Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

Rosie Finlinson (PhD Slavonic Studies 2015) and Millie Papworth (PhD Italian 2015) describe their very successful Writing Women in History Symposium, Reaching Through Time: Approaches to Women’s History Today.

On Friday 16 March 2018, as part of Women’s History Month, Fitzwilliam College hosted a day-long symposium on women’s history today, followed by a concert of music by female composers throughout the ages. The symposium was organised by the Writing Women in History reading group, which was set up by a team of PhD students from MML and AsNAC and funded by the AHRC. Our aim was to bring together graduate students and academics from a range of disciplines to provoke discussion about contemporary methodological approaches to women’s history and the ways in which academic study of women has broader social impact. Dr Lucy Delap, historian of modern Britain at Murray Edwards College, opened the day with a talk entitled ‘Rethinking feminism through global history’. She underscored the need to reconceptualise the existing historical narrative to allow for a more diverse, inclusive, less white and Western feminist discourse which acknowledges and incorporates feminist movements across the globe.

After coffee, we reconvened for our first panel, ‘Alternative Sources to Women’s History’. This panel brought together speakers from the history of architecture, history of art and history of literature on a range of topics from the slave trade to womb fumigation. Despite the diversity of the subject matter, these papers spoke to each other amazingly well and sparked a really interesting discussion on the ethical implications of showcasing the contributions of female figures in the past. We then retired for a well-deserved lunch break, and enjoyed a delicious and generous spread from Fitz.

In the afternoon we had a panel on ‘Methodologies and Sources for Women’s History’ which again brought together three speakers from diverse disciplines who sought to revise accepted assumptions about women in their field by bringing to light previously unstudied source material. We learnt about unmarried mothers in 18th-century England, and considered how we might redefine ideas about labour to incorporate the invisible forms of work done by women in 18th-century north west England and in the early modern European court. Our second keynote, Sarah Dunant, an award-winning historical novelist, wrapped up the day by bringing out the ‘story’ in ‘history’ with a fascinating insight into her own approach to Renaissance sources in her novel-writing. Hearing about how she seeks to make history relevant to her audience made way for a discussion about our own motives in our academic work, and about how academic work can and should have impact in the public domain.

After our stimulating discussion, we emerged into a sunny spring evening and walked through gardens filled with daffodils to the Crypt, where we continued to unfold and debate (politely!) the ideas and themes of the day. Refreshed, we joined the audience of Fitz members and other students who had gathered in the Chapel for the evening’s concert ‘A Celebration of Women Composers’. A stellar programme assembled by Anna Wagner (conference organiser) and Catherine Groom (Director of Music at Fitz) saw musicians from Cambridge and the Royal Academy, London, perform a selection of pieces by female composers who have by and large escaped the history books and concert halls. We travelled from the convents of Modena, Italy (with Sulpitia Cesis (1577 – ?) and her Motetti spirituali) to the concert halls of Paris and St Petersburg (with Pauline Viardot (1821-1910) and her Zwölf Gedichte), taking in en route the Imperial Court of Austria (with Maria Martines, (1744-1812) and Scelta d’arie) and prohibition-era Chicago (Florence Prince, 1887-1953). A moving cello lament (Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, b.1939) caused a few damp eyes, before a sparky ending with a selection of Shakespearean sonnets set to music (by Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)) left us all uplifted for the evening. It was real pleasure to see both conference attendees and the wider audience enjoying together such a variety of underappreciated, but glorious, pieces of music. The full programme can be found here.

The musicians, conference organisers and speakers went on to enjoy the conference dinner, another opportunity to discuss the day’s revelations and insights over wine and pizza, and plan an initiative or two in the future. The interdisciplinary, international nature of the symposium allowed for a huge range of exciting conversations, and it was very fruitful for all involved. We found the setting, moving between the intimate lecture theatre and the sun-drenched common room, particularly conducive to reflection then discussion, fuelled of course by the excellent lunch from Fitz catering. We are hugely thankful to Fitzwilliam (alongside our other funders, the School of Arts and Humanities, the Italianist, and the AHRC) for their financial, organisational and even moral support! We could not have had a better setting for a wonderful day.

Symposium poster

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This guest post is by Anna Mareschal (Arabic and Spanish 2016), who attended the ‘In Conversation with the Master’ event on working with urban refugees on 9 November 2017.

