Legal News Round Up: November 2021
The month of November was a busy one for legal news, from the repercussions of COP26, the Channel Tragedy, the Rittenhouse Acquittal, trials in the United States and the effect of Omicron across the world.
COP26 and Potential Legislation
The start of the month saw the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, flood Glasgow with delegates, world leaders and activists in an attempt to address climate change and global emissions. The summit itself saw no legally binding agreements formed, as was the case in Paris in 2016, however as Imogen Katcher demonstrates in her article, the Paris Climate accord set the legal framework for legislation and case-law to come. Therefore, what are some of the potential legislation we may see in the light of COP?
One of the major announcements from COP26 was the pledge to end deforestation by 2030 which, while being a monumental pledge. has gathered some criticism. Similar initiatives in the past have not stopped deforestation due to a lack of legislative backing. However, the future is looking brighter with legislation such as the Environment Bill, or The Environment Act 2021, paving the way for attempts to meet COP26 pledges. However, it remains to be seen if these legislative steps are made and then enforced, not just in the host nation but across the globe and alongside other pledges from Methane, Coal and Fiscal Policy.
The Channel Tragedy
In 2021, almost 26,000 people have come to the United Kingdom in small boats across the English Channel. On 24 November, 31 people tragically lost their lives while attempting to make it to the UK on a small inflatable dinghy. The International Organisation for Migration said it was the biggest single loss of life in the Channel since the organisation began collecting data in 2014.
The response from the French and UK governments has been one of “sadness” and substantial finger-pointing. Both sides have said the other is not doing enough to deal with the crisis in the Channel. Arrests have been made in response to the drownings but both sides have acknowledged the role of criminal gangs in risking people’s lives and both believe the other state is not doing enough in response. Home Secretary Priti Patel called for a “coordinated international effort” and has not ruled out controversial legislation which would turn boats away from British waters, in contradiction of international asylum law. If this legislation comes into force it is likely to face legal challenge and review for turning away asylum seekers who the UK has sworn to protect.
Social Justice Trials in the US
November was a landmark month for social justice trials in the US with three high-profile trials taking place, the latter two which reached their verdict: Maxwell. Rittenhouse and McMichael.
The trial of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell started on 29 November. Maxwell is being tried in connection with multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein, her former partner, and is accused of procuring underage girls and trafficking them for Epstein during the 1990s and early 2000s. Maxwell faces decades in prison if convicted and the results of the trials, and any notable moments in the process, will be headline news over the coming weeks.
Following a two-week trial, months of speculation and national and international media attention, on 19 November a Wisconsin jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse on all counts after he killed two people and shot a third in self-defence during a racial justice protest in Kenosha. This led to outcries of anguish from racial justice protestors and support from right-wing individuals. The reasons for Rittenhouse’s acquittal boil down to vague and contradicting laws which incentivise vigilante and last-man-standing justice.
The second verdict did not have the same outcome in the trial surrounding the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man from Georgia who was killed by three white pursuers - Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryan, while jogging. This case, like the Rittenhouse one, received national and international attention and caused substantial polarisation. The three men claimed they were performing a citizen’s arrest as they mistakenly believed a crime had occurred. The encounter turned violent when Arbery challenged them for their actions. This case saw the three vigilantes being found guilty of differing counts on 24 November. While the world will need to wait and see what their sentences will be, this verdict has been praised by racial justice advocates as well as President Biden.
The reported rise and resultant fears of Omicron, the latest Coronavirus variant, have led to a number of legal repercussions and headlines across the world, with the return of policies many believed were behind us.
On the 24 of November, South Africa reported to the World Health Organisation, WHO, that they had discovered a new variant of the virus. From this reporting, a number of dominoes have fallen around the world. A number of highly vaccinated wealthy nations have imposed travel bans on Southern African nations, including the US, Canada, the European Union and the UK. Japan, Australia and Israel have banned all foreign travelers in response to the variant.
These restrictions vary in their breadth but one thing that unites them all is their universal condemnation from South Africa, who believe they are being punished in an ineffective manner for reporting the development of the variant for which they were not responsible. Senior US health officials have agreed, criticising the move.
Within these wealthy nations there has subsequently been a return of COVID-19 legal requirements, which had been lifted in the past, and the creation of new restrictions. In England this has seen the return of mandatory face coverings on public transport and shops (these measures had remained in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the implementation of mandatory PCR tests for everyone entering the UK. Across Europe, states such as Germany, Austria and Greece have announced some form of mandatory vaccine requirements, with those without vaccinations not having access to much of public life. There are also discussions of potential fines under certain circumstances. These responses have all been brought in this month in the name of curtailing Omicron and the virus as a whole.
The response to these new legal requirements and restrictions both in travel and everyday life has not been one of harmony, with mass protest from those who believe that the new requirements are unjust. One couple in the Netherlands, despite being positive for Covid upon return from South Africa, escaped from a Quarantine hotel and were later arrested for their actions. These responses to the Omicron and Coronavirus restrictions further demonstrate the polarised and political nature of public health.