UCL Institute for Human Rights
IHR Newsletter

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IHR News

Dr Virginia Mantouvalou appointed Specialist Advisor to Joint Committee on Human Rights for Inquiry on ‘Business and Human Rights’

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Dr Virginia Mantouvalou, Reader in Human Rights and Labour Law and Co-Director of the UCL Institute for Human Rights, has been appointed Specialist Advisor to the Joint Committee on Human Rights for Inquiry on ‘Business and Human Rights’.

Together with Professor Robert McCorquodale, Director of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, Dr Mantouvalou will assist the Committee in this inquiry over the coming months.

Dr Mantouvalou said:

‘I am very pleased to be involved in the inquiry of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on Business and Human Rights. The UK led the way in the field by being the first country that published its National Action Plan in 2013 (revised in 2016), implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

It is also interesting to note that the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 contains a section on Transparency in Supply Chains. The Committee will examine the progress made by the Government this far, in an area that of course sets important challenges in regulation and compliance’.


Read more on the Joint Committee on Human Rights for Inquiry on ‘Business and Human Rights’.

Virginia Mantouvalou is keynote speaker at Biennial New Zealand Labour Law Conference

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virginia-mantouvalou
virginia-mantouvalou
Virginia Mantouvalou, Director of Graduate Research Studies at UCL Laws was invited to be the keynote speaker at the 3rd Biennial New Zealand Labour Law Conference of the New Zealand Labour Law Society held in Wellington on 27 November.

Her research on the interaction between Human Rights and Labour Law was the subject of her presentation, entitled ‘Human Rights at Work’, fitting with the broader conference theme on ‘Challenges of Regulating Future Labour Markets’.

Virginia examined the effect of human rights on labour law over the decades in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and English Courts, arguing that human rights law serves as an important critical perspective for labour law matters.

Speaking of her experience at the conference, Virginia said there was a high level of engagement and discussion with the participants: “Some of the delegates commented that the human rights angle is particularly topical for New Zealand academics, trade unionists and practitioners, who are starting to explore human rights law can be used in New Zealand as an avenue for ‘worker voice’.”

Discussing Human Rights and European Law with Lady Justice Arden

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What is the relationship between human rights, European law and English law?

This question was addressed in a panel discussion on Monday at UCL Laws, in an event that celebrated the publication of Lady Justice Arden’s new book Human Rights and European Law, published by Oxford University Press.

The discussion was chaired by Dean of the Faculty, Professor Dame Hazel Genn, and introduced by the author, Lady Justice Arden. Leading the discussion was President Dean Spielmann of the European Court of Human Rights. President Spielmann, who is also an Honorary Professor at UCL Laws, offered the Strasbourg view on the issues raised by the book, which includes an insider account of EU Law and the European Court of Human Rights on domestic law in the UK.

President Spielmann emphasised the importance of judicial dialogue between and supranational courts, and the importance of respect for democracies, but also suggested that sometimes the essence of human rights is to trump decisions that have been made democratically.

Joining the discussion were UCL Laws academics, Dr Kimberley Trapp, Dr Virginia Mantouvalou and Professor George Letsas, who each focused on the main themes of Human Rights and European Law.

Dr Trapp explored terrorism and national security in judicial decision-making, while Dr Mantouvalou discussed the protection of undocumented migrant workers in relation to European and English law.

Concluding the event, Professor Letsas addressed the role of judicial dialogue and the margin of appreciation in Strasbourg case law. The event was followed by lively open discussion with members of the senior judiciary, academia and legal practice.

Read President Spielmann’s speech

View a selection of photos from the event:

UCL Law Society exclusive interview with the President of the ECHR

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In the latest edition of the UCL Law Society magazine, Silk v Brief, Alex Diggens brings the word from Strasbourg in an exclusive interview with Dean Spielmann, President of the European Court of Human Rights and UCL Laws Honorary Professor.

UK tied visa system ‘turning domestic workers into modern-day slaves’ – Dr Virginia Mantouvalou in the Guardian

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Dr Virginia Mantouvalou tells the Guardian that “We are recreating kafala” in an article about research into the conditions of domestic workers who are brought to the UK under the Overseas Domestic Worker visa regime, ahead of a Commons debate on the Modern Slavery Bill. 

Dr Virginia Mantouvalou publishes book on The Right to Work

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The Right to Work book cover


The Right to Work
Legal and Philosophical Perspectives

Edited by Virginia Mantouvalou

The value of work cannot be underestimated in today's world. It is valuable because productive labour generates goods needed for survival, like food and housing; goods needed for self-development, like education and culture; and other material goods that people wish to have in order to live a fulfilling life. A job also generally inspires a sense of achievement, self-esteem and the esteem of others. But the question remains, do we have a human right to work? If so, what is the content of the right? Does it impose a duty on governments to promote full employment? Does it entail an obligation to protect decent work? Do migrants have a right to work?