On Thursday 9 November, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend one of the many talks in the ‘In Conversation with the Master’ series organised by Nicky a few times each term. Each discussion is framed around the speciality of one or more guest speakers, and in these informal conversations input from the audience is encouraged, which makes the discussions all the more exciting. This time we were joined by Özgecan Atasoy, a Fitz alumna (MPhil Modern Society & Global Transformations 2014), who now works for the UNHCR in Turkey. The current refugee crisis is a massively important issue in politics and in our social conscience, and key to Cambridge life both as a city and as a university. Thanks to a variety of different perspectives and modes of intervention in the audience, we had a chance to think critically about different scales of intervention.

As one of the approximately 300 people directly employed by the UNHCR in Turkey, Özgecan Atasoy is the Senior Field Assistant for cash-based interventions; her job includes working with refugees to determine how they can get access to money in order to begin to rebuild their lives, and, at the very least, restore their dignity by gaining economic independence. This was a fantastic way for people with an interest in refugee rights to find out more about the systems within the UNHCR, how it works with different NGOs to allocate funds, and how it creates detailed files on all registered persons of concern. We got to find out how small-scale, local UNHCR interventions interact with each other and with different projects across the world.

We do not usually hear about cash-based interventions in discussions about refugee aid in Greece and Turkey. Atasoy’s role is to determine what funding refugees receive when they either get referred or come asking for help themselves. As you would expect, questions were raised about how funds are allocated, and the risk of corruption. For Özgecan, cash-based interventions are more humane and dignified than material assistance as they are flexible, encourage integration, help develop the local economy, the associated risks can be better mitigated and are well worth the benefit.

Like so many of the different factors of the refugee crisis, one of the main questions left unanswered is the end game, the goal of these projects working with refugees. Each organisation deals with a specific part of the problem whereas the end goal would be for such organisations to no longer be needed. Atasoy insisted that cash assistance, much like living in Turkey is, for many refugees, a transitional, temporary, solution that needs to be supported by more durable projects. This is, as Özgecan said, is where the UNHCR comes in: it can only act on a limited scale, with specific issues; our job is to reflect and act on the place of refugees in our countries and our societies.

The variety of questions both from Nicky and from the audience led us to think about our role as citizens in regards to this situation. There is not a comprehensive or quick solution to the refugee crisis; our job is to do what we can with the capacities that we have in the position we are in. For me, this discussion was enlightening in terms of thinking about the structures of monetary aid all over the world, and our limited yet not negligible power to act on social issues.

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This guest post is by Sabine Dunstan (Land Economy 2015), who attended the ‘In Conversation with the Master’ event on affordable housing on 2 November 2017.

Yesterday I attended one of the several ‘In Conversation with the Master’ events Nicky hosts throughout the academic year. In case you are unaware, the format of these events involves welcoming guests into College to converse with Nicky about a topic which relates to their field of expertise and professional experience. However, for audience members, the event is much more than this; participation is actively encouraged in the form of both questions and challenges to arguments presented, making it a really dynamic and interesting event. If mingling (or, dare I say, networking) is your thing, then there is also the chance to meet the guests following the debate and get those burning questions answered over supper which, by the way, was divine.

This week, the title of the event was ‘Affording Housing in Cambridge, London and Manchester’, with Matthew Gardiner and Jonathan Rose as guest speakers. Whilst Jonathan is based locally as the Master Planner for North West Cambridge, Matthew kindly travelled down from Trafford, where he is the Chief Executive of a Housing Association. Matthew studied Geography at Fitz and, as a Northerner myself, it was great to meet a College alumnus who has made the venture back up to make a real difference where action is needed.

Whilst such events tend to be more conversational than more formal lectures (a welcome break from the usual academic structure), both Jonathan and Matthew had gone to the trouble of preparing a slideshow presentation to help illustrate some of the projects they are currently working on. Jonathan explored the development of Eddington in North West Cambridge which has been made possible by the release of greenbelt land and has been developed as a partnership between the city itself and the University of Cambridge. Meanwhile, Matthew talked us through the Old Trafford Masterplan and the importance of a holistic approach in tackling housing problems through examples such as the creation of a new health and wellbeing centre at the heart of the area. Both of these case studies set the scene of the current climate in the UK housing market, allowing even those who had no economic background to engage with the topic. It transpired quickly that, even with these fantastic examples of development, the demand for housing far outstrips supply, thus rendering it unaffordable to huge sections of the market.

During their case studies, Nicky was keen to establish definitions of key terms such as affordability and what a home actually was, which in turn led to discussion, raised by an audience member, about whether in fact housing was a right or a commodity. This sparked contributions across the audience and, whilst settling on an overall consensus that it was in fact a combination of the two, it was not without exploration of the very concept of human rights and the role that the state does and/or should play in what is essentially one of the most attractive private investments.

