The rule of law: environment, white-collar crime and children’s rights

Advocacy skills are in demand for legal and social causes
Protests in April in Washington DC against US President Donald Trump’s environmental policies © Reuters

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Wanted: people to draft a new international environmental treaty. Candidates: anyone with some insight — a mix of lawyers, scientists and economists recommended. Prize: international exposure, with the potential bonus of saving the planet.

With US President Donald Trump scrapping his advisory committee on climate change and pulling out of the 2015 Paris agreement on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, campaigners are looking for other ways to encourage cleaner fuels and greener policies around the world.

The competition, called the Stockholm Treaty Lab, is just one way in which legal professionals can team up with specialists in other fields to defend, promote and extend the rule of law.

Increasingly, lawyers are realising they must proselytise by lobbying politicians and policymakers in a variety of fields if they are to further the social and legal causes they espouse — be that protecting the environment, countering corporate criminality or improving child protection.

The Stockholm Treaty Lab, designed and run by the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, was set up to spur the creation of an international legal instrument to incentivise and protect investments in low-carbon projects, technological innovation and sustainability.

“When you think about the size of the investments needed, you’re talking about trillions of dollars,” says Annette Magnusson, secretary-general of the Arbitration Institute. “There are a billion people without energy who are [ultimately] going to get it, and we want to make sure it is clean energy when they do. Then there are billions who use dirty fuel for cooking. These are massive changes we need to make.”

The private sector is more committed than ever to becoming involved in environmental sustainability, Ms Magnusson adds, but if a stable, long-term legal and policy structure is not in place, it diminishes its willingness to invest.

“There are a number of jurisdictions where you see a change in long-term ambitions — creating subsidies for renewable energy, for example — because of an economic downturn or a change of government,” she says.

While travelling widely as an arbitration lawyer, Ms Magnusson realised that more and more people from different backgrounds, organisations and regions were expressing an interest in environmental policies and investment opportunities.

So far 19 teams have signed up to take part in the competition, with another 160 individuals registering and hoping to form or join a team. Registration closes on October 31 and draft treaties must be submitted by the end of February 2018.

White collar action

The White Collar Crime Centre, established in 2016 by Jonathan Fisher QC, is similarly focused on legislation but takes a more direct route to influencing lawmaking.

Mr Fisher was thanked in Parliament in the UK by Dominic Raab, justice minister, for helping to craft a mechanism in the incoming Criminal Finances Act 2017 that enables the freezing of assets belonging to individuals involved in human rights abuses. The centre, part of Mr Fisher’s firm Bright Line Law, also made a submission to the UK Treasury on new anti-money laundering regulations concerning the abuse of discretionary trusts — what Mr Fisher has called the “money launderer’s vehicle of choice” because of the anonymity and opacity they entail.

“In 2008 the world’s financial markets came very close to meltdown and we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” says Mr Fisher. “If you believe in the free market economy and a capitalist system, you have to look after it and make sure it isn’t abused.”

As a result, criminal law should be used to force companies to improve their culture and take their responsibilities seriously, he adds. “Criminal law is there to protect against harm — not just from being beaten up, but harm to the investing public when they are being ripped off. That is not by everybody, but in 2008 we saw some very poor corporate failures.”

Mr Fisher acknowledges the counter-argument that advocates of a free market “should not be deploying the law more than absolutely necessary. But events have shown over the past 10 years that it is absolutely necessary because plainly people are not [improving corporate culture] voluntarily.”

Children’s rights

Whereas Mr Fisher’s initiative aims to help frame incoming legislation, a new project from the London-based Aire Centre (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe), a human rights charity, promotes awareness of laws and treaties among professionals working with children who are separated from their families.

With its Separated Children in Judicial Proceedings Project, the centre has spent two years assembling lawyers, judges, child protection experts and others to explore the rights of children in cases of, for example, relocation, abduction and asylum.

“Because of the work that we do in several different fields in European and international law, we realised that practitioners who were experts in family law, forced abduction, asylum, people trafficking or prisoners’ children, all knew their own field well,” says Nuala Mole, founder and senior lawyer of the Aire Centre. “But [they] knew very little about fields of law that were tangential and applicable to the areas in which they worked.”

The Aire Centre seeks to increase awareness of relevant legislation such as the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as to encourage experts to share their knowledge and experiences.

It is also using the project to prepare a manual for judges and others to act as a “checklist” of concerns in any case that is likely to have an impact on children.

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