Author: justicestudio

Equality and Justice Alliance Forum February 2020

Equality and Justice Alliance Forum February 2020

Last week I was at an activist forum in the beautiful location of Seychelles. LGBT+ and women’s rights campaigners from the Pacific, the Caribbean, and Africa gathered together, under the umbrella of the Equality and Justice Alliance (EJA), to talk, share and laugh, in a very nice setting indeed.

The tropical island location has not gone unnoticed, with a sense of guilt, by the participants. There were many concerns that people might judge them for being in such a typical holiday destination, and particular worries of being judged too privileged by those from their home countries. They were worried that it might be seen as too nice for a bunch of human rights activists that, what, I guess feel they are meant to suffer.

It is sad that these tireless individuals, who face death threats, sexual harassment, and the anxiety that accompanies not being able to be with the one you love legally, feel that they somehow don’t deserve to work in a comfortable location. I’m pretty sure that the attendees of Davos do not have these sorts of conversations with each other. There is a certain entitlement in those circles that is clearly not present here.

This forum is work in any case, and arguably much more impactful than what goes on at the World Economic Forum. The EJA was set up as a two year alliance of partners: the Human Dignity Trust who fight for the decriminalisation of consensual same-sexual activity; the Kaleidoscope Trust who uphold the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people;  Sisters for Change combatting violence against women and girls through legislative reform; and the Royal Commonwealth Society who champion human rights, equality, and democracy across the Commonwealth. These partners have been working across the globe countries to specifically target the laws that discriminate against LGBT+ people and women.

But let’s not forget that these gender discriminatory laws were instruments of British imperial patriarchy. So, the fact that the donor is the FCO seems fitting, but even potentially hypocritical. I think it’s the very least they can do. Whilst Britain has signalled some regret, no clear apology or unequivocal recognition of the damage of imperialism and the discriminatory gender laws and legal structures that it left behind, has been made. There is still a public un-knowing about where this legal discrimination came from, both in Britain and across the Commonwealth. The history needs to be better understood and acknowledged.

These activists are doing a brilliant job to work towards equality and legal reform. The Live and Let Live campaign just launched in Belize on TV, twitter and Instagram is a campaign promoting inclusion by raising the voices of those who support those who suffer discrimination. The #Reform53 campaign is a youth led movement to compel Commonwealth leaders at the 2020 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to reform laws that discriminate against women and LGBT+ people. Before EJA, amazing work was being carried out by the independent civil society groups, such as Equality Bahamas, and V-Pride in Vanuatu.

To spread activism knowledge a whole load of research has been produced thanks to the EJA. Good practice, guidance, research and mapping studies have been conducted, such as on creating compliant sexual offences laws, a review of anti-discrimination law and the series launched at the Forum that our own research was part of: Building Stronger Equality Movements, which encompassed research on managing backlash; promoting intersectionality; and increasing intergenerational solidarity.

For our research, which focused on intergenerational activism, we interviewed younger and older activists across ten commonwealth countries such as Fiji, the Bahamas, Botswana, Nigeria and Uganda. They told of the challenges and benefits of working across the generations. Clearly, there is a need to have the wisdom of the older activist generation; communicating the history of what has gone before can benefit younger activists who then know where they have come from, and what needs to be done next. Younger activists can then drive the movement into the future, standing on the shoulders of their forebearers, and creating more strength and sustainability.

Given how long women and LGBT+ people have suffered under discriminatory laws and structures imposed by Britain, how much work the activists do, and how little recognition they get, I don’t even think they should have to justify a meeting in a nice location. They deserve this, and so much more. I’m sure they would swap it to be able to walk down their own streets without abuse. If it wasn’t for these people constantly facing danger, getting up to challenge prejudice and battling in court and against Parliament, many of us would suffer so much more than we realise. Activists’ wellbeing should be a much higher priority to us and to themselves. Many of the participants are volunteers so it is hard for them to even get here or get time off. They deserve what little respite there is.



OECD – the ‘PISA’ of the Globalization Puzzle

OECD – the ‘PISA’ of the Globalization Puzzle

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has come to dominate global education policy. Since 1991, education has increasingly come under the remit of the OECD, and its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test has become the main export of the organisation. It tests 15-year-old students from 90+ countries or economies in three-year intervals. They are examined on natural language, mathematics and science, with a different ‘main’ subject of focus each time.

The OECD began in the post-world war II period of political and economic recovery. A United States invention to supersede the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC), it was an intergovernmental institution of northern industrial economies cooperating to steer global economic development. It has a high-profile invitation-only membership, leading it to be commonly regarded as a ”rich boys club”. This elite group, which includes the US and UK, are now extending its invitation to developing economies such as Colombia and Lithuania in order to widen its influence.

This influence has meant that the OECD is a useful export of imperialist values. Since its inception, its member states have spearheaded the drive towards neoliberal globalisation in its promotion of industrial and technological advancement, free trade, and global market expansion whilst simultaneously privatising industries, retreating the state and dismantling social welfare.

