A Brief Guide to the European Parliament Elections

On the 23 May, the United Kingdom will go to the polls in the European Parliament elections.

Gareth Evans, Lecturer in Law, provides a brief summary of some of the key points connected to the elections: their purpose and procedure; why the UK is having to take part; and what impact today’s vote could have on the political landscape in the UK.

What are the European Parliament elections?

The European Parliament is one of the two legislative organs of the European Union and is the only EU institution directly elected by the people. Under Article 14 of the Treaty on European Union, elections for the European Parliament are required to be held every five years, electing a total of 751 MEPs across the 28 EU member states. Each member state has a proportion of MEPs calculated by population size; ranging from Malta with 6 MEPs to Germany with 96 MEPs. The United Kingdom elects 73 MEPs through a closed list proportional system (although this is slightly different in Northern Ireland) where each voter casts one vote for their chosen political party, rather than a specific candidate. Seats are then allocated using the D’Hondt formula – a method of proportional representation, designed to better convert the proportion of votes into seats allocated to each political party.

The reason for this difference in voting system reflects the fact that rather than representing specific single member constituencies, as is the case in the UK Parliament, MEPs are elected to represent multi-member regional constituencies. In some member states (e.g. Estonia, Netherlands or Sweden) the state itself comprises a single electoral region. Other member states, the UK included, subdivide their national territory into specific electoral regions. The UK is divided into 12 multi-member electoral regions, each of which then elects a set number of MEPs, based on population size. Grouping these regions and their share of MEPs onto the canvas of the UK’s four constituent nations, we find the breakdown of the number of MEPs as follows:  

England (comprising nine separate regions)   60 MEPs

Scotland                                                          6 MEPs

Wales                                                              4 MEPs

Northern Ireland                                             3 MEPs

Further details on the UK’s regional constituencies, and the political parties in those regions can be found via the following link.

 

Why is the UK required to hold these elections?

Alongside the complexities of the D’Hondt method, there is the added confusion of why the UK is required to hold these elections, two years and eleven months to the day after the referendum where a majority of voters opted to leave the EU. The reason for this scenario rests in the interminable deadlock at Westminster, and the UK Government’s failure to secure a majority to pass the Withdrawal Bill. Under the terms of the Article 50 process, the original date for the UK’s departure from the EU was at the end of the scheduled two-year negotiation process, namely 29 March 2019. The failure of the Withdrawal Bill to pass through Parliament before this date, however, led to the Prime Minister requesting an extension to the original withdrawal date. Originally this led to a new departure date of the 12 April, then further extended to the 31 October 2019. In the terms of this second agreed extension, the UK was obliged to take part in European Parliament elections, or leave the EU on 1 June 2019 with no deal.

The result of this welter of political activity, therefore, sees the UK having to take part in elections for the next five-year term of the European Parliament, while also continuing with the Brexit process. In a further ironic twist, in the albeit unlikely event that MPs support the Withdrawal Bill, set to be reintroduced into Parliament on the week commencing 3 June, the UK’s newly elected MEPs may never take up their seats in the European Parliament on the 2 July 2019.

 A Second Referendum by Proxy?

After having considered the process and reasoning behind Thursday’s vote, it is now appropriate to consider the possible effects of these elections on the UK’s political landscape, and the Brexit process. In this regard, I present the possible issues connected with this Thursday’s vote in three parts:

The first, perhaps most obvious factor connected with the vote, relates to the breakdown of the result between the hard-Brexit and unambiguously pro-remain parties. In the past, European Parliament elections have served as useful second-order polls on voter attitudes towards the UK government, as well as barometers on the extent of Euroscepticism/enthusiasm. Thursday’s vote looks unlikely to deviate from this pattern and, in the context of Brexit, is translatable to a second referendum by proxy.

On current predictions, the newly formed Brexit Party are set to receive the largest share of the vote, but not an overall majority. Indeed, the share of the vote between the hard-Brexit and unambiguously pro-remain parties is currently neck-and-neck, and so a re-run of voter attitudes at the 2016 referendum appears likely. On this point, it is pertinent to consider the percentage share of the vote, as well as the number of seats allocated to each party – both will likely play significantly in later debates on translating Thursday’s vote into a statement of national intention on Brexit.   

