I had a lovely Zoom chat with my former Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) Public & Administrative Law lecturer Dr. Caroline Morris, just as the month of August (2020) was drawing to a close. At the time she was in the midst of marking summer examination papers, and faced with another unpredictable COVID-era semester, with all the virtual learning requirements and other adjustments that come along with it. Despite her busy schedule however, she kindly agreed to squeeze in the time to be interviewed for my blog.
Caroline is also the Founder of the Centre for Small States (CSS), which is a platform for researchers to discuss and analyse particular issues that small states and jurisdictions face, primarily through a legal but also through an interdisciplinary lens. As a small islander myself, and one who finds subjects such as public international law to be fascinating, CSS has been of particular interest to me.
Please introduce yourself
Professionally I’m a reader of public law at Queen Mary University of London. I came to Queen Mary via Kings College London where I did my PhD, and prior to that I had been an academic in New Zealand at Victoria University of Wellington. I did my LLM at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and my undergrad degrees – my Bachelor of Arts in Politics and my LLB – in my native New Zealand. So, I’ve always had a very strong interest in public law and I’ve always found it really exciting to teach and to try to get across to students how exciting and interesting and dynamic and relevant it is.
I have a couple of other academic interests. One that I’m currently involved in is tracing the lives of some of the UK’s early women lawyers, because 2022 is the centenary of women being able to become admitted to the legal profession in the UK – both as barristers and as solicitors. I’ve recently contributed a piece to and co-edited a collection of essays for the Women’s History Review on early women barristers, and a colleague and I are now going to write a book on early women solicitors. So what’s really exciting for me too, is to bring these women into the spotlight and talk about what they did, what they didn’t do and to not shy away from the mistakes that they made or things that they didn’t manage to accomplish; so to disturb the narrative a bit about heroic trailblazers who never had any obstacles and were just engaged in this linear progression through to success. We want to talk about the things that didn’t work out as well.
And then my third interest is in small jurisdictions and small states. So, five years ago I founded the Centre for Small States which is hosted at Queen Mary, and our goal is to bring a legal perspective to considerations of small states and small jurisdictions. So within those that are tagged ‘small jurisdictions’ we include the British Overseas Territories, the Crown Dependencies – entities that are not fully states that are in free association with larger countries, like the Cook Islands and New Zealand, or Palau and the U.S., or Guam and the U.S. And it’s completely open, so I don’t have a public law focus or a legal professional focus or a feminist focus – it’s completely open, because what I want to do is to show that the study of small places is relevant, and not just for those small places but also for big places as well.
Have there been any highlights since founding the Centre for Small States, that you would like to mention?
I think one of the most exciting moments came right at the very beginning when we hosted our inaugural conference. In line with the ethos of the Centre, it was completely open as to jurisdictions, we didn’t have a geographical theme, we didn’t have a substantive theme – it was simply an open call for anyone working in law from a small state or jurisdiction, or interested in them, to come and talk. And although intellectually it was interesting I would say the best aspect of it was that the Centre provided a home for all these people who previously didn’t fit, who didn’t have a place within the legal academy. So we had people from Seychelles, people from Cook Islands, from Samoa, from the British Overseas Territories, from the Crown Dependencies, who were all able to meet other people with whom they had something in common. And that was a really rewarding time because it wasn’t just about ideas or a place but it was about doing something for a neglected group, and everybody recognizing that they had some value, and that what was going on in their jurisdiction was important and other people were interested in it too.
And since then – although we’ve been obviously quite affected by COVID and not been able to hold any in-person events – what I’ve found is that people will come to our events whether or not it’s related to their particular area of law or their particular part of the world, because it’s the only place where you can talk about law and in small jurisdictions. So they know that they will meet other people who know what they’re going through, who understand what you mean when you say ‘well you can’t say that ‘cause everybody knows everybody else or everyone will find out’, or the problems of not having enough lawyers in your country to staff the courts or maintain judicial independence – all those sorts of things. You can find your tribe, if you like, at the Centre for Small States.
Have you found that COVID-19 has impacted small states/jurisdictions in any particularly interesting ways?
In terms of the law not so much, but what I’m starting to see is that the countries or places that are islands seem to be able to either resist COVID transmission – so you’ve got a lot of states in the Pacific where there hasn’t been any transmission at all – or they’ve been able to lock it down very quickly, just like Bermuda, and stop transmission. And obviously a lot of small states are islands and vice versa, so there seems to be a correlation between those two points and the ability to be very nimble and very responsive and very effective when it comes to COVID.
