Category Archives: Law

Robert Blakey – “Will criminal behaviour be treated one day like a brain-based cancer, rather than punished like evil?”

Monday the 4th of December marked the last Williams Project of 2018, as well as the last Williams Project with Mr Lord at the helm. With this in mind and with so many wonderful and insightful talks preceding him, Mr Robert Blakey, criminology doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford, had a hard task ahead of him. I’m sure it’s no surprise to hear that he did so with pure charisma and flawless knowledge with regard to his subject. Mr Blakey began his presentation by outlining the big question he would be attempting to answer: ‘Will criminal behaviour be one day treated like a brain-based cancer, rather than punished like evil?’ He began by giving us four concepts that contribute to a person’s offending: genes, social environment, brain activity and free will, and asked us to decide in what order they run in when contributing to a criminal committing a crime. We then proceeded to have an interactive discussion as a group in an attempt to order these notions, culminating in our successful ordering of the ideas. Mr Blakey then read us two scenarios about free will: one where, from a psychological point of view, our decisions were all caused by factors outside our control, and another similar but described in terms of chemical activity in our brains. He then invited us to stand on the left side of the room if we still believed the person in the example had free will or the right side if we believed they didn’t. It was interesting to see how many people moved to the side of no free will, particularly in the chemical scenario. This activity was thoroughly engaging and gave us a real opportunity to think things through for ourselves. Mr Blakey continued his fascinating talk by presenting the idea of rehabilitating criminals, especially young offenders, in good social environments instead of prisons as he noted that prisons are poor repairing facilities, as well as being detrimental to the mind of a youth offender. We spent the final minutes of the presentation trying to decide how to rehabilitate offenders, and whether there would ever be a perfect way to help lawbreakers. It was a captivating and highly perceptive talk that challenged us to think laterally with regards to many issues. Many thanks must go to Mr Blakey who we are sure would be very welcome to return to Chigwell in the near future.

Rory Hankins and Julie Vytrisalova

robert blakey at the williams project

robert blakey at the williams project

robert blakey at the williams project

robert blakey at the williams project

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Richard Barham – “Ever wondered how football clubs make money or how a football transfer works? The business of football”

Richard Barham (OC and partner of Denton’s) returned to the WP and spoke from his experience as a corporate lawyer working partly in the world of football. From selling whole clubs (Richard once sold Manchester City) and player transfers, to how FIFA and the FA are financed and try to regulate the market to prevent clubs from disappearing from our towns, Richard’s account was fascinating, detailed and illustrated by insider anecdotes.

Priscilla Alderson – “Can children have international inalienable human rights?”

Priscilla Alderson (Professor Emerita of Childhood Studies, UCL) led the Williams Project in a thoughtful discussion of the philosophical basis for children’s rights, taking as starting points issues and questions raised by the young people there present. Her style was refreshingly different, and mirrored in itself her emphasis on the importance of listening to young people themselves.

Simon Webb: ‘Slavery in Mid-20th-century Essex’

On the 26th of September, author and historian Simon Webb spoke to the Williams Project on the idea of British concentration camps after the second world war, where German prisoners of war were kept to provide forced labour for farming and rebuilding after the war. This is an idea that makes the listener inherently uncomfortable, and a topic that most historians simply gloss over. However, throughout the hour, Simon Webb went into great detail around the events and details that resulted in this, the loopholes that allowed surrendered prisoners of war to be kept for forced labour, and the eventual cancellation of the program during the Nuremburg Trials. Simon kept the audience captivated throughout the talk, which culminated in his excellent answering of the questions proposed to him from the attentive audience.

Michael Newman

John Gardner: ‘Holding on and letting go: why keep the life you already have? And how should you be compensated when things go wrong?’

At this the first meeting of the year we were delighted to have with us Patricia and Jonny Williams, widow and son of Bernard.

John Gardner (Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford) introduced us to his topic by first discussing his step-son, now in the process of applying to do Philosophy at a Scottish university. He talked of the boy’s reluctance to move on to that new stage because of the inevitability of having to separate from his Sixth Form friends, something that was certainly on my mind and surely on the minds of some of the other audience members in similar positions. From this we began to debate the necessity of a ‘friend’, and it was suggested that a friend was someone who was the ‘most useful’. This prompted the question of whether letting go of ‘useful’ friends would create the opportunity for more ‘useful’ friends, as well as the response that surely friends are a crucial part of our identity, at least in the forming of our character. The other example John used was an instalment of ‘Charlie & Lola’ in which Lola won’t let go of a specific library book, which she reads upon every visit, only to arrive at the library one day to discover that another child is reading that book, and instead she becomes infatuated with a new one. Although quite a simplistic example, it did help to keep the philosophy relevant.

The choice we were constantly presented with (and voted repeatedly on) was the compensation mentioned in the title: should somebody who undergoes, for example, a car accident and loses a limb, be compensated with either the closest thing to what they lost, with a completely different opportunity to start something new – what in effect is best for them now, or with nothing at all? We discussed this in terms of people’s worth to society, and if it was worth the state or some other financial entity giving them compensation at all, but also in terms of whether, by the very nature of the car accident, their outlook and impact on society would be changed.

All in all a very thought-provoking talk, and a fantastic start to the next year of Williams Project lectures.

Angus Brown

Alan Dronsfield: A chemical, medical and social history of cocaine

On Tuesday 3rd November, the Williams Project welcomed back Professor Alan Dronsfield from the University of Derby to give a talk on the historical uses of cocaine. As we had learnt from his previous talks at the WP, Professor Dronsfield is a clear, experienced speaker whose keen interest in his topic is infectious.
Professor Dronsfield opened his talk by showing us six pictures of famous historical people who had taken cocaine in some form; Thomas Edison and even Queen Victoria among them. This helped him make the point that cocaine was once a common thing, before we were fully aware of its dangers. He told us that teas containing cocaine were common, and that the original form of the drink Coca-Cola contained a form of cocaine. However, he also explained that one form of cocaine had incredible medicinal value, specifically for dentistry purposes. For in the time before the mouth-numbing injection you can get today, you had to have your fillings done without anaesthetic, which was very difficult for the dentists. However, some scientists discovered that, by injecting cocaine into the patient’s mouth, they wouldn’t feel any pain and would even be a bit euphoric. This became common practice for quite some time before better methods were discovered which didn’t have such effects on the brain. Professor Dronsfield finished his talk by showing us a graph of lots of common recreational drugs and how they compared in terms of harmfulness. Cocaine was actually found to be less harmful than heroine, crack and, surprisingly, alcohol.
Professor Dronsfield’s talk was well-presented and very interesting, and we look forward to having him back again in the future.

Thomas Lockley

Alan Dronsfield

Lynne Russell (Restorative Justice 4 Schools): resolving conflict, telling the truth, taking responsibility

Lynne Russell spoke about how her organisation works with schools to help young people manage their behaviour. Restorative justice ‘not only allows the harmer to see the impact of their behaviour but also allows the “harmed” person the opportunity to see if they contributed to the conflict in anyway by their own behaviour. Both participants are then able agree their own joint contract of how they are going to treat each other in the future, this gives them a personal stake in the success of the contract.’ Hard-hitting videos from offenders who had had to confront their victims reinforced the power and effectiveness of this approach. A really interesting, and moving, afternoon.

restorative justice 2 restorative justice 1

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