Second, with the looming departure of Theresa May as Prime Minister, the outcome of Thursday’s vote is also likely to have profound effects on the future makeup of the Conservative Party. On current polling, the Party are forecast to suffer significant losses across the UK, and possibly their worst ever UK-wide electoral defeat. With a large proportion of the votes forecast to be lost being to the newly formed Brexit Party, the final form of Thursday’s vote and the share of the vote between the hard-Brexit and unambiguously pro-remain parties, stands to play a significant role in deciding the ideological stance of the next leader of the Conservative Party, and the next Prime Minister.

A third, and perhaps less obvious factor to bear in mind after Thursday, is the territorial breakdown of the result across the 12 electoral regions – in particular, the devolved parts of the UK. If treated as a proxy to a second referendum, recent polling suggests that the result on Thursday is likely to mirror the 2016 referendum: delivering clear majorities for pro-remain groups in Northern Ireland and Scotland; a very close result in Wales, perhaps now flipped in favour of a pro-remain majority; and a narrow, but regionally incongruent, majority in favour of leave in England. With this in mind, divisions between the UK’s various territorial cleavages stand to continue to play a role in dividing the political tapestry of these islands, and to challenge the etymology of Brexit as a unified ‘British Exit’ from the EU.

By way of a closing remark, the vote on Thursday stands likely to deliver fresh impetus into the Brexit process; where that process will end, however, remains uncertain.  

 

 

 

Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence?

Final-Year-Law student, Naz Khan, is the first Staffordshire University student to have had an academic publication in The Legal Cheek.

Drawing on contemporary examples, the article focuses on how things, such as social media and ‘Citizen Journalism’, threaten a legal principal of the UK’s Human Rights Act: ‘the presumption of innocence’.

“Sometimes there can be smoke without fire, says Staffordshire University law student Naz Khan”

In the article, Naz explains that ‘the presumption of innocence, an integral part of the right to a fair trial, exists as a guarantee of an individual’s innocence if and until they can be proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law. And as we all know, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. But the presumption is systematically ignored as the cases of Sir Cliff, Jackson and many others demonstrate. The media publishes names, and commentators on social media defame.’

The Legal Cheek is a online news source for junior lawyers and law students and it is a great achievement and experience for a student to have their article published.

Naz has said he is “very grateful to be the first ever student from Staffordshire University to have an article published in Legal Cheek. For students it is very difficult to get their work out there. I hope that by having a publication to my name that this will pave the way for other students and encourage them to pursue academic writing”.

Read the full article on The Legal Cheek here.

Farmers have Britain’s most lethal job – here’s how to make them safe

“Britain’s farmers are almost 18 times more likely to be killed on the job than the average industrial worker, and the fatality rate is increasing. Look through the government’s summary of the 33 fatal farm, forestry and fishing accidents in 2017/18 and there were a number of types of fatalities such as falls, crushes, electrocutions and equipment malfunctions. Most people (but not farmers) might be surprised to learn that work with cows is particularly dangerous – “crushed by a bull” was the single most common cause of death.

So what can be done?” Sallyann Mellor, lecturer in Law and Law Apprenticeships Course Leader at Staffordshire University explains, on The Conversation. Read the full article here.  

British Conference of Undergraduate Research 2019

Last week, fourteen of our undergraduate Forensic Science and Forensic Investigation students presented their research at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research at the University of South Wales.

The annual conference, which took place on the 15th-16th April, is held at different universities each year and allows undergraduate students to present their research in a variety of disciplines (read about last year’s here).

The students present their final-year project research in a digital or poster format.

Kirsty Chevannes presenting her research on the Evaluation of Methods Used Within Forensic Anthropology in Comparison to Digital Methods

 

Mauricio Chase discussing his research into The Development and Evaluation of Fingermarks on Firearms from Areas Frequently Handled


Symon Dowell investigated Whether Cutting Agents within Seized Cocaine Affects Quantifiation by HPLC. 