This book addresses the uncertainty and controversy that surround the right to work both in theoretical scholarship and in policymaking. It discusses the philosophical underpinnings of the right to work, and its development in human rights law in national jurisdictions including the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, France and the United States, and at the international level of the United Nations, the European Social Charter, the International Labour Organization, the European Convention on Human Rights and other legal orders.

The Right to Work originated from a workshop on the Right to Work held at UCL Laws in 2012 organised by the UCL Institute for Human Rights and the UCL Labour Rights Institute, and supported by the Modern Law Review and the Human Rights Consortium of the School of Advanced Study. Bringing together scholars from around the world, the event explored the value of work in today’s world, both in terms of the accumulation of income and goods, but also in the generation of well-being and maintaining a sense of membership in society.

Acknowledging that work is a crucial good, The Right to Work considers whether we have a human right to this good, and who holds it.

Colm O'Cinneide comments on David Cameron’s pledge to repeal the Human Rights Act

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The LSE Democratic Audit Blog invited Colm O'Cinneide, Reader in Laws at the UCL Faculty of Laws, and various human rights law experts to comment on the Prime Minister's pledge to repeal the Human Rights Act.

'Interpreting Bills of Rights as a Living Instrument’ lecture delivered by Prof George Letsas at Supreme Court of Mexico

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On 11 September 2014, Professor George Letsas gave a public lecture at the Supreme Court of Mexico (SCJN). The lecture, entitled ‘Interpreting Bills of Rights as a Living Instrument’ examined the role of courts in developing and expanding the scope of human rights. Professor Letsas reflected on the need to evolve human rights standards in order to meet new, or previously neglected, threats to individual dignity. The lecture was at the invitation of the Supreme Court of Mexico (the human rights division), and was delivered on the occasion of an international workshop on the legal philosophy of Ronald Dworkin, organized by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

UCL Laws PhD Student Awarded Modern Law Review Scholarship for Project on Human Trafficking

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Third-year PhD student Inga Thiemann has been awarded a Modern Law Review Scholarship for her research exploring ‘A victim-based approach to Human Trafficking - hindered by patriarchal stereotypes'. She is one of two UCL Laws PhD students in receipt of the prestigious scholarship which is awarded annually to doctoral research students whose research is expected to make a substantial contribution to their field.

UCL Graduate Law Society Submission to Home Affairs Committee Inquiry on FGM

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This year the UCL Graduate Law Society launched a project to give students an opportunity to make submissions to parliamentary inquiries under guidance from Faculty Advisor Colm O'Cinneide. In particular, the project seeks to contribute a unique perspective to UK law reform debates from a comparative point of view, exploiting the diversity of nationalities in the LLM cohort.

Watch Session Videos from the Workshop on Martha Nussbaum's Political Emotions

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On Saturday 31 May 2014 the UCL Institute for Human Rights had the honour of hosting Professor Martha Nussbaum for a workshop on her laterst book, Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice (Harvard University Press, 2013). The workshop began with a brief description by Professor Nussbaum of the aims of Political Emotions and was followed by four half-hour presentations on some of the book's key themes. You can watch the day's events in full below.

Watch President Dean Spielmann's Lecture 'Wither the margin of appreciation?'

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On Thursday 20 March 2014 President Dean Spielmann of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered the lecture 'Whither the margin of appreciation' at the UCL Faculty of Laws, covering the history of the doctrine and addressing its future and implications in the case law in the ECtHR.

Illegality, Human Rights and Employment: A Watershed Moment for the United Kingdom Supreme Court?

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Virginia Mantouvalou, Co-Director of IHR, and Alan Bogg, Professor of Labour Law at Oxford University, have written a piece  for the UK Constitutional Law Association (UKCLA) on the Court of Appeal's application of the doctrine of illegality in the case Allen v. Hounga which could carry serious implications for the human rights of undocumented migrant workers.

Dr Virginia Mantouvalou gives evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill

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Dr Virginia Mantouvalou, UCL Institute for Human Rights

In January 2014 Dr Virginia Mantouvalou gave evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill. She argued that the Bill provides some basic safeguards against the worst forms of labour exploitation. However, it does not address adequately the great vulnerability of domestic workers, which stems from their exclusion from much labour protective legislation. She also argued that the Overseas Domestic Worker visa regime that is in force since 2012 may lead to situations of ‘modern slavery’ in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, and should therefore be revised.

President Dean Spielmann appointed Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Laws

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President Dean Spielmann

President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Judge Dean Spielmann has been appointed Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Laws for five years. The appointment takes effect in May.