The OECD has used the allure of its ‘objective, scientific, evidence-based data’ to translate national test results into global ‘best practice’. Presented in league tables, ranking nations performance, and published in reports, the results appear credible and objective. However, all is not as clear cut as it seems. The data has received much statistical criticism. These include: the usefulness of calculating a national ‘average’ in diverse education systems; low participation rates; the irrelevance of survey questions for the school’s curriculum; and the validity of tracking ‘progress’ when the survey questions are different each round due to the ever-changing subject focus. These issues mean the range of possible rankings in a league table for a given country can be very wide. So much so that the OECD has admitted to ranking countries based upon the cryptically vague  ‘’plausible values’’.

There are a number of issues with uncritically accepting this data. For example, OECD data presents numerical data as telling a story of ‘success’ or ‘failure’ but rarely draws upon the context of the nation’s schooling. The façade of ‘global’ best practice emphasises a northern neoliberal approach and dismisses culturally relevant and more meaningful local policy options. PISA results encourage the global race towards a unitary vision of what is ‘successful education’. The scientific data assumes rationality and neutrality in order to create an illusory ‘best practice’ that makes disputing these global education trends difficult in a world that privileges ‘the scientific method’. Yet we know the way data is explained is very much tied to the value systems of specific influencing countries like the US and UK.

Further, the use of whole nations as ‘benchmarks’ is causing a new global education rivalry. PISA results are now so important that they intensify competition between national education systems. For example, in 2002, Finland was pleasantly surprised that they came first in the results and were now positioned as the forerunners in education models. Germany, however, was shocked to come 20th amongst 32 countries. This led German politicians to reform their education system, ending in a significant decision to introduce a large-scale assessment at the end of primary and secondary schooling. The entry of ‘Asian tigers’ in PISA in 2009 knocked Finland off the top spot, and Shanghai became the new ‘poster boy’ for global education policy discourse. Michael Gove, former Education secretary for the UK, used the impassioned language of Britain’s ‘plummeting’ PISA scores for sweeping education reform to implement the ‘Shanghai-method’ which echoed an OECD sanctioned neoliberal privatisation of education through increasing the number of academies, free schools and intensifying exams for ‘performance-related pay’.

The OECD has fostered an audit culture that monitors education insofar as its ability to produce a ‘knowledge economy’. In the global neo-liberal framework, economic prosperity as a motivating factor for education provision has since overtaken ideals of social justice and egalitarianism. The privileging of efficiency has led to a standardisation of ‘quality education’ resembling a corporate governance model in a capitalist system that centres on competition, surveillance, and privatisation in schools. The ‘streetlight effect’ has meant governments focus on subjects where measures of educational performance are well lit (quantifiable and accessible) such as maths and sciences whilst the arts are being scaled back or dismissed.

Two new initiatives: PISA for Development (PISA D); and ‘PISA Global Competency’, embed this dangerous influence further. PISA-D was created to support the monitoring framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) which intended to tailor surveys for a broader set of countries, namely low and middle-income countries. Seemingly the OECD desires to absorb these countries into the prevailing system of quality assurance as opposed to altering its own vision of success in education. PISA Global Competency was forged to support SDG target 4.7. which aims to foster cultures that promote ‘sustainable development’ through ‘education of sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles’. ‘Global competence’ is defined by the OECD as ‘skills’ and ‘mind habits’ for ‘global interdependence’ to live with ‘meaning and direction in contexts where global interactions increase exponentially’, raising deep conceptual criticism of what constitutes the ‘global’ and who is determining the ‘meaning’ and ‘direction’.  It goes far beyond ‘sustainable development’ into something much deeper – changing cultural values. The compounding effect of PISA D and PISA Global Competency contributes to the widening and deepening of OECD’s governance to endorse neoliberal globalisation beyond the market, beyond the classroom and into selfhood.

Ignoring both the cultural context of education systems and down-grading less quantifiable, arts-based education endangers a generation of learners. We believe that in many ways it is these aspects of education that have much more to teach us all about resilience and creativity in a rapidly changing world. Justice Studio has assisted a number of clients such as the Wessex Dance Academy and Hampshire Cultural Trust who are proving that arts-based activities can be transformative both for the individual learner and their environments. It is crucial that we embrace all forms of education, and not reject the aspects that are harder to quantify within the terms the neo-liberal value system has imposed.



Election 2019 Manifesto Analysis

Election 2019 Manifesto Analysis

The UK General Election, set for Thursday 12th December, presents an opportunity for all parties to improve social justice. Focusing on the manifesto commitments towards criminal justice, Justice Studio sets out the main parties’ approaches to young people, human rights law, policing, gender-based violence, legal aid, the courts, prisons and terrorism.

Young people

At the age of 10, children are legally responsible for crimes they commit, whilst being deemed too irresponsible to vote. None of the parties tackle our criminally low age of responsibility, however, both the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats want to extend the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds.

In terms of disrupting the path of young people towards crime, Labour and the Conservatives focus on youth services, with Labour stating that they would ‘rebuild our youth services and guarantee young people’s access to youth workers.’ The Conservatives would invest £500m in new youth clubs and services and promote the National Citizen Service in schools to bring communities together. The Greens would also ‘invest in youth services and centres’, helping turn at-risk children away from crime. This is especially important for the Greens in ending knife crime. The Liberal Democrats’ ‘public health approach’ to youth violence would provide a £500m ringfenced youth services fund to local authorities to reinvest in youth services, as well as embedding ‘trauma-informed Youth Intervention Specialists in all Major Trauma Centres.’