 

Stacey White presented on The Tertiary Transfer and Persistence of Biological Evidence in Child Sexual Offence Cases. 

 

Jessica Woodman – An Investigation into Whether the Partial Drying of Blood Drops Can Aid in the Determination of Sequence of Events of a Crime 


Gareth Griffiths – A Validation Study of Faro Zone 3D for Blood Pattern Analysis


Rodgers Nyika – A Verification into the Effects that Different Temperatures and Substrate Types have on the Effectiveness of Fingermark Development 

 

Rebecca Johnston carried out her research on The Migration of Volatile Organic Compounds through Various Polymer Membranes in Relation to Analysis of Arson Related Materials. 


Mollie Barker presented her poster showing her work on The Creation of an Assessment Tool for Heat Damage to Textiles 

 

Matthew Ballam-Davies presented his research about The Determination of Pedestrian Throw Types using Small-Scale Reconstruction


Lucy Colley – The Use of Non-Destructive Methods to Detect and Measure GSR Spread for the Estimation of Firing Distance at Close Range 

 

Leah Ashton conducted her research project on the Chemical Interpretation of Post Mortem Submersion Interval Changes in Murine Models

 

Katie Evers – A Prediction of Textile Damage from Acid Attacks to Aid the Reconstruction of Events 


Danielle Smith – Determining if Common Child Abuse Injuries are Still Visible on hard and Soft Tissues after Burial 

 

Well done to everyone who attended and presented their research; what a valuable experience! 

Dean Northfield (Forensic Investigation Course Leader, 6th from left) at the conference with our students

Eighth-Annual Student-Led Conference

Last Wednesday afternoon, The Forensic and Crime Science Society (FACS) held the eighth-annual, student-led conference in the Science Centre. 

Students from the FACS Society, including President Aimee Girdham (second from left), with Guest Speaks Deneen L Hernandez (centre) and Dr Maria MacLennan (second form right).

Aimee Girdham, the President of the FACS Society and a level 6 Forensic Investigation student, explains that the “society is run alongside the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science [department within the School of Law, Policing and Forensics].

“We organise events throughout the year including Escape Rooms and the end of year ball, but most importantly we organise the annual Student-Led Conference. We invite external guest speakers to present alongside current Level 6 students to present their project work. It’s a great afternoon to network with a wide range of people from a variety of forensic disciplines.”

 

Dr Rachel Bolton-King (centre) with Guest Speakers Deneen L Hernandez (left) and Dr Maria MacLennan (right)

You can watch Associate Professor, Dr Rachel Bolton-King talk about the event on the School of Law, Policing and Forensics Facebook page here.

The event opened at 1pm, where level six undergraduate students, Olivia Hodgetts, Mauricio Chase, Tina Kaur and Anthony Smart, presented their project research. 

Olivia Hodgetts presenting her research on Blood Pattern Analysis and the effects of alcohol on blood. 

 

Tina Kaur has researched the impact of a speculum and specimen capture device in semen recovery rates during sexual offence examinations

 

Anthony Smart presented on the impact of heating bone following a knife injury to determine whether you can determine temperature of heating or knife type

“Level 6 students, Olivia Hodgetts, Mauricio Chase, Tina Kaur and Anthony Smart presented their research from their Independent Project which I hope was inspiring to the Level 4 students in getting them to think about the different Forensics areas and the process that’s involved in completing the project for them to make their own decision next year.”

Mark Broadhead and Robin Parsons, two PhD Researchers, also presented their research on Firearms and Ballistics and DNA AND Fingerprint Recovery.

Robin Parson, PhD Researcher (DNA Fingerprint and Recovery)

 

Mark Broadhead, PhD Researcher (Firearms and Ballistics)

The students were delighted to have four, external Guest Speakers accept their invitation to present on a range of topics about various forensic disciplines. 

