Stop Press! Two-day Colloquium on emotions and law at QUB today and tomorrow

by Anna Morvern on March 25, 2013

A very exciting two-day Colloquium at Queen’s University on emotional dynamics, law and legal discourse, will be held today and tomorrow.  The University has confirmed, this morning, that there are still places if individuals want to attend, with sessions starting today at 1.45 PM (but note the fee in cash or cheque of £25 for students/unwaged; £75 for other delegates – inclusive of teas/coffee and lunch on both days).

The Colloquium is entitled “The Emotional Dynamics of Law and Legal Discourse”.  The QUB programme explains:

“In his seminal work on Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman suggests that the common view of human intelligence is far too narrow, and that emotions play a far greater role in thought, decision-making and individual success than is commonly acknowledged. The importance of emotion to human experience cannot be denied, yet the relationship between law and emotions is one that has not been systematically explored until recent years; as Maroney pointed out in 2006, the law has traditionally operated on the presumption that there is a world of difference between reason and emotion, that the sphere of law admits only of reason, and that in this sphere it is essential to keep emotional factors out of the picture. However, the last two decades have witnessed a growing interest in the relationship between law and emotions. The agenda was set in the 1990s by Susan Bandes in her influential set of essays The Passions of Law (New York University Press, New York, 1999), and since then has been developed further in such diverse fields as criminal law, emotion in judging, victims’ rights, refugee law, hate crimes, family law and the law of burial disputes.

Until now, the study of law and emotion has been very much a North American phenomenon, though there is a growing interest on the other side of the Atlantic. This conference will bring together scholars working in the diverse fields of law and the emotions across a number of jurisdictions, with two of the foremost US academic workings in the area. This will be one of the first specialist conferences to be held in the UK on law and emotions, and will be an interdisciplinary event designed to stimulate further research collaboration in the area.”

Within the Colloquium, there will be highly valuable presentations on migrant rights and refugee law in this context:

Professor Kathryn Abrams of Berkeley School of Law provides the following abstract of her paper:

“The United States stands at the brink of comprehensive immigration reform, the work of a burgeoning movement for immigrant justice. While the citizen-members of this movement have registered their power at the polls, the movement has been fuelled by the growing visibility and leadership of undocumented youth. This surprising development has reflected the skillful and determined management of emotions by these young activists:  their assumption of the stance of “undocumented and unafraid,” and their striving for affective connection through the narration of their own stories. Drawing on ethnographic observation and qualitative interviews with activists in Arizona, one of the leading sites of immigrant justice mobilization, I illuminate the role that the experience, performance, and management of emotions have played in a major effort to shape the law.”

Dr Jane Herlihy, of the Centre for the Study of Emotion and Law (CSEL) in London provides this summary of her presentation:

“A refugee, as defined by the Geneva Convention, is a person who ” … owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…” (Article 1(2)). People seeking protection as refugees have to present their claim to a receiving state, usually including an account of past experiences – often highly traumatic – in order to establish a ‘well-founded fear’.

This presentation will draw on studies examining way in which receiving states manage the decision to allow some people protection as refugees, a decision which rests heavily on an assessment of the credibility of the claimant and their account.  An understanding of human behaviour, intentions and motivations would seem to be an important underpinning of such decisions.  We will look at the emotional aspects of this decision-making, and where psychological science can be of use, both in the area of ‘legal doctrine’ and in working with ‘legal actors’ to ensure that this crucial area of decision making is based on the best available science of human behaviour.”

In my professional capacity as a refugee lawyer, I have been very interested in the ground-breaking work of CSEL.  David Rhys Jones, currently the Acting Chair of CSEL, advised on an article that I wrote, “The use of expert evidence by asylum applicants at appeal” in Law Centre NI’s Frontline Social Welfare Law Quarterly, Issue 83, page 24-25 (accessible here).

CSEL sets out on its own website:

“The Centre for the Study of Emotion and Law has its roots in a research project which set out to empirically investigate the basis for the assumption, common in asylum claim determinations, that traumatic memories are always consistently and accurately recalled.

We uphold the highest standards of empirical research, using established methodologies and submitting our studies to ethical scrutiny and peer review processes. In this way we can be confident that we are making available the best possible scientific knowledge to legal decision making processes”

CSEL’s most recent annual report provides details of the organisation’s work, including research, publications in this area, such as papers on the impact of sexual violence on disclosure in Home Office interviews, investigating discrepancies in repeated interviews and a project taking CSEL’s research findings to voluntary organisations who support traumatized women seeking asylum and outreach work.

Further documents in relation to the Colloquium, including whom to contact if you want to sign up to go along today, can be downloaded from the QUB School of Law website here.

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