The overall theme of the discussion was the sheer complexity of the housing market. We touched on the importance of density, constraints to the supply of housing both in the form of institutional and political constraints and also within the housebuilding industry itself and explored the role of development in addressing this. There was a general consensus from the speakers that devolution and the election of City Mayors, whilst certainly a step in the right direction, is not sufficient and that there are still huge steps to take in tackling the problem.

As much as I would love to be able to report otherwise, we did not, unfortunately, manage to solve the Housing Crisis. Nor did we find a way for me to be able to continue to afford to live in this beautiful city after I, as a finalist, leave Fitz later this year. However, what we did achieve was a thoroughly enjoyable evening engaging with a topic which is absolutely crucial to keep discussing. Thank you, once again, to Matthew, Jonathan and, of course, Nicky for making it possible. And, if you haven’t yet been to an event, make sure you come along to the next!

In Conversation with the Master - Affording Housing in Cambridge, London and Manchester | 2 November 2017, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

In Conversation with the Master – Affording Housing in Cambridge, London and Manchester | 2 November 2017, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge (Credit: John Cleaver)

Posted in Master's blog

I’ve let the blogs slip… why? Well, I was away on leave for three months and allowed myself to get immersed in my research world. So the blog was not a priority – was I wrong? I haven’t let everything slip. I think the answer is that I am not sure who I am writing the blog for, and who might be reading it. I find my monthly editorials in the Criminal Law Review much easier – the audience is obvious.

The sabbatical leave was fantastic, allowing me the space to complete the fieldwork of a research project observing the Parole Board at work, in particular observing oral hearings of the Board where they are deciding whether to direct the release of life sentence prisoners. These lifers include the thousands of prisoners, most of them well past their minimum term, still serving a sentence of ‘Imprisonment for Public Protection’, a sentence abolished in 2012. I carried out the first part of the project in July and August last year, observing 19 oral hearings conducted by video from the Parole Board’s Headquarters in the Ministry of Justice –  the panel of the Board in the Parole Board’s ‘hub’; the prisoner and his lawyer and ‘Offender Supervisor’ (a member of the prison staff) in a room in a prison; whilst the ‘Offender Manager’ (his probation officer) was often on a third video link, or on a telephone link. In January and February I was able to sit in on 17 hearings held in 11 different prisons, where the prisoner and the panel would be in the same room (but even here the Offender Manager might be only on a telephone link), and to interview a wide variety of ‘players’ in the process, including prisoners.

It was a privileged opportunity. I was often shocked: in part at the squalor of many of our prisons, but more often at what appeared to be a culture of inertia. My report for the Board concludes that there should be a much clearer commitment to avoid delays and to create a culture of urgency, both within the prison and probation system and within the Parole Board. The Board’s leadership (of the parole process) and independence within the broader penal system seemed to be missing: were they really an ‘independent court or tribunal’? Prison and probation services should be required to be more pro-active in seeking ‘progression’ for prisoners, less focused on offender ‘management’. Prisoners should have access to strong independent support and advice throughout their sentence.

It is very difficult to comment on the outcome of these hearings: for a start, there were only 36 cases in my sample. But only seven of the 36 cases resulted in the prisoner being released, so the Board is certainly cautious. Many of the prisoners were already many years post-tariff – they had served years more than the minimum term specified by the sentencing court. Probably 13 of the prisoners were satisfied with their ‘result’ as they had not all been seeking release: some were seeking a recommendation that they could be moved to an open prison. But the most depressing outcome was the fact that 15 of the 36 cases were deferred or adjourned on the day of the hearing. Expensive and cruel last-minute delays which could put the hearing back many months.

Since this fieldwork ended I have had the opportunity to visit (briefly) prisons in France, Japan and Scotland. I am left with the urge to write much more – but I am not convinced that, if there is an audience for this blog, they (you) really meant me to focus on what’s wrong with English prisons today. It’s a Fitzwilliam College blog. (If you want more on parole, let me know, or try my Understanding Recall 2011 as the system hasn’t changed – And now I’ll get on with writing about Fitz as well…

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This guest post is by Christopher Padfield (Engineering 1968), who attended the launch of Fitzwilliam alumnus Sir Peter Bazalgette’s new book “The Empathy Instinct” at the British Library in London on 25 January 2017.

