From the 31st July until the 3rd August 2016, the 35th Annual Course of the International Association of Law Libraries (IALL) on International Legal Information and Law took place. The theme of the Annual Course was “Common Law Perspectives in an International Context.” The Conference was organised by the director of the Bodleian Library, Ruth Bird, and her team.
For those who are not familiar with the IAAL, the IALL is a worldwide, cooperative non-profit organization of librarians, libraries, and other persons and institutions which are concerned with the acquisition, dissemination and use of legal information from sources other than their own jurisdictions. Every year the IALL organises a Course during which the IALL members (law librarians and or legal information specialists) can broaden and share their knowledge and expertise and increase the dissemination of legal information. The Annual Courses always try to give an insight into the jurisdiction of the organising country and offers the outcome of comparative legal research and seeks to discover the interactions between the national law system and the framework of international law.
The IALL 35th Annual Course took place in Keble College, Oxford. Keble was founded in 1870. It is now one of the largest Oxford colleges. The beautiful Keble College consists of several buildings in neo-gothic style. New buildings were also added to the College in the second half of the 20th century and in the beginning of the 21st century.
The attendees of the IALL Annual Course were offered the opportunity to stay at Keble college for the duration of the conference. This way they could fully experience the Oxford college way of life with breakfasts at Keble Hall, lectures at Keble College, dinners and drinks in the evening at Oxford and a formal dinner at the beautiful Dining Hall of Balliol College.
There were around 150 delegates and 25 book vendors who took part in the 35th IALL Annual Course.
A true Oxford experience - A series of law lectures at Keble College
For the 35th Annual Course of the IALL, several highly regarded English legal scholars have given interesting lectures concerning several common law perspectives. Some drew comparisons with civil law systems and others touched on current issues in international law. English law and legal history also feature in several lectures / papers.
The Conference started on Sunday 31 July with an opening reception at Oxford University Press and a bus tour of Oxford. The legal information specialists and law librarians were able to meet, greet and catch up. On Monday 1 August , the IALL Conference was formally opened by the IALL President Jeroen Vervliet and Dean of the Faculty of Law of Oxford, Professor Anne Davies. On Monday several interesting lectures were given concerning the common law system. Emeritus Professor Francis Reynolds lectured about diversities among Common law countries. This lecture was followed by two lectures with a legal historical character. First, emeritus Professor Sir John Baker discussed the legal historical aspects of law reporting in England from 1550 - 1650. And professor David Ibbetson lectured about precedent and authority from a continental perspective. He compared the English, common law system, to the European, continental way of law reporting in the seventeenth century.
The last lectures of that day were given by Emeritus Professor Mark Freedland, an emeritus research fellow of St Johns College and Menelaos Markakis, a DPhil Candidate. Professor Mark Freedland and Menelaos Markakis discussed legal issues arising from the UK vote to leave the European Union (Brexit). The current time (after the referendum and before the triggering of Brexit) was described by the lecturer as a 'pause on the road to dystopia'. Several legal issues arise from the Brexit referendum. For example, difficulties related to compliance with EU law. Because there is no written constitution in the UK to refer to, it is difficult to comply with Article 50 of the EU, which is the formal mechanism for leaving the EU. The Referendum Act did not clarify the needed actions of the eventual outcome of the Referendum. Procedural aspects of Article 50 and issues regarding withdrawal from the EU, such as time limits and the ratification of treaties were also discussed. No express time limit is laid down in Article 50. In order to withdraw from the EU, the British Parliament first needs to ratify the treaty for withdrawal. Since Brexit involves the amendment of EU legislation, the question was posed whether another referendum would be needed to approve the withdrawal legislation.
Divorce and Maintenance in Britain
On Tuesday August 2, Baroness Ruth Deech, Crossbench peer in the House of Lords, gave an interesting lecture about common law and statutes in family law. She discussed the problems of current British divorce law and maintenance law. According to Lady Deech, Judges have applied the law as they deemed fit for over 30 years. This has created an unofficial law which has not been subject to legislative scrutiny. Another problem of the current system is the use of outdated stereotypes about relationships between men and women. A wife is expected to be taken care of by a husband and if a marriage ends in a divorce, maintenance continues indefinitely, or until remarriage (until another man will take on the responsibility to provide for his new wife). However, society has changed and women have jobs and are more self-sufficient. Another problem is that the law is muddled. There is no legal aid available for divorce. There is little guidance on how to conduct a personally litigated case. Another difficulty is that an entire divorce award can be swallowed up by the costs of litigating a divorce. Baroness Deech proposed a private member's Divorce (Financial Provision) bill to cope with the current problems regarding divorce issues. If the bill would pass, prenuptial (and postnuptial) agreements will become binding if:
- parties had independent legal advice,
- there was full disclosure,
- there were at least 21 days before the wedding,
- there is an equal division of post marital assets,
- and it doesn't cover inheritances and gifts.