Philosophy Bites Podcast with Prof John Tasioulas

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Professor John Tasioulas recently gave an interview on human rights to the podcast series Philosophy Bites. The interview covers topics such as the nature of human rights, how we can identify them, their relationship to legal rights, and the role of philosophy in understanding them.

Landmark Judgement on HIV/AIDS Discrimination in the Workplace

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Landmark Judgement on HIV/AIDS Discrimination in the Workplace

In the first ever case relating to HIV/AIDS discrimination in the workplace, I.B. v. Greece, the European Court of Human Rights held that the dismissal of an HIV-positive worker in response to workforce pressure violated human rights. The applicant was represented by the Co-Directors of the UCL Institute for Human Rights, Dr George Letsas and Dr Virginia Mantouvalou.

Dr Virginia Mantouvalou speaks at House of Commons on Overseas Domestic Workers

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Virginia Mantouvalou

UCL Institute for Human Rights Co-Director, Dr Virginia Mantouvalou spoke at a House of Commons Panel Discussion on the new visa for overseas domestic workers, arguing that the visa regime, which ties overseas domestic workers to a particular employer, may be in breach of article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights that prohibits slavery, servitude, forced and compulsory labour.

Human Rights Institute Welcomes Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor Roberto Gargarella

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Professor Roberto Gargarella (Universidad Torcuato Di Tella, Argentina).

The announcement that Professor Roberto Gargarella will be visiting the UCL Institute of the Americas on a Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professorship has been welcomed by Dr Virginia Mantouvalou, Co–Director of the UCL Institute for Human Rights:

"Professor Gargarella has made an outstanding contribution in the area of constitutional theory, social rights and democratic theory, and we will be delighted to also host him at the UCL Law Faculty and the UCL Human Rights Institute. We are also extremely pleased that he will give a Current Legal Problems lecture in the Faculty of Laws in 2014." Dr Mantouvalou is the Joint Editor of Current Legal Problems together with Dr Jeff King and Professor Charles Mitchell.  

Justice for Domestic Workers 4th year Anniversary, Panel Discussion with IHR's Dr Virginia Mantouvalou

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Domestic workers banner

On Sunday 17 March, the organization Justice for Domestic Workers celebrated its 4th year anniversary and International Women’s Day. The events included a documentary, presentations by migrant domestic workers, and a panel discussion with Dr Virginia Mantouvalou (UCL, Laws), Jamilla Duncan-Bosu (Islington Law Centre) and Catherine Kenny (Kalayaan). It was followed by writing a letter to MPs, as part of a campaign that will be launched to change the regime of the Overseas Domestic Workers’ Visa.

UK falls short – leaving domestic workers at risk of ‘modern slavery’

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Virginia Mantouvalou


Legislative loopholes mean many domestic workers are employed in conditions that meet the emerging definition of ‘modern slavery’, according to Dr Virginia Mantouvalou, UCL Law lecturer and Co-Director of the UCL Institute for Human Rights.

Domestic workers, defined as those employed by private households for tasks such as cleaning and child-care, are given inadequate legal protection regarding the minimum wage, health and safety at work and maximum hours worked.

Recent changes to immigration laws have further compounded these issues. Migrant workers who accompany their employers need a special visa that ties them to the employer. They can no longer change employers, regardless of their treatment, without risking deportation – a move Dr Mantouvalou described as “a dispiriting step in the wrong direction”.

These factors, in conjunction with economic changes and the informality of the employment relation in question, have contributed to these workers' precariousness. As a result, high numbers of domestic workers are suffering abuse at the hands of their employer.

The claim is borne out by the alarming results of recent reports of international and national bodies such as the International Labour Organisation, the European Union, Human Rights Watch and Anti-Slavery International. Findings from the survey of the London-based NGO Kalayaan, for instance, revealed that from those that registered with it in 2010, 60 per cent were not allowed out unaccompanied, 65 per cent had their passport withheld,54 per cent suffered psychological abuse, 18 per cent suffered physical abuse or assault and 3 per cent were sexually abused.

Dr Mantouvalou said: “ Article 4 of the European Convention of Human Rights prohibits slavery and servitude. The European Court of Human Rights has shown that it is willing to find a breach of the provision in cases of severe denials of freedom, obligation to provide services and little or no ability to change the situation.

“In the case of domestic workers, we are in the process of acknowledging that in a disturbing number of cases, employment conditions meet the definition of modern slavery. Workers are excluded from certain legal rights, and remain vulnerable to abuse, because they have very few alternatives other than severe poverty or homelessness. The statistics show that workers are being routinely abused … put simply, their life can become an object of their employer’s control.