There’s a lot of gloom at present about what looks increasingly like the re-emergence of the extreme right wing in politics, feeding, as always, on resentments within the population about the way the pie is shared.  How terrifying that these resentments have had reason to grow to the point that citizens succumb to the temptations of deeply rooted evolutionary instincts towards xenophobia, racism, nationalism, protectionism.

In the last decades, differentiation between rich and poor has grown apace; the privileged among the baby-boomer generation having creamed off the fat of the land both relatively (widening the gulf in income, wealth and education, life-expectancy and social mobility) and absolutely (our planet’s ecology and natural systems now face an existential challenge without parallel).

So blind have been our leading figures to the extremity of these inequalities, real and moral, that few of them have seen the possibility that those who feel ‘left behind’ might fight back at the polls; that they might start walking from their impoverished or war-torn countries to nirvanas of apparent plenty.

What a treat, then, to attend a lecture and book-launch hosted by the British Library and organised by the Royal Society of Arts, where Sir Peter Bazalgette talked with passion, humour and animation, about a theme (“The Empathetic Citizen”) the Arts Council has been developing under Peter’s Chairmanship, the purpose of which is to play a proportional part in rectifying the imbalance at the core of our system.

Peter, as he is still known in Fitzwilliam, where he matriculated in Law in 1973, is now an Honorary Fellow, and is deeply loved as one of our most wonderfully delightful alumni, seems to be known universally in the Arts world as Baz. He has come to the end of his 4-year term as Chairman of the Arts Council, and is recognised as having played a leading role in a renaissance in the self-confidence and the resources of the Arts community in Britain to ‘make a difference’.

The title of his book is “The Empathy Instinct: how to create a more civil society”. His argument, that empathy can be developed throughout life, and specifically through engagement with the arts, is set in the context that, on one reading, the ills sketched out above testify to an empathy deficit in our society. The Arts Council have been working to find ways in which this hypothesis can be confirmed and acted out, across the country and throughout our over-stratified society. I have certainly come across theatrical and musical initiatives both in prisons, and in the community, led by ex-offenders, which appear to change lives.

His book is now on sale and reads well. The reception he received at the launch was testimony to a huge force for good and a great vision for the arts in Britain. Thank goodness there seems to be a vibrant pool of talent to take over that leadership role, because without it, and not only in the arts establishment specifically, the tendency seems to be to reduce to the lowest common denominator – for our education system to retreat to the furnishing of work-related skills, for example.

Bravo, Sir Peter Bazalgette and his many like-minded colleagues, who invest so very much of their lives in maintaining the vibrancy of aesthetic aspects of our culture, and above all, extending this into regions where people feel left behind.

Christopher Padfield (married Nicky in 1979 and) worked in sustainable development in Africa and Asia until 1988 when they came back to Cambridge to re-balance their professional opportunities.  He set up and directed the Cambridge Programme for Industry (now the Institute for Sustainability Leadership) and then a decade later the University’s Corporate Liaison Office, all the while doubling as a Fellow, Director of Studies in Engineering and a 16-year stint as Graduate Tutor at Trinity Hall.  Retired from both University and College, he now spends some of his time monitoring a prison, HMP Bedford, where the heat has been on of late


Read Peter Bazalgette’s lecture at the British Library here >>

Biographical notes:

Sir Peter Bazalgette








Peter Bazalgette was Chair of Arts Council England from 2013-2017. He also chaired the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation. He was educated at Dulwich College and read Law at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge but escaped the law to spend most of his career working in television. He devised some of the biggest entertainment shows in recent TV history, such as Ready Steady Cook and Changing Rooms, and brought Big Brother to the UK. He now chairs ITV. His previous books include Billion Dollar Game and The Food Revolution (co-authored). In 2011 he was knighted for services to broadcasting.

The Empath Instinct cover isbn9781473648128











Publisher’s description:

Empathy is the power of understanding others, imaginatively entering into their feelings. It is a fundamental human attribute, without which mutually co-operative societies cannot function. In a revolutionary development, we now know who has it, who lacks it and why. Via the MRI scanner we are mapping the human brain. This is a new frontier that reveals a host of beneficial ideas for childcare, teens challenged by the internet, the justice system, decent healthcare, tackling racism and resolving conflicts.

In this wide-ranging and accessible book full of entertaining stories that are underlined by the latest scientific research, Peter Bazalgette also mounts a passionate defence of arts and popular culture as a means of bridging the empathy gap.