With regards to school exclusions, the Conservatives take a punitive approach, wanting to expand the practice, backing heads to use exclusions and helping teachers to tackle bullying, whilst the Lib Dems pledge to reverse the damage of exclusions to young people, giving local authorities the responsibility for exclusions. The Greens promise to create ‘a fully inclusive education system’.

Labour commits to invest in a youth justice system where young people are diverted from crime through co-operation between schools, local, health and other authorities. They also commit to tackling the disproportionate levels of BAME children in custody. The Greens similarly pledge a cross-government strategy to tackle ethnic inequalities, ranging from school exclusions through to biased treatment in the criminal justice system. The Conservatives reiterate their plan for trialling Secure Schools for existing offenders. They also pledge to ‘establish Violence Reduction Units to prevent serious crime, requiring co-operation between schools, police, councils and health authorities. The Brexit party pledge to ‘abolish distortive targets’ and introduce sentence ‘ranges’ for young offenders to encourage rehabilitation.

County Lines is only addressed specifically by the Brexit party and the Conservatives. The Conservatives would strengthen the National Crime Agency to tackle county lines gangs, child sexual abuse and ‘eradicate human trafficking and modern slavery’. 

Sentencing and Human Rights

Many of the parties want to introduce new sentencing policies; either creating more sentences or less. Both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives promise to introduce stronger penalties for animal cruelty offences. For the Lib Dems, that means increasing maximum sentencing from six months to five years and properly funding the National Wildlife Crime Unit. In order to address homelessness, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats pledge to scrap the Vagrancy Act so that rough sleeping is no longer criminalised.

On drugs policy, the Greens stand out with a radical decriminalisation agenda, to ‘end the war on drugs’. They want to repeal the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, pardon and expunge the criminal records of those previously convicted for possession and small-scale supply of drugs, and create an ‘evidence-based, legalised, regulated system of drug control.’ They would have an Advisory Council for Drug Safety and promise that the production, import and supply of all drugs will be regulated according to the specific risks they pose to individuals, society and the environment.

The Human Rights Act is mentioned by most of the main parties, except the Brexit party. The Conservatives state that they will ‘update the Human Rights Act to ensure proper balance between individual rights, national security and effective government’. Labour will ‘retain and promote’ it, and the Lib Dems pledge to ‘defend the Human Rights Act, resist any attempt to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights and oppose any laws that unnecessarily erode civil liberties.’ The Greens will similarly retain the act as well as reaffirming the UK’s commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights. They also pledge to introduce a ‘Digital Bill of Rights’ and a new law on ‘Universal Jurisdiction’, to make it easier to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.


Policing is a high profile topic and as such all national parties have addressed it to some degree in their manifestoes. The Conservatives have been headlining with an increase in uniformed officers by 20,000 since Boris Johnson was selected as leader, and this is included in the manifesto. Labour has committed to recruit 2,000 more officers than the Conservatives, bringing total police numbers to 1,000 above the level at which it stood in 2010. The Brexit party also promises an unspecified increase in police numbers. The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto sets out an investment of an extra £1billion in community policing and emphasises that stopping Brexit will mean continued transnational police and security co-operation via agencies like Europol and the European Arrest Warrant. The Greens would create a new role: ‘community liaison and equality officers’.

The Lib Dems, Labour and Conservative manifestoes all touch on cybercrime, technology and new threats. The Conservatives pledge to create a new cyber crime police force and to enable the police to make use of biometrics, artificial intelligence, and DNA. The Lib Dems promise a new Online Crime Agency and Labour say they will review the role of the National Cyber Security Centre to examine expanding its remit, and strengthen the ability of the NCA to deal with economic and cybercrime.

Mental health features prominently throughout the Liberal Democrat manifesto. They pledge to end the use of police cells in cases of mental health crises, and to establish mental health liaison teams in all hospitals. They also set a one hour target of handing over mental health crisis cases from the police to public health officials.

None of the manifestos are especially strong on police accountability. The Liberal Democrats even propose the abolition of democratically elected Police and Crime Commissioners. There is also a degree of different parties appealing to supposed core constituencies: the Conservatives mention rural crime, the Brexit Party talks about cracking down on illegal immigration and both Labour and the Liberal Democrats mention stop and search.

Gender Based Violence

All of the main parties, with the exception of the Brexit Party, make pledges to tackle gender based violence. The Greens are the most comprehensive on this. They would develop and implement ‘a UK-wide strategy to tackle gender-based violence, including domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and trafficking’. The Conservatives and Labour take a more enforcement approach. The Conservatives pledge to ‘fight crimes against women’ and to increase ‘community support for victims of rape and sexual abuse’. Labour will ensure better police training on domestic abuse and offences arising from coercive control, as well as establishing an independent review ‘into shamefully low rape prosecution rates,’ and promise a Commissioner for Violence against Women and Girls.

The Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Greens want to roll back the effects of Conservative austerity cuts to survivor centres and support. The Lib Dems would expand the number of refugees and rape crisis centres ‘to meet demand’, giving local authorities the duty and funding to provide accommodation and support for survivors, and establish a national rape crisis helpline. Labour promises to reverse cuts to legal aid so survivors aren’t forced to represent themselves against their abusers in court. The Greens would similarly ‘roll back the cuts to support centres and refuges, and increase funding to provide more safe and secure accommodation for women and their children. They would ensure Rape Crisis Centre services receive ‘sustainable funding’ so that all survivors ‘receive proper support’. This would include increasing and ringfencing the Rape Support Fund and ensuring funds are provided via the Victim Surcharge.

Most of the parties had policies related to the Domestic Abuse Bill. The Conservatives pledge to pass the bill, Labour pledge to reintroduce it, whilst the Greens pledge to introduce a new bill, which ‘enables prosecution of economic abuse.’ The Liberal Democrats would ‘legislate for a statutory definition of domestic abuse that includes its effects on children.’

On other issues, only the Liberal Democrats set out their commitment towards ratifying and bringing in to law the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention on violence against women (2011). The Greens want to make misogyny a hate crime and ensure that this recognises the groups of women who are most at risk.’

Legal Aid

Eighty per cent of the population was eligible for legal aid when it was first introduced 70 years ago; only an estimated 20 per cent are today. The legal aid budget stood at £2.2bn before the coalition government introduced the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) act in 2012, intended to reduce spending by £350m while reducing the scope of civil legal aid cases.

Labour devotes the most attention to the issue of all the main national parties. It would reverse LASPO cuts, restoring all early legal aid advice for housing, social security, and family cases. The party would also restore legal aid to immigration cases, though in October the government brought legal aid back into scope for separated migrant children. Labour would also consult on the civil legal aid means-test levels and act on the criminal legal aid review. The manifesto commits to ensuring legal aid for inquests into deaths in state custody and the preparation of judicial review cases.

While not as far-reaching as Labour, the Liberal Democrats would establish a ‘new right’ to affordable, reasonable legal assistance, pumping £500m into the legal aid system. The legal aid budget currently stands at £1.6bn, roughly £950m less in real terms than its 2010 levels.

As mentioned, the Greens also commit to reversing cuts to legal aid to protect survivors of gender-based violence from having to represent themselves against their abusers in court. Some 18 per cent of all cases in 2016 were self-represented, compared to just two per cent in 2010.

The Conservatives make general pledges to look at ‘broader aspects’ of the constitution, which includes access to justice for ordinary people, though they fail to outline any formal commitments.

Courts & Judges

Attempts to legislate about the court system itself may be perceived as an effort to curb its independence and upset the democratic balance. In a democracy, an independent judiciary ensures that there are proper checks and balances and that the executive does not exceed its remit when implementing the law as set by the legislature. Nevertheless, all of the main parties, with the exception of the Green Party, make pledges on the courts system.

The Liberal Democrats say that they would like to improve diversity among judges as well as other professions within the justice system, such as police and prison officers, by adopting ambitious diversity targets with regular reporting to parliament. Labour, too, say they would like to see a more ‘representative’ judiciary, whilst upholding its independence.

In contrast to the other parties, the Brexit Party appears unconcerned about the principle of ensuring that judges remain independent of politicians. They propose ‘reforming’ the Supreme Court so that judges who play a role in politics (which is not well defined in the party’s manifesto) are subject to political scrutiny. They would like to ensure political balance among the justices by broadening participation in the Selection Commission or conducting interviews by Parliamentary Committee, essentially leading to a US-style system of party political judge appointments. The Conservatives, meanwhile, promise to make judicial review available to protect against an overbearing state, while ensuring it is not abused to conduct politics by other means.

On courts, Labour pledge to end the programme of court closures and to review the funding of the Crown Prosecution Service. They also promise to keep employment tribunals free, extend their powers, and to introduce new Labour Courts with a stronger role for people with industrial experience on panels. The Conservatives promise and provide costings for a pilot of integrated domestic abuse courts that address criminal and family matters as part of the same process.


Prisons fluctuate between being a critical political issue and being largely ignored. The hyper-incarceration crisis set in motion during the Blair years is continuing, albeit to a lesser degree than when the incarceration rate reached its peak in 2012. Prison occupancy is currently running at 111%, with overcrowding significantly worse than that in some facilities. With this in mind, the Conservative pledge to create 10,000 more prison places may appear sensible, but this seems to be an admission of defeat with regard to ensuring that more people do not re-offend and continue to return to prison.

The Conservatives also propose to create a ‘prisoner education service’ focused on work-based training and skills and to improve employment opportunities for former offenders, including a job coach in each prison. In stark contrast they also pledge to maintain the ban on prisoners being able to vote: arguably preventing prisoners from engaging in civic life seems counterintuitive to encouraging them to participate in rehabilitative activities and taking civic duties such as voting seriously.

On prisons, the Lib Dems echo the focus on improving mental health seen elsewhere in their manifesto. They pledge to treat mental health problems with the same urgency as physical health and to ensure the continuity of treatment between prisons and the community. They, too, mention rehabilitation, pledge to recruit 2,000 more prison officers and to improve the provision of training, education and work opportunities.