One of the disadvantages of being small – and this affects larger places as well but I think the impact is disproportionate in small places – is that a lot of small jurisdictions do not have very diversified economies. They tend not to have a lot of natural resources or they simply just don’t have a lot of people to provide a work force. So they can be very reliant on tourism, which has ground to a halt. So I don’t know how that is going to affect these small economies, but one of the things that small states often face is this pressure to innovate because they don’t have economies with lots of different sectors, and if you’re putting all your eggs in one basket, very soon you need to have lots of backups, so you have to diversify in quite unusual or interesting innovative ways. So, it will be very interesting to see how small states come out the other side of the economic impact of restrictions on people’s travel.
What was your experience like in Bermuda for the 2018 conference on Bermuda’s constitution?
I had such a wonderful time, I completely fell in love with Bermuda. I know I was only there for three days but I love the fact that because it was small I was very quickly drawn into the heart of Bermudian constitutional affairs. So I was able just to walk down the street with a couple of other conference attendees and we went up to the legislature and we knocked on a number of doors and we found someone who was then going to show us around even though it wasn’t an official tour day or time for tours. I went to the conference, I met the Premier, I met the Chief Justice, and it was I think the day after I arrived that the same sex marriage case Ferguson v AG was decided. So I think because of the small size I was able to very quickly get to the centre of what was going on at the time. And I loved that it wasn’t impenetrable; I didn’t have to work my way through layers of civil servants to, you know, chat with the Premier or go to dinner with the Chief Justice. I was able to just walk into the court room where it happened. I could look around the Parliament, and I really loved that accessibility and that immediacy.
And in terms of the conference, what I liked was the fact that there was this willingness to reflect and think about the constitution and whether it was fit for purpose in Bermuda. So I enjoyed being a part of that, and interestingly at the conference there were just a lot of ordinary Bermudians. You know, I liked that I wasn’t just speaking to academics and lawyers but the audience were the regular people as well. And I think you often have more of a stake in how your country is governed when you are so close to government.
Are there any other pressing issues currently affecting small states/jurisdictions that you’d like to address?
Well the most pressing one I think is obviously the impact of climate change on small state sovereignty, on their economies, on their territories, their resistance, the impact of natural disasters and so on. I think that is clearly where small states, small jurisdictions, are the most affected. And in fact, one of the things that we’ve got on the agenda for the Centre for Small States this coming academic year is to do a book launch for a new book that’s just come out on environmental law and governance in the South Pacific, that looks at a lot of those issues. (Note: Since the time of interview this book was launched, and it can be purchased here.)
But I think…again coming back to that point that most small states or small jurisdictions are islands, and typically small islands that don’t have big land masses, some of them are facing the loss of all of their territory, buying land in other states and, you know, asking questions like: ‘can you still be a state if all of your territory is now under the water? How do you deal with more frequent hurricanes? How do you deal with your population moving out because they just see no future in this island that’s having all of its arable land now salinated?’ So you know, I think climate change is the most pressing, the most important issue facing small states and small jurisdictions.
What else is in store for the Centre for Small States?
Well, our schedule of activities has been quite disrupted by COVID, but we do have this book launch that we’re organizing and that’s going to be virtual; and one of the advantages of doing things virtually is that you can have the participation of people who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to attend in person. So I’m hoping to be able to have speakers from the Pacific at this book launch (see reference above), whereas normally I would have to pay thousands of pounds to get them to London. So we have that but we have a book that is in the process of being written that comes out at the Centre’s conference last year on law drafting and law reform in small jurisdictions, and that features, somewhat, the Caribbean as a region – looking at regional commercial statutes as a way to be more efficient so that you don’t have all of these places making their own law and duplicating things; you just get one standard law across the region.
We have also been talking about setting up access to legal experts who might be able to provide pro bono advice on particular issues in small states. So say for example with Bermuda, if the two claimants who brought the case hadn’t had a lawyer then they might have been able to approach us and we might have been able to put them in touch with an expert in human rights law who might have been able to advise or might even have been able to represent them. Or if they didn’t have a lawyer they might have been able to get some expert advice on how to take this case a bit further. So we’re looking at that, because what we want to do is to not just be academic, and to push out the boundaries of the discipline and get people thinking about new ways to learn about small states, but also big states or other legal systems. But we want to be of practical use as well and that goes beyond just being a forum where people from similar jurisdictions can meet and make connections and exchange ideas. So we’re working on that, we’re not there yet but, you know…watch this space.