How should the law protect against discrimination at the intersection of disability and other protected characteristics, including gender? That was the question of this year’s 42 Bedford Row Disability Law Essay Prize, devised to celebrate the centenary of the first wave of women getting the right to vote.
The competition judges, Dr Imogen Goold Associate Professor of Law, University of Oxford, who writes on restrictions to women’s reproductive rights and the ownership of body parts, and Aysha Ahmad, leading employment and discrimination law barrister at 42 Bedford Row, received some impressive entries. They were unanimous in their decision in awarding First Prize to Abby Buttle (Wadham), BCL student. She said:
“I entered this year’s essay competition because I believe that the way the law responds to discrimination affects the whole of society. Drawing on feminist legal theory, I argued that the law must move beyond a focus on protecting the individual in cases of discrimination, to a systemic approach which recognises the overlapping web of protected characteristics.”
The prize giving event was a fantastic opportunity to hear leading academics and practitioners share their views on the direction which the law must take, giving everyone who attended a lot to think about going forward and how the law could be reformed.
In commenting on the winning entries and why it is important for discrimination law to better recognise the intersection of protected characteristics, Aysha Ahmad said:“We all interact within a a web of social relationships; this makes it difficult to separate out various protected characteristics and achieve substantive equality if we do not consider how these separate elements interact and have a cumulative impact on the individual.”
Oskar Sherry (Lady Margaret Hall) secured second prize, Freya Rock (Lady Margaret Hall) gained third prize and Alvin Cheung (Univ) was runner-up. The panel discussion on the essay topic was held in the beautiful Lee Shau Kee Seminar Room at Wadham College. Competition judges were joined by Dr Meghan Campbell, Deputy Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub, whose research looks at how international equality and non-discrimination law can address the harms of gender-based poverty. Dr Campbell spoke on the recent General Comment of the United Nations Committee on Persons with Disabilities, which emphasised that disabled persons are complex and disability is just one layer of their identity. Charlotte Kelly, reading for the DPhil in Socio-Legal Studies, with an interest in access to benefits for disabled people, also spoke – highlighting the case law on eligibility criteria for Personal Independent Payments (PiP). The event was chaired by BCL student and Faculty of Law Equality Committee Member Farhana Hamid-Butt.
The 42 Bedford Row Disability Law Essay Prize has been set-up to draw attention to the professional challenges faced by legal practitioners and academics who work in fields in which issues relating to disability frequently arise.