Comparative Civil Rights in Europe

Comparative Civil Rights in Europe
SLS students on the field study trip to Paris

After completing Comparative Civil Rights with Professor Ford, we all hopped on the plane eager to spend spring break talking with academics and practicing lawyers about equality and anti-discrimination law. Against a backdrop of inspiring icons like the Arc de Triomphe and Big Ben, we set out to better understand civil rights issues in a European context.

Our first meeting was with Le Défenseur des Droits (Defender of Rights or DDD). This independent arm of the French government is tasked with investigating and occasionally litigating claims of discrimination, mainly in the public sector. We were curious to hear how the entity is able to perform when it is illegal in France to collect racial statistics. We learned that in France there are about 21 different grounds of discrimination, ranging from ethnic origin to health status, and that the DDD receives more than 5,000 claims a year.

Another highlight of our time in Paris was our brief immersion into legal studies at Sciences Po École de Droit (School of Law). We had the opportunity to audit an anti-discrimination class. Dispersed among French students and American exchange students, we participated in a student-led discussion about legal developments concerning genetic discrimination. As this is a new field of anti-discrimination law laced with ethical and moral dilemmas, we soon found ourselves in the midst of a vigorous debate about what the law is and what we thought it ought to be.

One of the best cultural tours was visiting the Palais de Justice in Paris. We toured the courthouse and had the opportunity to sit in on a case. The court proceedings that we viewed differed from comparable U.S. trials in various respects, including the lack of discovery; the practice of reading the defendant’s statement, rather than subjecting the defendant to direct and cross-examination; and the comparably non-adversarial nature of the proceedings. It was a valuable experience and provided an appropriate capstone to our Paris segment.

After the courthouse, we took the Eurostar to London for the second half of our trip. At King’s College, we met with Trevor Phillips, former equality commissioner for Great Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission. During our meeting, we discussed Great Britain’s “equality duty” legislation, comparative institutional racism, and the future role of the law in achieving equality. It was interesting to learn that in Great Britain public institutions have an affirmative duty to promote equality and positive race relations. From King’s College, we ventured to a barristers’ office to hear from practicing lawyers about how the different tribunals handle discrimination claims in Great Britain.

Across the two cities, we saw historic monuments, connected with foreign students, and learned new facets of equality law. By beginning our overseas seminar in Paris and ending in London, we learned far more about European civil rights in practice than a class at Stanford alone could teach.  SL