SOAS University of London

School of Law

Our teaching on Covid-19

In our undergraduate teaching, to give a prominent example, the module Law and Justice in Contemporary China has already incorporated the Covid-19 related issues in our teaching in 2019/20, as the first country where the pandemic broke out. We will continue to engage with the legal mechanism of social control surrounding Covid-19 in our 2020/21 module. In particular, we will explore how the authoritarian State manages to solve the legitimacy crisis through criminalisation and policing of offences in relation to Covid-19 (from national security crimes to public disorder offences), oppression of the outcry of freedom of speech and the strengthening of state surveillance. 

Our engagement with Covid-19 also extends to modules forming part of the foundation subjects for the English Qualifying Law Degree. While ensuring as the main priority that the syllabus in the Contract Law module is adequately covered, we will be adopting a general theme throughout the year (where feasibly possible) of the adaptability of Contract Law to times of crisis such as the Covid -19 global pandemic. This will involve looking at how the pandemic has impacted different areas of Contract law and will seek to compare the limited response and relative rigidity of English Contract law with the more flexible approach displayed by some other countries in order to learn lessons for the future development generally of Contract law.  In our 1st year Public Law module we will discuss the effect of Covid-19 on the UK constitution. Specifically, we will examine the effect of covid-related measures on governance and civil liberties. The debate amongst UK human rights lawyers and academics highlighted concerns regarding the legality of emergency measures and the expansion of executive power without adequate parliamentary scrutiny. For some critics, the emergency measures imposed in the wake of Covid-19 have effectively suspended constitutional government. We may also take a look at comparative legal assessments of lockdown measures, such as the South African High Court invalidations of some lockdown measures on 2 June 2020. As will be explored further in our module Introduction to EU Law, the Covid-19 pandemic has been met by different responses in EU member states. We will examine how it is reshaping core principles of European integration: free movement of persons and of goods have been severely affected by strict  border controls - internal and external, prompting a re-evaluation of EU policies,  practices and legislation. We will be looking at the impact of the pandemic on the fundamental rights of EU citizens, third country nationals and particular groups in society; including rights to equality on the basis of race, as well as the UK -EU future relationship in light of the pandemic and its consequences, including the rights of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in EU member states. 

In the context of Asylum and Immigration Law, the Covid-19 pandemic has heightened the sense of injustice and widespread discrimination. Although the virus does not discriminate, societies and systems do. Existing systematic inequalities based on race, class and gender have been made more transparent by the pandemic. Covid-19 has had significant consequences for immigration control, freedom of movement, access to justice, affecting all migrants, including asylum seekers, refugees, European nationals and, in particular, immigration detainees. We will be looking at how the rights of migrants have been affected by Covid-19 and its aftermath, including in forthcoming UK immigration legislation, reflecting the new Brexit strategy and consequent preferential treatment given to ‘skilled workers’. Advanced Comparative Administrative Law takes the contemporary administrative state in the UK and other jurisdictions as the starting point for understanding the importance of creating accountable institutions. The modules focuses upon topical questions including: freedom of information/data protection, regulatory governance and the importance of public law remedies, with particular concern for the role of courts and judicial review. As well as providing familiarity with debates relating to administrative law generally, attention will be devoted to governance issues arising from the response to Covid-19 and this will be approached from a comparative perspective.

Our postgraduate specialisms in the LLM Human Rights, Conflict & Justice and MA Human Rights Law will explore the multiple human rights dimensions of the pandemic. 

In International Protection of Human Rights, we will revisit colonial and post-colonial instances of epidemics, such as the Cholera in India and HIV/AIDS, and examine the multiple human rights dimension of Covid-19, particularly the right to health in a neo-liberal world, restrictions of human rights in the name of public health, before exploring the potential inherent in current developments to lead to a reconfiguration of the notion of human rights and the international system of human rights protection. The International Migration Law module will provide an opportunity to explore the racial, class and gender dimension of migration controls pertaining to infectious diseases, and to examine the impact of Covid-19 on the status of migrants, particularly whether, and how a shift in emphasis from low-skilled workers to key workers may influence the rights of migrant workers. In The Prohibition of Torture in International Law, we will analyse what epidemics mean for the rights of detainees and detention staff, identifying how Covid-19 affected different groups of detainees and detention facilities around the world, and interrogate the adequacy of international standards and procedures based on a comparative review of how states, monitoring bodies, international bodies and civil society have responded to Covid-19. In Justice, Reconciliation & Reconstruction in Post-Conflict Societies, we will explore the impact of public health emergencies such as ebola and Covid-19 on national processes of accountability, truth-seeking and reparation.