As the world’s population expands, consuming the planet’s finite resources, as people haunted by poverty and war are on the move and as digital communications infinitely complicate our social interactions, we find our patience and our sympathy constantly challenged. Here is the antidote.

Culminating in a passionate manifesto on empathy, The Empathy Instinct is what makes us human and what can make us better humans.

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This ‘guest’ blog, originally published on ‘The Conversation’, is written by Jake Phillips, Sheffield Hallam University; Loraine Gelsthorpe, University of Cambridge, and Nicola Padfield, University of Cambridge.

Getting released from prison or police custody can be a huge shock to those who have been incarcerated. Our new research gives an indication of just how vulnerable these people can be. We found that over a seven-year period, 400 people died of a suspected suicide within 48 hours of leaving police detention.

The number of people dying in prisons and in police custody has been increasing for several years. There is, rightly, a statutory obligation for every death that occurs within a state institution to be investigated by an independent body. So each death in a prison is investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), while the equivalent in police stations are investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

But for people who die shortly after release from police or prison custody, their deaths are not subject to statutory investigation and are too often invisible.

A dangerous transition

Our research, published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, looked into non-natural deaths of people who have been released from police detention or prison custody. We found that the data on these deaths is contingent upon the relevant institutions (prisons, police or probation) finding out about the death in the first place – and this can be difficult.

We examined two sets of data: IPCC data on suspected suicides that occurred within 48 hours of release from police detention and data from the National Offender Management Service on deaths of people under probation supervision, which includes those released from prison. We also conducted interviews with 15 custody sergeants – police officers who are responsible for the welfare of a detainee while in a police station – prison officers and others such as representatives of police and crime commissioners (PCCs) and Public Health England.

The IPCC data suggest that 400 people died between 2009 and 2016 of a suspected suicide within 48 hours of release, although this number declined between the years 2014-15 and 2015-16, as the graph below shows. People who had been detained on suspicion of sex offences accounted for 32% of the 400 total suspected suicides.

We also examined a selection of 41 investigations and summaries of investigations into apparent post-release suicides that were provided to us by the IPCC. Half of these people had pre-existing mental health conditions. These referrals also pointed to inadequate risk assessment, record keeping and onward referral to relevant community-based care providers such as mental health or drug treatment providers.

We then looked at deaths that had occurred within 28 days of release from prison. Despite some issues with the accuracy and completeness of the data, we identified 66 people between 2010 and 2015 who had died from non-natural causes within 28 days of leaving prison. The numbers are small and so it is difficult to draw wider conclusions, but we found that 44 of those 66 died from a drug-related death. Of the 66, 35 had served a sentence for an acquisitive offence such as theft, shoplifting or robbery, offences which are commonly associated with drug use.

We also analysed investigations conducted between 2010 and 2015 by the PPO into deaths that occurred in approved premises, also known as bail hostels, within 28 days of release from custody. These investigations seek to understand what, if anything, could have been done to prevent the death. This highlighted problems with supporting drug-using offenders, a lack of confidence among staff and a failure to create a smooth transition from prison into the community.

Staff under strain

These analyses only tell part of the story. Our discussions with custody officers painted a complex picture. They argued that they were getting better at identifying people in custody with mental health conditions but that their ability to deal with them effectively was restricted by factors beyond their control such as a lack of appropriate treatment for people after leaving their care and an inadequate number of beds in mental health hospitals. They told us that the risk assessment tool they use for identifying such people was not fit for purpose because it did not go into enough detail and that they would benefit from additional mental health training. They were also strongly in favour of the responsibility for healthcare commissioning in police stations being handed to the NHS, rather than PCCs, a proposal which was dropped in December 2015.

The story from prison staff was similar, but they also talked about the use of new psychoactive substances and the negative effects these substances are having on mental health and safety in the prison.

Problems also exist when it comes to the provision of community-based care after people are released. These include cuts to community mental health services and drug services, as well as recent changes to the probation service, which have seen 70% of the service outsourced to the private sector. Such reforms have made communication between prisons and probation providers more difficult. These budget cuts and public sector reforms are having a serious impact on the ability of criminal justice agencies to deal with these issues and prevent any future deaths.

There needs to be an improvement in the way in which data on non-natural deaths is collected. Deaths post-detention should also be subject to similar levels of investigation as those that occur in police custody and prison. It would be naive to suggest that all deaths of people leaving state detention can be investigated, but there is scope for more oversight from both the IPCC and PPO, at least while they are adjusting to life back in the community. At the same time, the government must maintain investment in mental health and drug services to help prevent those most vulnerable when they are released from detention from taking their own life.