Dr Anna Williams, Forensic Anthropologist at the University of Huddersfield

 

Deneen L Hernandez, Forensic Examiner in the FBI

 

Forensic Jewellery with Dr Maria MacLennan


Jonathan Allen, Forensic Presentation Officer at West Midlands Police

“It was an intellectual afternoon with great turn out from external guest speakers from a range of forensic disciplines, including a Forensic Examiner from the FBI, a Forensic Jeweller, Forensic Anthropologist who discussed her lead on establishing a human taphonomy facility in the U.K, and a Forensic Presentation Officer who uses 3D scanning to scan the crime scene and turn it into a 3D image to be used in the courtroom for the jury.”

 

 

Practical CSI Experience for Students from University College Leuven Limburg

Twenty-five students from University College Leuven Limburg visited us at Staffordshire University, Stoke Campus, for three days in March in order to take part in a Crime Scene Evidence Analysis short course. 

 

The students signed up to the short course after seeing a guest lecture by Associate Professor, Dr Claire Gwinnett at University College Leuven Limburg last March. The visit was organised so the students could get hands-on crime scene investigation (CSI) experience.

Day 1

The first day provided an overview of crime scene documentation, photography, packaging and evidence handling with Dr Claire Gwinnett and PhD Researcher Laura Wilkinson. A lot of examples were shown and discussions were had about the best way to preserve evidence. The day ended with a fingerprint powering session to brush up skills for their crime scene investigations. 

Day 2

CSI teams of five students were each given a case scenario, ranging from a missing persons investigation, potential kidnapping and assault and murder. They aspent four hours at the crime scene house investigating their case – some were focused on a bedroom scene, others in the kitchen and lounge and others investigating a vehicle outside.  

The teams had to work together to identify, document and retrieve evidence ready for future analysis. Later that day, teams created forensic strategies for the investigation and the analysis of the evidence, prioritising evidence so as to enable the ‘what, when, where, who, how and why’ questions to be answered. Our UCLL interns Bart Bogaerts and Koen Geurts, who are here at Staffs till June conducting research, helped out at the crime scene house with evidence packaging.

Day 3

Evidence analysis day meant the teams had to identify the analysis techniques and tests that they wanted to conduct on their evidence: including body fluids identification, presumptive testing of drugs, document analysis (using VSC), ink analysis (using Raman Spectroscopy), hair and glass analysis, chemical development of fingermarks and Electrostatic Detection Apparatus for ID of the presence of any indentations on paper evidence and DNA submissions.

Each team could only submit three items for DNA analysis, meaning that the evidential value of each item of evidence had to be scrutinised and an effective forensic strategy developed. 

Teams collated their findings and presented these via an ideas board to the rest of the course with the team delivering the most accurate and well thought-out interpretation of the case winning a prize

Guest Lecture on Working with Young Offenders

Lecturers at Staffordshire University regularly invite professionals on to campus to host guest lectures and workshops, in order to to benefit students’ learning with industry-related knowledge.

Eamon O’Shaughnessy, a Senior PTRI Officer at YOI Werrington, came to talk to our students about young offenders. Ebony Brint, a Criminal Justice with Offender Management student, tells us about the lecture. 

   

Eamon visited us on the 25th of February 2019 and gave me and my other classmates a lecture on the HM YOI (Young Offenders Institute) estate and what it was like to work within a young offender’s institute. His information was very effective and helped me to understand the way that it all works, from the regime that they have to the first day in custody. He talked about his experience working in the prison estate and he gave his own personal stories on the sights that he had seen.

Eamon gave us lots of detailed information about the different categories that are in the prison estate and what each one means and he explained in great detail what certain words meant, to help [us] to understand the jargon that they use in the prison service.  He mentioned the price that we pay to keep a young person in custody a year, so is it really worth it or is better to rehabilitate them in a different way?

 

His responsibilities seemed endless, but he said it made every day interesting as no two days were the same. One of his main roles is to teach physical education to the young boys as well as being a CusP (keyworker) officer where he offers support and guidance and just being a shoulder to cry on when the boys are having a hard day.

At first, I was sceptical about this guest lecture as I had no knowledge about how a Young Offenders Institute worked until I met Eamon, then my mindset was swayed. I thoroughly enjoyed the lecture and the workshop that he presented to me and my other colleagues and broadening my knowledge into the youth custody estate.