Baroness Deech also proposes a maximum of 5-year maintenance period instead of the indefinite maintenance costs. Her Bill is currently number 17 on the list for consideration this year. It will only be discussed if there is sufficient time available in the sitting of Parliament. These reforms are based on Scottish family law which was reformed 30 years ago. The current divorce law is based on an employee/employer relationship, whereas the new Bill proposes a partnership model. The Bill of Baroness Deech does not deal child support issues other than that the child support period should be increased to 21 years.
On-demand economy - Humans as a service
Another interesting lecture was given by Associate Professor Jeremias Prassl. In his lecture: "Humans as a Service?: Regulating Work in the Sharing Economy" he spoke about some trends in labor law and the current economy. In the 21st century new ways of working have emerged. For example, people have been sharing cars (sharing economy) and people work together for a short period of time to perform tasks, or 'gigs' for example (crowdwork, crowdsourcing, collaborative economy). Through online platforms and apps like Amazon (Mechanical Turk) and Uber, people offer on-demand services. The on-demand economy offers opportunities for customers (more products and better services at a lower cost) and independence, flexibility and additional income for vendors. However, there are also many negative aspects related to the on-demand economy. The gig work employee could experience negative effects, such as low and insecure pay (the majority of Mechanical Turk jobs pay 1 cent per job (!)), no guarantee of ongoing work, no notification of dismissal, a lack of social rights (no right to a minimum wage; no right to respond to complaints, etc.) and a lack of employer accountability. There is no liability insurance. And quality could also be a serious issue for service purchasers. Think about the mindless filling out of online questionnaires which could make the questionnaires useless but the customer has no right to respond or complain about the work that has been done so poorly. One third of Mechanical Turk responses is so bad that it can't be used. Prassl discusses that there is a shifting of risk from employers onto employees. And the gig economy blurs boundaries of the relationship of consumer/employer/workers. Are platforms employers (they allocate work and monitor its progress)? Are crowdsourcers employers? Are crowdworkers employed by crouwdsourcers? In order to combat the precarity of employment in the gig economy, gigs, tasks and rides should be regulated and viewed as work. This way, both the workers, employers and consumers will benefit.
Big Data and Globalisation
Professor Karen Yeung spoke about the legal implications of algorithmic regulations and big data and how they affect us and how we could benefit from them in daily life, now and in the near future. Emeritus Professor William Twining gave the last lecture of Tuesday August 2. During his thought-provoking lecture, he discussed what globalisation means to him. In his opinion globalisation is a highly complex phenomenon - one must avoid reductionism when discussing globalisation. According to Twining a global perspective can help us to recognise both diversity and the complexities of our relations with others. Those adhering the western legal tradition cannot prescribe global solutions for everyone but they can help to think about global issues to further cooperation worldwide.
On Wednesday morning August 3, Associate Professor Dan Awrey gave an interesting lecture about the challenges and opportunities for legal research and pedagogy after the financial crisis. Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill gave a captivating lecture about the history of refugee law and dr Judith Townend lectured about the comparison of UK and international data protection law. Professor Susan Karamanian gave an in-depth discussion about the role of human rights in reshaping investor-state arbitration. On Wednesday evening, the formal Annual IALL dinner took place in the Dining Hall of the lovely Balliol College.
A visit to Blenheim Palace, the Bodleian Library, several other Oxford College Libraries and the Supreme Court in London
During the Conference, participants were able to visit the famous Bodleian library and a College library, such as the All Souls Library and the Library of Trinity College. And on Thursday August 4, delegates of the Conference were able to go to the magnificent and beautiful Blenheim Palace, the birthplace and ancestral home to Sir Winston Churchill, who was a descendant of the Duke of Malborough.
On Friday August 5, a small delegation visited the Library of the Supreme Court in London. The librarian of the Supreme Court took the time to show us the library of the Court and all the courtrooms while he explained more about the work of the justices of the Supreme Court, and the specific function of the Supreme Court in the common law system. Overall, the 35th Annual Conference was a successful and fruitful event with engaging and thought-provoking lectures by outstanding lecturers who have their roots in the common law tradition. The Conference offered its delegates the possibility to really get to know the Oxford academic atmosphere and to exchange views and expertise.
Many of the papers from the IALL conference will be published in a forthcoming edition of The International Journal of Legal Information.