The Conversation

Jake Phillips, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University; Loraine Gelsthorpe, Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice, Deputy Director, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, and Nicola Padfield, Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice; Master, Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

On 8 November, the night of the American election, and just a few months after the UK voted to leave the EU, Fitzwilliam held an ‘In Conversation with the Master’ event entitled ‘The challenges of immigration’. On the panel were Liz Barratt (History 1984), partner at the law firm Bindmans, and David Chirico (Trinity College, MML 1990), Barrister at 1 Pump Court Chambers.

This guest blog is by Conor Monighan (English 2014)

In both the American election and the EU referendum, immigration has been a key issue. Yet despite this focus, both democratic exercises have paradoxically lacked a proper debate about immigration.

Liz Barratt suggested this was because the practical realities have been lost under the emotion of the political campaigns. As she pointed out, the UK already has a points based system for non-EEA (European Economic Area) migrants. For both panellists, there was a contradictory attitude towards immigration within the UK. Whilst we expect the world to accept our teenagers embarking on their Gap Years, and give free healthcare for our ‘expats’ in Spain (a term which simply means immigrants for Liz), the UK is unhappy to reciprocate with other nations.

We are content for capital to come in freely via foreign direct investment (FDI), but not for people to enter as they wish. Both panellists would support the latter, advocating an abolition to border controls. This was reflected in David Chirico’s comment that “the ultimate aim must be to enable people to exercise their right to stand where they want to on the planet”.

David and Liz view their work as representing people who have fallen out of the system or who are victimised by it. For example, if the rules change so that an individual can’t stay as long as they had planned, David and Liz might be able to help. But new legislation is tightening up immigration rules every year, with an increasing responsibility on institutions like universities, banks and landlords to check the immigration status of those they employ or rent to. The automatic right of appeal has been removed, and it has been made deliberately difficult to comply with our immigration rules.

Political cunning has been deftly employed in order to harden public attitude towards immigration, according to the panellists. Famously the Human Rights Act was ridiculed by Theresa May at the 2011 Conservative Party Conference, when she claimed that one illegal immigrant was allowed to stay because of his cat. Similar tactics are being used within the court room as well. At first, only individuals who had committed an offence were removed from the UK and could appeal via video link. But now that courts have become used to the idea, even those who haven’t committed a crime are automatically deported before being allowed to appeal.

Wider changes to the legal system have left individuals open to abuse, because cuts to legal aid mean those who are struggling to be represented become targets for charlatan ‘lawyers’ who offer inadequate legal advice. This is not just a problem for people seeking to come into the UK, but also for British people. For those who form relationships with people who aren’t from the UK, only to have their loved ones removed by the authorities, the increasingly stringent rules become brutally clear. In Liz Barratt’s words, the authorities “have nebulous powers that people aren’t aware of”.

David Chirico

David Chirico

Liz Barratt

Liz Barratt

Nicky Padfield

Nicky Padfield, Master

Both panellists stressed the limits of what they can achieve as lawyers. Whilst they cannot significantly change lives ruined by war, they can help make those lives a little better. As David Chirico said, “you can’t require gratitude”.  He also pointed out that it’s also not usually appropriate to use individual cases to campaign against the injustices of the system, because to do so puts unfair pressure on clients. Working within the immigration rules can therefore be immensely frustrating, and attempting to change it from within is near impossible.

Perhaps most disturbing is that the political attitude towards immigration has been hardening across all political parties for quite some time. The dismissal of Charles Clarke by Tony Blair marked a watershed moment in British politics, at which expressing a desire to increase immigration was made impossible. In the EU referendum, this was demonstrated by the Remain campaign’s inability to find a position to combat the anti-immigration movement.

The event showed me that a discussion about immigration has yet to be properly begun.



Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

On Saturday 5th November 2016, Vamba Sherif visited Fitzwilliam to discuss his book ‘Land of My Fathers’ as part of the ongoing ‘In Conversation with the Master’ series.

This guest blog is by Dabi Olu-Odugbemi (Law 2016).

At the time of the launch, I was halfway through the book and already so captivated by it that I was eager to meet the author himself and pick his brains about his motivation for writing the book. Vamba turned out to be a really intriguing man with a fascinating story. As a young boy, he had lived a privileged life, growing up with a love for books that later sparked his desire to write. Although born in Liberia, he and his family moved to Kuwait when he was still very young and became entangled in the first Gulf War, forcing them to seek asylum in the Netherlands. While studying law there, Vamba decided to try his hand at writing, and the result of this experimentation was ‘Land of My Fathers’, a novel about war and friendship that resonates with the country of Liberia to this day.