Labour’s stance reflects the party’s current broader view of the workforce and the economy. Similarly to their police officer pledge, they plan to restore total prison officer numbers to 2010 levels and to phase out lone working which they view as being dangerous to staff. Furthermore, they pledge to bring PFI prisons back under state control and promise that there will be no new private prisons. They also promise to tackle the prison maintenance backlog and develop a long-term estate strategy, reflecting a degree of technical understanding of the challenges of outdated buildings and infrastructure.

The Greens plan to halve the prison population and to ‘expand’ restorative justice. They will enhance the rehabilitation services on offer to long-term prisoners and commission rehabilitation services that have a track record of success. They will furthermore support the development of specialist women’s centres in order to reduce the female prison population. The Brexit Party’s manifesto has nothing to say on the subject generally.

Extremism and Terrorism

The threat of extremism has gained renewed attention in the wake of the recent London Bridge attack, prompting the Conservatives to announce a new policy to enforce minimum sentences of 14 years for serious terror offences.

The government’s hallmark anti-radicalisation programme, Prevent, has come under intense criticism for its impacts on the Muslim community. Labour, which introduced the strategy in 2003, has said it would review and consider replacing Prevent with alternative safeguarding programmes to protect the most vulnerable. The Greens would replace Prevent with ‘community cohesive policing’ to engage BME communities.

There is a balance to be struck between security and civil liberties. Labour would ensure security powers are exercised proportionately. Both the Lib Dems and Conservatives would provide funding and protection to places of worship. The Conservatives would also improve safety at public venues, while the Lib Dems would limit the use of technology in intrusive domestic surveillance.

The Conservatives would invest in the security services to give them the necessary powers and tools to combat new threats. Immigration controls would prevent entry for serious foreign national offenders and ensure those already here are deported. The Brexit Party’s ‘clean-break-Brexit’ would allow the UK to control its own borders and national security.

Labour would ensure closer counter-terrorism coordination between the police and security services, combining international intelligence with ‘neighbourhood expertise.’ The party also promises to strengthen scrutiny and accountability, while constraining the Prime Minister’s power to suppress the publication of committee reports. The Greens would replace the Home Office with Ministries of Sanctuary and of the Interior to oversee domestic security and protect human rights.

The Conservative manifesto reiterates the party’s commitment to existing multilateral power bases in the UN and Five Eyes and would champion collective security by exceeding NATO spending targets. Labour would respect international law to counteract global threats and agree a new UK-EU Security Treaty. The Lib Dems would defend against nationalism and isolationism through the UN and NATO while strengthening existing EU crime-fighting tools.



Justice Studio’s purpose is to create global social equality by assisting and challenging organisations, governments and ourselves to be the best we can be.


99 years by his name

99 years by his name

IMAGE USE:  Photo by Matthew Ansley on Unsplash

There is nothing so heartbreaking as interviewing a boy in prison with ‘99 years’ written by his name. I can still see him: hazy, and unsure of himself and the draconian sentence he had just received, as I interviewed him in a Youth Offending Institution, back in 2010.

I was undertaking a detailed study of young people in England and Wales who had been given long-term sentences for the Youth Justice Board. One of the things I had to establish was if the young people understood the ‘nature and implications of their sentence’. This boy sticks out because he most certainly did not understand the nature and implication of his sentence. He, like many young people who received that impossibly long punishment, believed his first date for parole in a couple of years was actually his release date.

At the time, in 2010, there were four long term sentences being given to children. Two of them had determined end dates (Section 91 and Section 228) and two of them had indeterminate end dates (Section 90 and Section 226). In these last two, the court specifies a minimum tariff that is required to be served before the child is eligible to apply for parole. It’s not when you leave, it’s when you get a chance to leave.

Detention at Her Majesty’s please, (Section 90), is the life sentence; it applies to those under 18 years convicted of murder. Brought in under the 1908 Children Act, it replaced the death penalty for children: ‘… in lieu thereof the court shall sentence the child or young person to be detained during His Majesty’s pleasure’. The current provision is within the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act (PCC(S)A) 2000, Section 90.

Section 226 was the DPP – Detention for Public Protection – the child version of the IPP: the Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection. Brought in by the Criminal Justice Act of 2003, it was a draconian, hard-line sentence, designed for a few. For both children and adults, they were life sentences for serious offences excluding murder and they came with a blanket 99 year licence. The court set a minimum tariff to be served before the young person may apply for parole. This was 12 months for those sentenced before 14 June 2008, and 2 years for those sentenced on or after that date.

The judges went to town on this new sentencing power. Thousands of adults and children were given IPPs and DPPs in the preceding years. At their peak, in June 2012, there were 6,080 people serving indeterminate Section 226 sentences.

Civil society organisations warned of the dangers of IPPs. The Centre for Mental Health wrote that ‘levels of mental distress are higher among IPP prisoners than among either the general prison population or prisoners serving life sentences’. The Prison Reform Trust highlighted that IPP prisoners were emotionally distressed and that the sentence eroded of any sense of hope, damaged relationships and created Kafkaesque obstacles to discover when they have any prospect of release.

A joint review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Prison and Probation in 2008 highlighted the case against child DPPs, showing that in addition to the problems above, many young people didn’t even understand the sentence that had been doled out to them. Whilst they knew they were considered a risk to the public, most young people initially thought that their tariff date was their release date, like my young man above. This was precisely why we found ourselves talking to child after child who had inconceivably long sentences by their names in that 2010 research and trying to establish if they actually realised what this meant.