In our LLM in Environmental Law and Sustainable Development and its MA counterpart, several modules provide an opportunity to reflect on the nexus between broader environmental law developments and pandemics. In International Environmental Law, we will engage with several aspects of the pandemic, in particular the global dimensions of this health pandemic, which we will compare to the way global environmental issues have been regulated, and in particular the tension between solidarity (common heritage of humankind) and equity on the one hand, and the temptation to look inward (sovereignty) on the other hand. The response to the pandemic will also provide a point of comparison with the way in which states have addressed transboundary environmental issues over the past five decades. In Law, Environment and Social Justice, we will engage with some of the environmental questions issues raised by the pandemic, such as the causal links between environmental degradation and the public health crisis, and the response to this pandemic differs from regulatory responses given to some other social and environmental crises also affecting vast numbers of people. The Law and Natural Resources module will address, for instance, the extent to which the temporary reduction in pollution linked to reduced natural resource use during lockdowns can be seen as a move towards more ‘sustainable’ development and the questions that moves to weaken protection and conservation measures in an attempt to give new incentives for investment raise for the future. In Climate Change Law and Policy, we will interrogate how the impacts and responses to the climate crisis contribute to already existing inequalities in health and access to a clean environment, especially for the Global South and marginalised peoples. The module will also reflect on the impact that the current pandemic is having on the international, regional and national negotiations to develop laws and policies to achieve deep and rapid greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Finally, we will analyse the economic and social disruption resulting from the global lockdown to assess the impacts on the climate justice agenda more broadly.

As part of our LLM International Law and the MA International Law, the module Israel, Palestine and International Law will devote a class to COVID-19 in Israel/Palestine focusing on (a) Israel's duties as occupier towards Palestinans in regards to access to healthcare especially in the context of  COVID-19; (b) the securitization of health, considering the role of the security sector (General Security Services assigned with contact tracing but military and Mossad also involved) in addressing COVID-19 in Israel: the involvement of the security bodies, the use of emergency powers – will be studies as pointing to the securitization of the COVID-19 crisis in Israel through the organizations, discourses, legal frameworks and practices involved.

In our LLM International Commercial and Economic Law specialism, the Intellectual Property Law module will devote a lecture to the various options that may allow states to combat Covid 19, among other pandemics, without infringing patents law.  The lecture will focus mainly on the application of the compulsory licensing mechanism, intellectual property pools and patent pledges to cover the use of the most recent inventions in the fields of personal protective equipment, medication and vaccines. In Comparative Company Law, whilst exploring a number of fundamental aspects of the law relating to English, French and Chinese companies, we will be critically examining the effectiveness of corporate rescue procedures to save viable businesses placed under severe financial stress in the respective lockdowns.

In the context of our LLM Islamic Law and MA Islamic Law, the Islamic Law module will consider the legal implications of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on various Islamic religious rites and practices globally. Mosques have been closed, congregational prayers and other rites, such as the lesser hajj (umrah), suspended. This is unprecedented in recent times and there have been debates across the Muslim world about the legitimacy of such steps in Islamic law. This provides a context for exploring and analysing the scope of the concept of darūrah (necessity) under Islamic legal theory in our Islamic Law module this year and into the future. The concept of darūrah has often been discussed in the literature either abstractly or by historical references, making the COVID-19 pandemic a relevant occurrence for its contemporary analysis. In Gender, Law and Society in the Middle East, we will examine how the pandemic has impacted states and societies across the MENA region, with reported effects including exploitation of the crisis through opportunistic tightening of executive and security control (eg over freedom of expression) presented as required by the current exigencies; concern over the safety of detainees in overcrowded and underrersourced prisons; impacts on refugee, displaced, migrant and other marginalised communities and civilian populations in war zones; and a rise in GBV under strictly enforced lockdowns. These may not be peculiar to the MENA region, but how they play out in lives and livelihoods is likely to affect structural underpinnings of law and society.

As part of our LLM Law and Gender, in the module Gender, Sexuality and Law: Theories and Methodologies and Gender, Sexuality and Law: Selected Topics, we will study intersectional feminist and queer approaches to major societal crises, including that of Covid-19, addressing such topics as vulnerability, anti-racism, anti-ableism and decolonial praxis relative to sexual and gender-non-conformity, as they coincide with the emerging forms of radical care and both legal and extra-legal activism, especially in the Global South.

In our LLM Law, Development and Globalisation, the Law and Society in Southeast Asia and the Law and Society in South Asia modules will seek to situate Covid-19 and the very notion of ‘crisis’ within a broad range of interdisciplinary studies of Southeast Asia and South Asia, and its diverse historical, political, legal and social concepts of both care and control, adept at addressing not only pandemics and major health emergencies but also useful in our thinking and research on Southeast Asia’s and South Asia's place in an increasingly globalised world. The legal and developmental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be reflected in the Law and Development in Africa module this year and into the future. We will introduce and contextualise the impact of diseases on development and application of law in Africa. The pandemic has, in many ways, exposed the limitations and shortcomings in the theories, policies and practices of law and development on issues relating to human development, socio-political development and economic development in Africa. We will explore and engage with the role of law in addressing those challenges into the future. 

In Research Methods in Law for first-year PhD students, we will cover a wide range of theoretical and methodological approaches to research in times of a major crisis, including those particularly useful for doctoral studies at a time of Covid-19, such as netnography and on-line archival work. We will also seek to understand what novel ways of being and learning in the world the current pandemic has unearthed, from a range of systemic inequalities to new solidarity networks and research initiatives.