Land of my Fathers

Land of My Fathers

‘Land of My Fathers’ centres around three main characters from completely different backgrounds who end up becoming inextricably linked by their desire for peace in a land consumed by the chaos of war. The novel begins with the story of Edward Richards, a man originally born into slavery, who travels to Liberia in the hopes of creating a home for himself and his lover, as well as spreading the gospel to the local tribes. In Liberia, he meets Halay, a remarkable man with a penchant for peace so strong that he is willing to sacrifice his life to ensure that is protected. Halay’s sacrifice is supposed to be an ultimate one that will ensure Liberians never suffer the famines and deaths that come from war; yet a century later, Halay’s and Edward’s descendants find themselves caught up in a war that threatens to destroy everything.

Vamba explained that his inspiration stemmed from the desire to understand why a country could possibly want to wage war on itself. After hearing Vamba’s story, however, it is very difficult not to draw parallels between the novel’s characters and Vamba himself. There is a key theme concerning the prevention of war that resonates through the entire book and it is clear that this comes from Vamba himself. Vamba also discussed the links between members of his family and characters in the novel, for example, Vamba’s brother read the novel and felt as though Edward’s story was his story.


Nicky Padfield and Vamba Sherif credit Alex Cicale -1

Master, Nicky Padfield talking to Vamba Sherif











The book itself ended on an open-ended note, and that left me asking myself a number of questions. I contemplated the post-colonial nature of various African countries as well as the effect that the slave trade had on them. It left me wondering whether the cracks in the foundations of countries such as Liberia can ever fully be mended or whether such countries simply have to start anew. Finally, it made me consider that aspect of human nature that seeks to block out or fight that which it cannot relate to because it is different. Throughout the novel, I was struck by the tensions between the various groups of characters and how many of their problems stemmed from the fact that they did not try to understand each other, but instead sought to impose their way of life on each other. How much easier things would be if there was more tolerance and appreciation of others, in place of animosity and violence.


Land of my Fathers’ was first published in Dutch in 1999, and was published in English in November 2016 by Hope Road Publishing.

Publisher’s description
The proud Republic of Liberia was founded in the nineteenth century with the triumphant return of freed slaves from America to Africa. Once back “home,” however, these Americo-Liberians had to integrate into the resident tribes—who did not necessarily want or welcome them. Against a background of French and British colonialists busily carving up Mother Africa, while local tribes were still unashamedly trading in slaves, the vulnerable newcomers felt trapped and out of place. Where men should have stood shoulder to shoulder, they turned on each other instead.

Dabi Olu-Odugbemi is a first year Law student at Fitzwilliam College.

Dabi Olu-Odugbemi

Dabi Olu-Odugbemi








Posted in Master's blog

Yesterday’s ‘riots’ are a misery –  most of all for the prisoners themselves and for the committed staff who work in the prison. About 60 prisoners have been removed with no notice to other prisons and the sense of insecurity and uncertainty on the wings must be ghastly. Somewhere between 150 and 230 prisoners were involved – at the end of a long Sunday, which are of course particularly challenging days for prisoners: very little to do, little ‘regime’ and many hours of ‘lock down’.

Only last week the Minister of Justice published a White Paper called Prison Safety and Reform.  Society as well as staff, prisoners and their families deserve the promised overhaul. There are many (often somewhat vague) promises in the White Paper. They are going to put power into the hands of those working on the frontline in order to “sweep away” the current centralised system. While setting detailed policies and standards from the top is important to improve conditions in prisons, it has indeed become overly bureaucratic, thus sapping the initiative of staff and stifling innovation. Of course prisons have to be safe before they can be rehabilitative.  And what they need now is loads more committed staff and good facilities.

The White Paper promises that independent scrutiny and the monitoring of prison inspections will be strengthened.  Let’s see what happens. All prisons have an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) which have struggled for years (forever?) to get their concerns heard.  The 2015-16 report of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of Bedford prison is soon to be published. But last year’s is on the web.  It paints a picture of a crumbling Victorian prison, where much needed upgrading has been deferred time and again. “There has been an alarming increase in the number of prisoners considered to be at risk of harming themselves, in the number of violent encounters between prisoners, and in the incidence of officers employing control and restraint techniques to deal with difficult prisoners. It is the Board’s position that, despite being central aims of the prison, resettlement and rehabilitation have been comprehensively overshadowed by containment. Inadequate time and resources have been available for the kind of positive engagement with prisoners that can address offending behaviour”. The IMB discuss chronic staff shortages, overcrowding, the dangers of new synthetic drugs and the systematic erosion of local management authority, amongst many other things. The Board’s overall evaluation of the staff response to some very difficult impositions, and to unsustainable levels of unremitting stress, is one of praise for their resilience, professionalism and essential decency. The Report asked hard-hitting questions of Ministers and of the National Offender Management Service.

