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Legal News Roundup: July 2021

July has been a divisive month to say the least: online football trolls have been locked in a battle with England supporters calling for greater punishment for online abuse. Those excited for “Freedom Day” in England juxtaposed sharply against those dreading it and dubbing it “Anxiety Day”. Meanwhile, in the highest court in America, pro-life versus pro-choice debates will come to a head as the Supreme Court rules on abortion-restrictive laws.

Euro 2020 Exposes England’s Ugly Side

29.85 million viewers, pouring an estimated 13 million pints, tuned in on 11 July to watch England battle it out against Italy in the long-awaited final. Both teams’ players took the knee prior to kick-off, to express solidarity and highlight racial injustice. It is therefore shocking to see that the very thing the players were campaigning against happening to members of their team mere hours later.

The gesture of "taking the knee" originated when Colin Kaepernick, an NFL American footballer, bent down on one knee during the national anthem to show he would not stand proudly for the anthem of a country that oppressed black people. This message of support, while present at the start of the final, was not mirrored at the end. After missing penalties, Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford all started receiving a torrent of racist abuse online.

This subsequently incited a wave of backlash from Royals, celebrities and fans alike against the cruel abuse that people are free to post anonymously online. In just 24 hours, Twitter took down over 1,000 tweets targeting English players and permanently suspended accounts. But this was not enough. Over one million people have signed an online petition calling for those who target racist abuse at players, both online and in person, to receive a lifetime ban from attending any and all matches in England.

Currently, the only law relating to this is Football Banning Orders that can ban fans from attending games for up to ten years if they display violent or drunken behaviour at games. This originated when fights and racist slurs were hurled as English fans left the stadium. Some are suggesting this law should be tweaked to allow courts to include online abuse as a criminal offence. Whilst online abuse can be prosecuted under two main communication laws - from 1988 and 2003, unfortunately neither are suited to today’s Internet.

The UK government is working closely with the Premier League, social media groups and football authorities to tackle this issue ahead of the Online Safety Bill coming into force. One petition calls for social media sites to require an ID to create an account which would hold them accountable and allow for prosecution for any online abuse. However, this has been rejected due to the likelihood it would disproportionately impact vulnerable people who use the anonymity offered by the Internet to explore their sexual identity or those who are victims of abuse. Another approach being considered is imposing sanctions on executives of companies that allow employees to post hate.

As Gareth Southgate, the England manager, said, “my boys brought the country together” and they have been a “beacon of light” during these difficult times. No one should ever be subject to the abhorrent abuse they are currently experiencing.

LEGO: A Toy or a Firearm?

Across the Atlantic in the United States, it is illegal to manufacture a toy for children that bears a resemblance to a real gun. However, it is not technically illegal to manufacture a gun that looks like a children’s toy. And that is exactly what American gun company, Culper Precision, did.

The company was issued a cease-and-desist letter from LEGO, the Danish toymaker, after it made a pistol that is made up of Lego blocks. The customised Glock - named Block19, was developed to “highlight the pure enjoyment of the shooting sports” and to “show that guns are for everyone”.

Gun safety groups did not agree, however, and reported that the move was dangerous and irresponsible as the gun may be appealing to children. The pistol’s design is even more negligent considering in 2020 there were unintentional shootings by over 220 children, 92 of which resulted in death.

Fortunately, Culper removed the pistol from their website and we can happily return to the biggest threat from LEGOs being to our feet.

Is “Freedom Day” too soon?

With 19 July marking the end of lockdown restrictions in England, facemasks will no longer be compulsory; nightclubs will open their doors for the first time since March 2020 and all that time we spent figuring out how long 2 meters is will be redundant as social distancing is no longer required.

However, many are admitting they do not feel safe with the measures being unraveled. On 16 July, daily COVID cases in the UK rose above 50,000 for the first time since January 2021 . Professor Chris Whitty has said the number of people hospitalised with COVID was doubling every 3 weeks and that hospital numbers could get “scary”. This leads many to ask: why is lockdown being lifted when COVID rates are at the same level that originally sent us into lockdown in January?

Looking at how other countries have fared post- “Freedom Day” paints a bleak picture. Israel lifted restrictions in February 2021 and by June no one was wearing facemasks. However, in July daily cases reached a four-month peak, causing restrictions to be reinstated. Similarly, the Netherlands reopened in late June, causing cases to rise to the highest levels since December and restrictions to be re-imposed a mere three weeks later. South Korea, one of the few countries to handle the pandemic well, removed the requirement to wear facemasks in June. They are now facing their worst-ever outbreak. However, it is important to note that other countries, such as Sweden, have fared a lot better post-restriction lifting.

The UK government has emphasised their plans to move slowly and cautiously through the easing of restrictions and that it is necessary to do so in the summer months, as it is prior to flu-season and people spend much more time outdoors. Only time will tell how England, and the rest of the United Kingdom fare through the next few weeks.

The Mississippi Abortion Law Challenging Roe v. Wade.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court has agreed to review an abortion case that could violate the decades-long precedent of Roe v. Wade. The “Gestational Age Act” is a Mississippi law that forbids abortions after 15 weeks even if the pregnancy is due to rape or incest.

Governor Phil Bryant said he signed the act to uphold his “commitment to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child”. However US District Judge Carlton Reeves blocked the law as it “unequivocally” infringes on women’s Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. Reeves also remarked on the “sad irony” of men like him making the decisions on women’s reproductive rights.

The case could directly challenge the precedent established by Roe v. Wade 1973 which legalised abortions nationwide prior to viability (when the child can survive outside of the womb), protecting women’s autonomy over their own body. Viability is currently around 24 weeks yet the Mississippi ruling intends to limit women’s choice at 15 weeks. Pregnant women would therefore have a much smaller window to lawfully obtain an abortion.

Unfortunately, after the appointment of three Supreme Court Justices by former President Donald Trump, the Court appears to be showing an interest in abortion restriction cases with this case serving as the third abortion case selected for consideration. We can only wait and see what way the court rules on this divisive matter.

Capitol Rioter Faces the Consequences

A Florida man — many sentences have started this way with shocking endings — has been sentenced to eight months in prison. Paul Allard Hodgkins was one of roughly 800 people who rioted in the Capitol insurrection on the 6 January, with 535 arrested for criminal activity. According to the United States federal criminal code, seditious conspiracy — conspiracy to overthrow the government — carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. Hodgkin received a reduced sentence, compared to the 18 months prosecutors were aiming for, as he did not act violently or destroy any property. With more upcoming trials for those involved in the riots, the case is expected to set a precedent.


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