During the research, we spoke to a number of staff members who were particularly worried about the implications for children on indeterminate sentences. Prison is damaging for a child in general, but the psychological distress associated with the uncertainty of having no idea when one will get out is even more traumatic. Mental health problems were exacerbated by the indeterminate nature of sentences, and that one might leave at some point via parole is no relief if you don’t understand this, you don’t have access to the courses necessary to secure your release, and if the parole board doesn’t understand you.

The outcry, the bulging prison population, and a sympathetic new Justice Secretary Kenneth Clark saw the Section 226 IPP and DPP sentence abolished in December 2012 by the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act. However, because LASPO was not implemented retrospectively, the sentenced DPP and IPPs remained. There were 5,809 IPPs serving in 2013 with 3,570 serving beyond their tariff date.

In England and Wales, we can boast the highest number of people serving indefinite detention in Europe. Overall, in the prison estate, there were 9,342 (8,994 male; 348 female) indeterminate sentenced prisoners (including both IPPs and life sentences) at the end of June 2019. Within this statistic hides the 19 young people aged between 15 and 17 who are detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, a sentence that remains alive and well.

By the end of June 2019, there were 2,315 people: 2,273 males and 42 females, serving that botched and awful sentence the IPP. A depressing 92% of these prisoners are now serving beyond their original tariff date.

Almost ten years on I wonder: is that uncertain boy, now a man, one amongst these statistics? If he is, he must grimly understand his sentence now.




Modern Slavery and County Lines Focus Groups: We need your opinion!

Modern Slavery and County Lines Focus Groups: We need your opinion!

Justice Studio is working with London Councils to conduct four focus groups as part of their ‘County Lines and Modern Slavery Polling’ project, which will be evaluating the impact of communications and messaging on people’s perceptions of county lines and modern slavery.


The objective of these focus group discussions is to assess and test understanding of issues such as county lines and modern slavery, and to understand and test the messaging penetration and perception of such topics. Ideally, this will help to develop a roadmap with the goal of changing the public’s behaviour on drug use and it will help to reduce the harm caused to young Londoners involved in county lines.

Who should participate?

Our core target demographic for these focus groups are working professionals in the City. There are no other demographic or socio-economic restrictions for participants. If you meet this criterion and are interested to contribute to this important project, we would love to hear from you!

What’s in it for you?

Your participation will be highly valuable in terms of influencing future messaging on this topic. The focus group will take no longer than 90 minutes and light refreshments will be included as a small token of our appreciation for your time! It is a unique opportunity for you to learn more about the issue, be able to give back to society in Greater London and to engage and highlight the role communities can play in helping to protect young Londoners and save lives.

We will also be acknowledging/recognising corporate participants within the public report, which will be published by London Councils. The report will be shared and distributed widely and could be a great opportunity for your organisation to show your commitment to improving the lives of young Londoners. If you think your company could be interested to support initiative, please do get in touch.

What will the discussion be about?

Questions around the following themes will be discussed during the focus group:

  • Understanding of definitions of issues including county lines and modern slavery
  • Testing awareness of narratives and public messaging on these issues
  • Testing awareness of relationships between county lines and other forms of criminal activity
  • Understanding of connectivity and messaging channels, perceptions, what resonates with the public and what doesn’t
  • Reactions to information and discussion on behavioural change

Where and when will they take place?

The focus groups will be taking place at London Councils’ offices in London Bridge (59½ Southwark Street, London SE1 0AL).

For corporate participants, we could also host the focus groups at your office for the convenience of your employees.

We plan to hold the final focus group on Monday 28th October between 18:00-19:30.

How to get in touch

If you are able to participate at any point, share this with your colleagues/network or just want further information on the project, please don’t hesitate to Claire on; 44 (0) 7889257854.

How Britain and Uganda have failed the LGBTQI+ community

How Britain and Uganda have failed the LGBTQI+ community

The recent case of PN, who was blocked from boarding her flight back to the UK after being unlawfully deported, shines a light on the long standing, contradictory, and hypocritical relationship between the UK and Uganda over homosexuality. In this historical tragedy, the LGBTQI+ community have suffered as pawns in a game of law.

It started long ago, in 1533, with Britain’s Buggery Act. This Act, part of the centralising legal reforms of King Henry VIII, enshrined the state illegality of homosexual sex, and made it punishable by execution. Sapphic, or lesbian, sex was not criminalised, not because it was accepted, but because it was largely denied or ignored. In legal terms, women were not considered as agents, for example, married women’s legal personality was subsumed under their husband’s legal status as “two souls in one flesh.” In 1828, the Offences Against the Person Act modernised the 1533 law, in 1861 the penalty was reduced from death to imprisonment, and in 1885 the Criminal Law Amendment Act set the punishment at two years’ imprisonment, however widened the net to include any homosexual act witnesses or not.

Unsurprisingly, the country so threatened by same-sex love that they had to punish it, was the same country that felt so insecure in its status that it had to violently subjugate other countries in order to feel big and powerful.