I felt that I found out everything that I needed to know and was given answers to my questions. It really has opened my eyes to the harsh reality that these young people must go through for mistakes that they made? At the end of the day they are still children! I have decided to consider working in the youth offending Estate.

 

Staffs Students’ Superb Opportunity to Attend Lincoln’s Inn

Over 100 undergraduate students across the country were chosen by their respective institutions to attend Lincoln’s Inn last week.

Lincoln’s Inn is one of four Inns of Court providing students with training, careers advice and scholarships.

“I was delighted to be chosen by the Universities Academic Team to have dinner at the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn” –  level 6 student, Nazeem Khan

Naseem Khan was one of the students invited to attend from Staffordshire University.

Nazeem Khan and Elizabeth Briand

   

“From the moment we arrived I was in awe, Lincoln’s Inn was like Hogwarts! We arrived outside a big wooden door. Standing on the other side were students from almost every university in the country waiting to greet us.”

Those in attendance included the University College of London, Oxford and Cambridge.

“Everyone was friendly, we each shared our individual experiences. Some of these students were certain that they wanted to pursue a career at the bar, others were simply there to enjoy the evening!

We were never made to feel small, there was a real sense of togetherness. I even made friends with a History & Politics student who has since offered to give me a tour of Oxford.”

The evening consisted of talks on the employed and self-employed bar. Followed by dinner in the Great Hall.

“The talks were informative, we really gained an insight into life at the bar and how Lincoln’s Inn will support us on our journey through training and various scholarships.”

“It was brilliant, really interesting talks and then every table was sat with a few barristers from London so we could properly talk to them about the Bar, it was really insightful” – level 6 student, Elizabeth Briand.

“Dining at the Inn was a great networking opportunity. At least one barrister was sat at every table, each within talking distance. Where else might one find themselves seated next to a QC Barrister (appointed by the Queen’s Counsel) or a former Judge of the Supreme Court!

I would like to thank Staffordshire University for the opportunity.”

Mental Health and Social Media Usage: a Call for Policy and Practice Change

Scarlet Hunt, a final year student, has been undertaking a final year research project around the impacts of social media with young people. She has particularly been looking into the mental impacts of utilising social media. 

New proposals and guidance from the British government for legislation concerning social media usage are welcomed as a mechanism to protect Children and young people, especially concerning protecting young people from on-line bullying and grooming.  However, there are some social media behaviours that impact upon mental health that are not about the illegal; policies and legislation won’t change the situation, but education and support can elevate social stress and reduce immature and anti-social behaviours.

Scarlet Hunt, one of our undergraduate students, recently undertook her final year project by connecting with the Lead Commisioner for Mental Health at Stoke Public Health and local charitable organisation, Mind, to design a research project that could be used for service development and improvement concerning young people’s mental health and social media usage.

” It was evident that young people were using social media all the time.” – Scarlet Hunt conducted research about social media usage and mental health for her final-year research project.

Who did you conduct the research with?

“In order to look into the topic, I conducted focus group interviews within a high school setting. Four interviews, with four separate focus groups of students:  Boys from year 8, girls from year 8, boys from 10, girls from year 10. [So] 26 students at the same school.”

Scarlet was encouraged to connect with local organisations to ensure her research would make a difference.

Who did you connect with in terms of local organisations?

“So, first of all I met with the Lead commissioner for Mental Health at Stoke Public Health, just to talk about the nature of my project and what it would involve and look at. She was really supportive of the project. She really liked it and she also wanted me to include a little bit about self-harming in relation to social media [and] how much sleep young people were getting, and the impact social media could be having on this.

I then spoke to the director of local charity, Mind, who was happy to take referrals from young people who felt they needed extra support after taking part in the research.”

What impact did that have on you going in to schools to conduct the research?

“First of all, it made me feel a lot more confident knowing that the findings from the research project were going to go towards improving local strategy, towards helping the mental wellbeing of young people and improving this. I also felt that the project would give local organisations a bit more knowledge on social media and how this could be affecting young people’s mental health. So it made me feel a lot more confident.”