“There are positive signs of political good-will on this subject, not least from US President Obama's talk in September 2012. However, the sad fact remains that the UK is falling behind international standards. It needs only to look to certain other European countries to find solutions to the many obstacles they claim are preventing them doing more to protect workers who are amongst the most vulnerable in our society.”

Listen to this Lecture in full in our Listen/Watch Again section

Further information:

UK human rights reform may prove to be a ‘difficult and thankless’ task

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Colm O'Cinneide

The current state of human rights law in the UK is compatible with constitutional principles, the democratic process and the rights of the individual. Attempts to recalibrate it may prove to be a difficult and thankless task, according to a new report authored by Colm O’Cinneide, IHR Steering Group member, for the British Academy Policy Centre.

The report, Human Rights and the UK Constitution, investigates some of the key issues surrounding UK human rights law, including the controversial relationship between the European Court of Human Rights and UK courts. Set against a backdrop of continuing public debate, which reached fever pitch last year following the ECHR ruling on UK prisoner voting, the findings represent a timely and incisive contribution to the ongoing dialogue.

Completion of the report was overseen by a steering group of leading scholars of constitutional law - Professors Vernon Bogdanor, John Eekelaar, David Feldman, Sandra Fredman, Conor Gearty (all Fellows of the British Academy) and Francesca Klug (LSE). The report has also been rigorously peer reviewed by a number of prominent legal experts, including academics, barristers and former judges.

Further reading: 

Major breakthrough as HIV/AIDS case is put before European Court of Human Rights

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Puzzle Pieces Spelling HIV/AIDS

The first ever case relating to HIV/AIDS discrimination in the workplace was declared admissible and is to be heard before the European Court of Human Rights following work by Dr George Letsas and Dr Virginia Mantouvalou, Co-Directors of the UCL Institute for Human Rights.

The case concerns applicant I.B. – a HIV-positive individual, who was dismissed from his job when colleagues found out that he had HIV, and refused to work with him.

I.B. challenged the dismissal as unlawful. However, the Greek Court of Cassation upheld the dismissal on the ground that the employer was not motivated by hostility towards his HIV status, but by the desire to ensure the peaceful running of her business.

Speaking about the case, on which the court is expected to rule in 2013, the Co-Directors said:
"We are very pleased that the Court has declared the case admissible, not least because some 90% of the applications submitted are declared inadmissible. Our claim is that the applicant suffered discrimination on the basis of his HIV-status. This remains the case even though his employer did not have discriminatory motives, and only cared about business efficiency. There is widespread discrimination and social exclusion in Europe towards persons with HIV/AIDS. States have positive obligations to take action."

IHR's Judicial Visitor Dean Spielmann elected President of the European Court of Human Rights

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Judge Dean Spielmann

Judge Spielmann, Judicial Visitor at the UCL Faculty of Laws and the UCL Institute for Human Rights, was elected President of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  He has been a judge at the Court since 2004, Section President since 2011 and was elected Vice-President in July 2012. He succeeds Sir Nicholas Bratza whose mandate will come to an end in October 2012.

“Judge Spielmann is an outstanding judge, whose judicial and extra-judicial writings have been pivotal to the continuous development of the case law of the Court. His election to President is fantastic news for human rights advocates in Europe. It is also great news for our Faculty with which he has strong links”, said the Co-Directors of the UCL Institute for Human Rights, George Letsas and Virginia Mantouvalou.

Dean Spielmann has written the preface of George Letsas’s book, A Theory of Interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights (2009, Oxford University Press). He has also judged the annual UCL Human Rights Moot Competition in Strasbourg since 2008.  In 2012, Judge Spielmann co-edited the book The European Convention on Human Rights: A Living and Dynamic Instrument, with contributions by Virginia Mantouvalou and George Letsas. The book was launched at UCL in February 2011.

Fellow and member of the steering group of the Institute for Human Rights, Dr Ronan McCrea, co-authors Report on Controversial Judicial Reform in Hungary

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Dr Ronan McCrea

The Hungarian government should respect the ruling of the Constitutional Court and repeal controversial new legislation lowering the mandatory age of retirement for judges to 62, according to a new report co-authored by Dr Ronan McCrea, fellow and member of the Steering Group of the Institute for Human Rights.

The report, Courting Controversy: the Impact of the Recent Reforms on the Independence of the Judiciary and the Rule of Law in Hungary, undertaken by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), outlines a number of recommendations in the wake of controversial legislative reforms, including a new Constitution, which came into force at the beginning of 2012.

Containing the findings of the IBAHRI fact-finding delegation which visited Hungary in March of this year, the report acknowledges that although the rationale behind the attempts to make the judicial system faster and more deficient are to be welcomed, several key legislative aspects pose a severe threat to judicial independence.

Further information: 

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