Professor Duncan French, Head of Lincoln Law School and Dr Graham Melling, Director of LLM Programmes, have recently returned from Guangzhou, southern China on a visit to a number of partner institutions. During their stay they visited the law schools of South China Normal University (SCNU) and South China University of Technology (SCUT). As well as meeting academics and students to talk about opportunities to study at Lincoln, both Professor French and Dr Melling took a range of classes on aspects of international law. Topics included the unilateral declaration of independence of Catalonia, the US withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the legal implications of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Catalonia unilaterally declared independence without the permission of Spain. There is a long and historical debate as to when a region of a country can “secede” and become independent. I won’t enter into that history here but simply note that this situation is very different from the Scottish attempt to become independent through a referendum a few years ago. Then, the referendum was authorised by the UK Parliament and if it had been successful, the UK Parliament would have (likely) not stood in Scotland’s way to become independent.
In this case, everything Catalonia has done has been unilateral and against the express wishes of Spain; its sovereign.
In international law, the so-called principle of self-determination says all peoples have the right to self-determination but ordinarily in the case of a region within a country, that is limited to self-government. There is a debate whether if the country prevents self-government, especially through military force, it might have the right to claim independence. Despite some evidence of Spanish police force at the time of the referendum, there is nothing to substantiate this (yet).
The International Court has been very clear that declarations of independence – of themselves – are not prohibited by international law (Kosovo Advisory Opinion 2010). But whether they result in a successful independent State is another matter. That largely depends on recognition – and in this case, countries such as the US and the UK have been very quick to refuse it.
So is Catalonia a State? Well, in the absence of recognition by any other State and clearly still subject to Spanish control, it is quite difficult to see how the fourth Montevideo criteria of “capacity to enter into legal relations with other States” (ie political independence) has been met.
Could things change? Yes.
Spain might eventually agree to Catalan independence – this is highly unlikely. And once Spain does this, other States will follow.
Catalonia and Spain may enter into a civil war – let’s hope not. But eventually some States may as a result recognise Catalonia.
Spain may act so harshly towards Catalans now that international sympathy begins to emerge for Catalonia as a State – this is sometimes referred to as “remedial secession”; that the only way out for Catalonia is independence. Unlikely in this situation.
Ironically, the best way for Spain to keep Catalonia within Spain is to give it even more autonomy. But will it?
Professor Duncan French, Co-Director of Lincoln Centre for Environmental Law & Justice, has recently been involved in two events establishing a paradigmatic shift in environmental law. First, he attended the inaugural and founding event for the Ecological Law and Governance Association (ELGA) at the University of Siena, Italy. Secondly, he participated via video-link in a global conference based in Montreal between lawyers and economists on the governance challenges of the Anthropocene.
ELGA’s mission is premised on the 2016 “Oslo Manifesto” which recognises that current environmental law is at a crossroads and, on the whole, fails to regulate human activity sufficiently in light of the enormity of impending ecological crises. ELGA thus seeks to promote “ecological law” as a less anthropocentric approach to nature.
The Montreal conference took this idea further, recognising the geological agency of humanity in changing the Earth. Professor French participated in the event, with a particular focus on the role of international dispute settlement in holding States to account as we move towards increasingly seeing the impacts of our shift into he Anthropocene.
Duncan French commented: “it has been truly exciting to contribute to these two events, both of which have explored the limitations of current environmental rules. The Lincoln Centre for Environmental Law & Justice will continue to be involved in these activities, reflecting also its recently work on animal welfare with our Visiting Professor, Professor Werner Scholtz, as well as preparing for welcoming in the New Year of our Marie Curie international fellow, Professor of Environmental Law, Professor Louis Kotze.”
Professor Duncan French, Head of Lincoln Law School, has recently been in Rome to attend a 2 day Experts Group Meeting organised by UN Environment (UNEP) and UN Interegional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) on combatting environmental crime.
As a member of the technical advisory group, Professor French has been involved since the beginning of the project and led conversations during the experts meeting.
The next stage is for the group to revise the document on which the project has been working, for preparation for the UN Environment Assembly, the most senior political body in the UN System exclusively focused on environmental matters.
Professor French notes: “it has been a huge honour to be involved in this process, and to develop relations not only with UN colleagues but other experts and intergovernmental officials seeking to tackle environmental crime”.
Lincoln Law School is delighted to announce the first showing of “DisObey” – the film made by Jordan Baseman during his time as our Artist in Residence.
The film was shown in the Close Up Film Centre in London to c120 people over three showings, prior to its showing at the Lincoln Frequency Festival in October.
“DisObey” deals with crime and policing, how society identifies and characterises what is criminal, and the contested value of prison as a punitive measure.