So, whilst at home, the British were tinkering about with how best to punish men for expressing their affection for other men, abroad, they were tinkering about on other people’s land and claiming it as their own. Privileged British men with guns started stomping around the land that was to become Uganda in 1870s. Identifying as straight, entitled and superior, first Sir Samuel Baker, then General Gordon, and ultimately Captain Lugard, had their eyes on the three kingdoms inhabited the area of today’s Uganda: Buganda, Ankole and Bunyoro. However, contrary to the homophobic views that dominated Britain, in East Africa, opinions on same-sexuality appear to have been accepting. King Mwanga II of Buganda for example, was openly bisexual, and among the Lango people, certain men, named mudoko dako,  were treated by society kindly as women, and believed to form a “third gender” alongside male and female. Nevertheless, this acceptance was soon to end. In acts that were the anitthesis of respectful, by January 1892, Captain Lugard managed to force Mwanga to sign a treaty recognising the British East Africa Company’s authority in Buganda. The British Government’s official Protectorate of Uganda began on August 1894.

What followed was a brutal and unashamed campaign to control the people of Uganda and impose British customs and law. Of course, what was law in Britain was deemed appropriate to be the basis of law everywhere, and laws prohibiting same-sex sexual acts were enacted under British colonial rule. The colonial period, stretching into the mid 20th century brought with it immense legally sanctioned degradation of subjugated peoples shattering previously existing communities. In 1950, in a brutal culmination of state sanctioned homophobia, a new Penal Code was enacted, enshrining the prejudices of their British overlords clearly in Ugandan law. Section 145: Unnatural offences; Section 146: Attempt to commit unnatural offences, and Section 148: Indecent practices, outlawed homosexual sex. As women in Ugandan law got the same disregard from the colonialists as in British law, the act only applied to men.

As anti-homosexual legislation was passed in Uganda, in a cruel twist of fate, back in Britain, the 1950s public mood was beginning to be more empathetic and accepting of lesbian and gay people.  Alan Turing, the Bletchley Park scientist who broke the enigma code, was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, and was found dead in 1953. Convictions of the beloved actor Sir John Gielgud and a Peer in the House of Lords, in the same year, served to turn the public mood against criminalisation. The Government asked Sir John Wolfenden to investigate homosexuality and prostitution. The subsequent 1957 Wolfenden report, concluded that homosexuality, in limited circumstances, should be decriminalised. Ten years later, in 1967, the Sexual Offences Act became law, making sex between two consenting men over the age of 21 in private legal.

Meanwhile, Uganda had their own triumph, winning self-government on 1st March 1962. Yet lesbian and gay rights were not on their mind. From 1966, dictatorship marred and weakened the legislative function. First under Milton Obote, then after the military coup in January 1971 by Idi Amin, the order of the day was more, rather than less, discrimination. Ugandan Asians were exiled from the country and hundreds of thousands of politicians, journalists and intellectuals were killed.

President Museveni, sworn in as president in 1986 and still in power, has not halted the discriminatory trend. In 2000, the Penal Code Amendment (Gender References) Act changed the relevant sections of the Penal Code to refer to “any person” instead of ‘any male” so that lesbian acts were criminalised as well, bringing a dangerous equality to the law for women. The Act also extended criminalisation to heterosexuals by outlawing oral and anal sex regardless of sexual orientation.

In 2000s, visitors from the USA served to stir up the climate of hate. The extremist evangelical minister Scott Lively first visited Uganda in 2002 to drum up homophobia amongst influential Ugandan religious leaders. Then, in 2009, he headlined an anti-gay conference and worked with Ugandan MPs to devise legislation to target the LGBTQI+ community and drum up public support for it. Subsequently, Ugandan MP David Bahati introduced a harsh anti-homosexuality bill which would initiate the death penalty for gay sex, ban LGBTQI+ groups, and force families to report gay relatives.

Yet whilst the 2000s saw more outside influence promoting hatred in Uganda, it also saw the burgeoning and strengthening of a courageous LGBTQI+ activism. The first Lesbian Bisexual and Queer organisation, FARUG, was formed by Kasha Nabagesera in 2013, and in 2004 Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) was formed as an umbrella organisation for the growing movement. So when the Uganda Anti-homosexuality Act was passed in 2014, the activists came prepared and united. Joining with feminist groups, and successfully petitioning the Constitutional Court of Uganda on 1 August 2014, the Act was ruled invalid. However, despite this success, violence against the LGBTQI+ community in Uganda has increased.  Forcibly outed people experience “physical threats, violent attacks, torture, arrest, blackmail,” and there have been cases of ‘corrective rape’ among lesbian women whose families and peers forcibly try to ‘correct’ their sexual orientation.

Given that PN has been subject to gang rape herself, no wonder she is desperate and terrified. How disgusting then, that a country who subjugated another country in the 19th century, introducing the hate filled laws that have put PN in danger in the first place, have, through their immigration laws, committed her once again to ongoing threat.

As part of our current research for the Equality & Justice Alliance into LGBTQI+ and women’s movements, Justice Studio has been intimately aware of the extreme abuse and discrimination faced by LGBTQI+ people and activists in Uganda. We strive to understand, and acknowledge, the legacy of colonialism in our work, especially when we are operating in a different country from our own. As we undertake our work in Uganda, we remain cognisant of the privilege it is to work with the Ugandan people, despite what our country of incorporation has inflicted upon them.




