colloquially “work out what happened”. By using these sources, they can justify arguments and theories about past actions. However, historians do disagree and in this case, the argument was over the Holocaust. David Irving brought a British libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt and her publishers Penguin Books for claiming he was a Holocaust denier her book, Denying the Holocaust. Significantly, the case was brought in Britain rather than America, where Lipstadt was based; in British libel suit, the defendant holds the burden of proof whilst in America, it is the other way around. Hence, Lipstadt was forced to legally and historically show her claim about Irving was true. The mixing of historical information and legal complexities caused this trial to gain widespread media coverage within historical circles but also the academic media.  

The case itself was a bench trial and both sides hired high-quality reputable lawyers in what was not just a legal case but a defining moment in academic history. The lawyers for Lipstadt spent significant periods, with expert historians, trawling through the works of Irving. They were ultimately forced to prove that Irving was historically incorrect, and they did this by reading the footnotes. They would search through each of his sources and ensure that they represented the view Irving took. What they found was a group of misused and distorted historical sources. They were able to argue the comments by Deborah Lipstadt to be true. Therefore, this proof made the libel claim impossible to justify- it was not libel but academic truth. 

However, they also asked key historians like Richard J Evans to look at the work of Lipstadt and Irving to try and gain his expert opinion. This brings in the idea of historiography; which is simply the study of written history. He writes the book In Defence of History, which explores the value of history and historiography in the modern age. This has been a key debate at university and in academic history over how we should use this skill. As the expert witness, he concluded that Irving had been factually and intellectually incorrect in denying the Holocaust. He compared the reasonings and the factual evidence provided to make this judgement. He presented written and oral testimony to the court; he was also subject to a cross examination. This formed the basis of the Lipstadt defence which can be described as the justification defence. Rather than use legal escapism, she simply ensured her actions were shown to be fair and justified. 

Irving and his lawyers began with the advantage due to the burden of proof. However, the irreconciled actions of falsely manipulating sources inevitably caused significant difficulties when he came to argue his side. Ultimately, his defence was doomed because there was no libel case- what Lipstadt had said was blatantly true now that the sources had been explored.  

The judge delivered a crushing 397-page verdict in which he ruled in favour of Lipstadt and gave a damning report of Irving. They concluded him to be a holocaust denier, disappointing historian and the defence was entirely correct. This was a judgment that has set an important legal and historical precedent for the future.  

The law and history interacted in what was a case of incredible interest and importance. David Irving was proven to factually incorrect and it established the value of evidence in historical law. Despite the claim from Irving about the personal, economic and academic hardship he suffered the truth and history remained prioritised. The competition between historians over finding the truth makes it an interesting discipline. Regardless of the topic or personalities involved the history and evidence should come first rather than persona and economic disputes. Academic history which has a reliance upon evidence was strengthened once again. 

Further to this, the law was integrated with historical debate. Legally, the precedent was set for the value of evidence and removed the potential for other historical libel cases. This is a topic with no legislative agenda and hence the civil case uses precedent entirely. Hence, this ruling will be significant for years to come. The law also proved the strength of evidence no in academia but also in legal cases.  

History and law are both academic and complex subjects however and have been discussed and debate together in this example. The intertwining of topics has caused civil law to address historical issues; it is impressive to see how the law controlled and acted upon these issues. The Holocaust was a tragedy and to be debating abut its existence is disgusting- that is not the significant thought here. It is that the law sets a precedent for historical works on evidence, not personality.