They’re hot topics, but what do 16-year-olds make of them?
Aspiring lawyers from non-fee paying schools have clubbed together to play law commissioner and scrutinise some of the most challenging issues facing society today.
This was all part of social mobility charity Big Voice London’s annual Model Law Commission. The programme’s participants — aged between 16 and 18 — are split into teams to examine one of four chosen areas of law: hate crime, fake online reviews, climate change and children’s social care. This culminated in a presentation event at Portcullis House, Westminster, opened by Norman Lamb MP and Law Commissioner Nicholas Hopkins.
— Law Commission (@Law_Commission) January 9, 2017
The students definitely weren’t shy about criticising the law, and had a whole host of ideas about how it could be improved.
Take the criminal law team. Made up of 18 students, the group was tasked with thinking about the law on hate crime. Clearly a topical issue given the post-referendum wave of attacks, the students recommended increasing education both inside and outside of the classroom so victims are more informed about how to report incidents.
Aided by a number of criminal law specialists from the likes of Taylor Wessing and Garden Court Chambers, the group also identified online hate crime as a particular concern. Social media sites have a responsibility to ban perpetrators, the students concluded.
Over on the fake online reviews team, 17 students decided the law — the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations — is “insufficient” to tackle the issue at hand.
The group floated the idea of a new department to tackle fake online reviews. This task force would have the power to respond to complaints, fine perpetrators and ban entities — such as Amazon — from providing incentives like free or discounted products for good reviews. The students also suggested criminalising fake reviews, raising awareness of their existence through education and introducing a pop up disclaimer on review websites.
Ten students tackled the thorny, and equally topical, issue of climate change. After consulting with the likes of Tallat Hussain, a White & Case lawyer, the group made a number of recommendations including restricting meat consumption. In a time when deference to plant-based foods is all the rage, the team suggested taxing meat products as a long-term solution to help the environment. They realised this would cause a backlash:
Taxes should be put on meat products at a lower rate and should be increased over time so people can see the gradual increase in price and can still buy meat if they want to.
The final, and by far the most popular, topic open to the students was children’s social care. Falling under the umbrella heading of property, family and trusts, 38 students put their aspiring lawyer heads together and analysed Part 3 of the Children Act 1989.
— Big Voice London (@bigvoicelondon) January 9, 2017
Aided by barristers Damian Stuart, Shu Shin Luh and Tony Harrop-Griffiths and King’s College London’s Professor Jane Tunstill, the group concluded the statute was lacking a “clear and understandable definition” of the word “welfare”. There is a duty placed on local authorities to “safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area who are in need” but, the students said:
[T]his statement is far too broad and doesn’t provide an exact definition that local authorities can understand and act on when needed.
They also recommended reform of the statutory definition of “disabled”, which currently adopts “stigmatised language” (disorder, dumb, etc).
You can read the full Big Voice London report, which contains all the students’ recommendations, here:
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