The Housing Crisis Across the Pond: Lessons for the UK

Glyn Robbins - Jerome AvenuePhoto: Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, New York, US

On a recent short visit to the US, I encountered a number of issues that resonate in the UK.  Fortunately, I was over there while Donald Trump was over here in London.  But even in his absence, the political temperature ahead of next year’s presidential election is rising.  Like the UK, the US is currently in an almost permanent state of political crisis.  The Mueller Report and the possibility that Trump may be impeached dominates mainstream political and media discourse in a similar way to Brexit.  But as in the UK, there are other issues that have a more immediate impact on people’s daily lives.

The first place I visited was Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from downtown Manhattan.  I’ve written before about the dramatic changes in and around Old Street, where I work.  Very similar things are happening in Jersey City, but on an even bigger scale.  I first visited the city in 1992, when I worked for the public housing authority.  Back then, it was the epitome of post-industrial America, with an abandoned waterfront, derelict factories and deep poverty.  It was resolutely “blue collar”, with a significant African-American and Hispanic community, of whom lived in public housing.

Three decades later, the same forces that are trying to change London’s Old Street in to Tech City have transformed Jersey City beyond recognition.  The downtown area is festooned with high-rise apartments, offices, hotels, restaurants and yoga studios.  It’s sometimes called West Manhattan, or the Gold Coast.  But like EC1, this image gives a misleading impression.  The influx of affluence has not been evenly spread in either place.  Beyond downtown, Jersey City remains hard pressed.  In particular – and in common with everywhere in the US and UK – there’s an acute housing crisis driven by an over-heated market that is exacerbated by ill-conceived policy.

One obvious example of this, is the Montgomery Gardens public housing development, one of the places I used to work.  I remember it as a carefully managed, vibrant community, home to 1,300 people.  Today it stands empty and has been for several years.  It’s part of a government programme, very familiar in the UK, in which public or council housing is erased in the name of “regeneration”.  The objective for Montgomery Gardens is to attract private investment and create a “mixed income community”.  We can see the same across London, where at least 80 council estates are currently threatened with full or partial demolition.  As in Jersey City, such policies, however well intentioned, always lead to a net loss of genuinely affordable rented homes, cause displacement and the destruction of settled working class communities.

Glyn Robbins - Montgomery Gardens.jpgPhoto: Montgomery Gardens in Jersey City, New York, US

Similar things are afoot in the Bronx.  The area around Jerome Avenue is slated for fundamental transformation by the City of New York.  Currently, it’s a place where most of the population are Hispanic, 90% are private renters, many of whom work in local independent car repair garages and shops.  Looming at the south end of Jerome Avenue is Yankee Stadium.  New York City mayor (and now presidential candidate) Bill de Blasio has an objective of building or preserving 200,000 “affordable” homes by 2025.  Mayor Sadiq Khan has a very similar policy agenda.  Jerome Avenue has been identified as an opportunity to create a “new neighbourhood”, but this is causing great anxiety in the existing community, particularly because they don’t think many of the new homes will be affordable to them.  People I work with in Islington have identical concerns.

But there’s hope.  On 14th June, after a long campaign, politicians passed a series of steps to protect and improve the rights of 2.4 million private renters in the Big Apple, potentially extending this to another million households throughout the state of New York.  The measures include rent control and protection against harassment by landlords and eviction.  Judith Goldiner, a lawyer working for the campaign coalition that won the reforms said; “This landmark deal has recognised that the rights of tenants to stable, affordable and fair housing is an absolute necessity and should be placed above landlord profits”.

Alongside investment in council housing, which is now the only truly secure and affordable rented tenure, reform of the UK’s private rented sector is critical if we are to escape the perennial housing crisis and the worst excesses of urban America.  The recent spike in deadly violence in London, including several incidents near Justice Studio in North London, is symptomatic of the social distress and disruption being caused by market-driven urban policies.  I was recently quoted in Tribune magazine by Professor David Harvey in an article about the commodification of housing and the right to the city:

‘Neoliberal and profit-driven urban policies have produced cities in which many young people literally feel they have no place. They find it almost impossible to find a home they can afford in the communities where they were born, thwarting their ability to develop independent lives. Their social networks, sense of belonging, and feeling of respect from the adult world have been stretched to breaking point. Nothing could be more perfectly calculated to create a situation in which young people don’t care, either about the lives of others, or their own.’

Justice Studio believes that it’s not too late to save our cities from this fate, but time is running out.  Based in Tottenham, we have seen how the effects of housing policy is severely affecting disadvantaged communities. At a previous ‘Food + Thought session – The illusion of regeneration’ our speakers challenged the myth that communities ought to be destroyed to improve housing. Justice Studio is committed to bringing evidence and challenge to social housing policy.

Screenshot 2019-06-25 at 17.52.33Photo: ‘Justice Studio – Food + Thought session – The illusion of regeneration’ in Tottenham, UK

Glyn Robbins (PhD) is Justice Studio’s associate and expert in housing. Glyn’s book, “There’s No Place: The American housing crisis and what it means for the UK” can be ordered by email to  

Glyn Robbins Head shot