I should declare an interest. My husband Christopher (Engineering, 1968) is on the IMB of Bedford Prison, and indeed he chairs the National Association of Members of IMBs. They have tried hard to get their voices heard. They fight to find and recruit more volunteers to join their Board. How much support, respect and encouragement have they had from the Ministry of Justice?  Let’s hope the new regime in the Ministry of Justice is genuinely prepared to improve the regimes in prison.  And can I encourage all readers of this blog to find people to join their local IMB?

Posted in Master's blog

I see I haven’t blogged for months, and must get back into the habit.  The months rush by.  What have I been doing?  College life goes on for Fellows into July as we worry about exam results and other important matters.  I was also fortunate enough to go again to Singapore for a week in July, talking at the Third Criminal Conference organised by the Singapore Academy of Law.  I spoke on white collar crime and corporate offenders.  In what sense are white collar crimes different from other crimes?  Certainly corporate offenders are different from human offenders.  I discussed the need for ethical compliance strategies as much as criminal law, and explored new (controversial) ways of dealing with corporate offenders, such as Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs).  It was also an opportunity to pursue our plans for a Lee Kuan Yew Fitzwilliam Fund.

I spent the rest of the summer on a fascinating project for the Parole Board, investigating the barriers to release for indeterminate-sentence prisoners.  In June 2016 there were still 4,000 IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection) prisoners in prison, even though the sentence was abolished in 2012.  It was abolished as a sentence available to judges: but that does not mean that it doesn’t remain a reality for those still serving it.  The Parole Board has to decide whether to release life sentence prisoners based on a test which provides that they must be satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the person should be confined.  Over the past 6 years the IPP release rate has increased from 12% to 38%. The number of IPPs released increased to 747 in 2015-2016 (figures include recalled IPPs).  Based on current release rates, the Parole Board estimates that the number of IPPs in prison will be in the region of 2,000 by 2020.  But once released, they are hardly free – the number of prisoners recalled to prison increases as the release rate goes up….

So that kept me very busy over the summer, sitting in on hearings held by video links: three-way videos from the Parole Board both linking to the prison where the prisoner is with his (my sample was all men) lawyer and Offender Supervisor, whilst his Offender Manager (probation officer) is usually in her office.  There’s lot to write about…

I went round the world swiftly with the Middle Temple (where I am a Bencher) in September: a few days judging moots at Pepperdine School of Law, and alumni events in Santa Monica and San Francisco, followed by an Amity Visit of the Middle Temple back in Singapore which explored recent developments in law and practice in the UK and Singapore. This time I discussed another subject dear to my heart, joint enterprise liability following the decision of the Supreme Court in Jogee [2016] UKSC 8.

Santa Monica Fitz Dinner-Josh Young

Fitzwilliam alumni gathering in Santa Monica











I came home just in time for the alumni week-end and the beginning of term round of meetings.  We are now half way through term.  I think the College is calm (famous last words) despite the slight delay in the completion of the marvellous B and C staircase.  My parole report is with the Parole Board, but I have a heavy teaching load (only 27 lectures over 8 weeks, since you ask, but I’m still supervising three different undergraduate papers as well).

And last week I had my first ever visit to Japan – for three nights.  It was a wonderful experience.  The Bursar and I joined the splendid celebrations of the 60th Anniversary of the Tsuzuki Gakuen Group.  The relationship between our two institutions now goes back 20 years and has given the College its splendid auditorium and generations of students a chance to spend a year living and studying in Japan.  It was so interesting to enjoy reunions with two distinct groups of alumni: our recent graduates studying hard in Fukuoka (and two other Fitz alumni, including Sebastian Dakin (Oriental Studies 1990), who has been working for Tsuzuki Gakuen for many years) and a wider group, across the ages, in Tokyo.

Ruby Jack's Tokyo IMG_0193

With Fitzwilliam alumni at Ruby Jack’s in Tokyo












Now back to a stream of jolly pancake parties with freshers and a host of amazing extra-curricular activities.  But I must get back to blogging.

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