Scarlet’s research findings point to the negative impact that posting only the best bits of people lives on social media can have upon young and impressionable minds. The impact on young people was particularly an issue when celebrities do this. You can’t put a law out that tells people they can’t only post nice things about themselves, but have to post about the challenges of life too. You can’t prevent people from using filters and edits on pictures to make them look better, but you can teach people about social responsibility in relation to the issues that only posting the best bits of life has and trying to ensure that there is more transparency about life’s challenges. When celebrities keep it real about the challenges of life it helps take the pressure off people feeling they have to strive for perfection. For example, Prince Harry speaking out about his mental health.

Scarlet found that young people wanted guidance on how to navigate the challenges of social media and to look after their mental health. However, they did not want this wisdom to come from teachers, who in their opinion, did not use social media in the same ways as they did. Teachers were perceived as out of date with youth culture. Youth workers have previously been additional ‘neutral’ educators to children and young people and perceived as more socially relevant to the youth of today. However, youth services have had drastic cuts.  

What were the suggestions that young people came up with about how they might improve their mental wellbeing with social media usage?

“Young people said that they would appreciate having sessions on social media and perhaps teaching them ways to use social media in a more healthy way, but they also acknowledged that they would prefer someone a little bit younger to deliver these sessions. They stated that if teachers delivered these sessions that it wouldn’t be as beneficial because teachers don’t use social media in the same way that they do. They stated that to have someone a little bit younger come in who uses social media in the same way they do would be a lot more beneficial than a teacher delivering the session.”

So they almost wanted someone that was a step ahead of them, but that they could connect with socially, to be able to give them information on how to use social media in a positive way for their mental wellbeing?’

“Yes, definitely.”

Scarlet’s research found that young people were having less sleep due to social media and they struggled putting their own boundaries in place due to fear of missing out.  They suggested that social media platforms could stop people using for long periods of time to help address this.  Restrictions to social media platforms could be a potential feature to be included in national policy.  As a parent, I would argue that parents also have a role to play in supporting their children to implement healthy personal boundaries to social media usage.

Mental health issues in young people across the UK are perceived to be at an all-time high. There are lots of contributing factors to this and social media usage is one element of the issue.  Social media can also be used as a tool for good in helping young people get support and information. 

What did you find, in terms of the findings, from the young people you talked with?

“The first thing that was really evident is that young people are using social media all the time. It was the first thing they checked when they woke up and the last thing they check when they go to sleep.

A lot of the participants stated that this was having an impact on how much sleep they were getting, because they were using social media for a prolonged time before they were going to sleep.

In relation to self-harming behaviour, participants felt that social media didn’t really have an impact upon this, but young people would use social media to perhaps upload stories on Instagram and Snapchat, just sort of saying how they were feeling, in order to seek attention from peers and seek support.” 

It is really important that in any new policy direction the voices of young people are heard in order to ensure that the UK policy directive enhances social media application, rather than dictating access to a digital community that can be used to enhance education and knowledge. Young people in Scarlet’s study saw social media as positive, despite the issues they raised.  New policy needs to ensure that it does not demonise social media, or the users of it, including young people. 

In terms of your next steps, you need to report these findings back to the stakeholders you connected with at the beginning?

“Yes, so I am currently putting together a report of the key findings from all of the interviews that I conducted and this will go back to Public Health and Mind, in order to inform them of the findings and recommendations of what we could do in the future to help young people use social media more healthily.”

In terms of you as a student conducting a piece of research in a very professional way, what impact do you think this will have on you in the future?

“I think by linking with local organisations, it will make me feel more confident when I go to job interviews – I will be able to say that I worked with local organisations on this research project and it sounds a little bit better knowing the findings have gone towards something useful, you know, and it wasn’t just purely for my own self-interest.”

Congratulations on the piece of research and we wish you all the best on writing up the report.

~Sarah Page

Sarah Page left (Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology) and Scarlet Hunt (final year student conducting research around social media usage and the impact on young people.

You can watch the full intereview between Sarah Page (Senior Lecturer in Sociology & Criminology) and Scarlet Hunt on YouTube here