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Brunel law project empowers teens with human rights knowledge

Global Reach Virtual Fair

With the human rights of many increasingly under threat post-Brexit, law lecturers from Brunel University London are helping empower a generation of young people to know their rights and engage with the fight to protect them.

Hundreds of 16-18-year-old school pupils in London, Cambridge and Harrow have taken part or are about to take part in Brunel’s ‘Knowing Our Rights’ workshops, to gain a greater awareness about the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The project will be formally launched by Director of Liberty Martha Spurrier QC at a Brunel event on Tuesday 14th March.

Pupils attend sessions at Brunel or at their schools, where law lecturers present on key issues, screen videos on human rights, provide pupils with reading materials developed by Brunel’s Britain in Europe (BiE) think-tank, and encourage pupils to engage in debate.

Contrary to entrenched stereotypes of disengaged youth, the students have so far demonstrated both a good understanding and interest in controversial global human rights issues, and an appetite to learn more.

The project began at Brunel Law School in February this year with the first school human rights debating competition. Teams from across London took part, with every participant awarded a copy of the late Tom Bingham’s The Rule of Law.

Three rounds of debates included the subjects of whether the burqa should be banned, whether prisoners should have the vote, and whether we should expect privacy online.

Professor Arad Reisberg, Head of Law at Brunel, observed: “This was an excellent and timely debate of the highest quality; it was good to see how engaged the next generation of students are with human rights issues. We all have a stake and an obligation as researchers to engage with and contribute to current human rights debates that matter to us all.”

At a Knowing Our Rights workshop in Northgate School in Harrow – a Pupil Referral Unit for students with emerging health issues – pupils showed a particular interest in the presentation and found it empowering to know more about their rights to be protected from mental or physical harm.

In one of the first classes at Camden School for Girls, pupils took part in a debate on whether we should implement a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. Both groups overwhelmingly voted to keep the HRA with many stating that they feel European and ‘do not understand why we should change something that works’.

Workshop materials are being left with schools for continued use and made available online for others to download as the project expands.

Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, the project’s principal investigator, said: “Knowing Our Rights aims to deepen our understanding of the key human rights instruments in the UK, based on academic research, as a response to the populist anti-European media, which has for years capitalised on maligning the influence of the European Court of Human Rights in the UK.  

"It is very pleasing to observe the positive attitudes of our young people towards the Convention. In the last workshop I delivered, 38 out of the 39 sixth form students surveyed said they would strongly object to any efforts to diminish the force of, or repeal, the Human Rights Act.”

  • Earlier this year, BiE published a public letter calling on Parliament to protect UK-based EU citizens’ rights, post-Brexit, highlighting that non-recognition of the rights of EU citizens would breach Article 8 of the ECHR. The think-tank is continuing its work raising awareness in Parliament in view of the crucial forthcoming vote on relevant clauses there that may give recognition to EU citizens’ rights.
  • The first event in the Knowing our Rights Film Festival will be held at the Regent Street Cinema on May 31st 2017. BiE will host a screening of The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies with Q&A, with other events to come later in the year.
  • Brunel and Knowing Our Rights will host the London finals of the national schools debating competition, Debating Matters, in November 2017.

Follow the Knowing Our Rights project on Twitter at @KnowingOurRts and #OurRights.