Dr Damian Gonzalez-Salzberg, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, invited four law students to draft an amicus curiae to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which was submitted in May. Here, Charlotte Young Andrade and Tabitha Butler (LLM), and Emma Jeffrey and Katherine Johnston (LLB) share their experience.

Emma: I instantly knew it was something I wanted to be involved in; I already had an interest in human rights law, an area of law I wish to pursue professionally. This was the perfect chance for me to put my interests into action. 

Kate: I have a passion for International Human Rights and this memorandum could help persuade a judge to protect the integrity of democracy by ensuring term limits are observed by countries that enact them. It has reaffirmed that this is a path to follow professionally as I enjoyed researching and writing this project.

Lotte: To take part in an amicus that can reaffirm the importance of the protection of citizen’s freedom from impunity and undemocratic political ambitions, was a particularly poignant experience for me as someone from Latin American nationality. I am looking forward to seeing our amicus in action and the positive results that this may bring for the Americas.

Tabitha: Having studied both International and European Human Rights Law, I recognise how important it is to protect and uphold human rights standards. Helping with the amicus was such a good opportunity to expand on what I had already learned, as well as put that knowledge into action. It was a chance to really make a real-life impact on human rights and democratic processes in the Americas. 

An Amicus Curiae is a report of expertise to assist the Court in making a decision. It literally means ‘friend of the court’. Our amicus concerned the right to presidential re-election under Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) and argued three main positions: There is no right to stand for re-election as president; term limits are a legitimate restriction of the possibility to stand for presidential re-election; and term limits are a desirable restriction of the possibility to stand for presidential re-election. 

The team came together just as the COVID-19 lockdown began in the UK, so team meetings and research had to be conducted online. Completing the amicus therefore had the potential to be very difficult, but frequent communication through email and various deadlines meant that the team stayed on track every step of the way.

Emma: My role was to research the Human Rights Committee’s 43 adopted views on political rights and the Committee’s general comment on the topic. At first, this task was somewhat daunting; I had never been asked to do something like this before. Nonetheless, with perseverance I managed to complete the task, which was satisfying. After finishing our individual tasks, we all researched legal and political doctrinal work to help support our arguments. This was my favourite task; as I normally only use legal research in my studies, it was nice to dip my toes into the political sphere! 

Kate: I investigated the work of the Venice Commission, a branch of the Council of Europe  which shapes democracy through law. Their work focused on the existence of a Right to Re-election and whether it could be inferred from the Right to Public Participation. I also looked at the prominence of Presidential Re-election term limits across the Organisation of American States. The Amicus Curiae was my first experience of working in lockdown. It was amazing to see it all come together in a final piece, seeing which slices of our work had been woven together in different sections to finish the project. 

Lotte: I am bilingual in Spanish and English, therefore my main role was to research case-law that has discussed the interpretation and application of Article 23 in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. Although it was strange to not discuss our findings together in person, operating online worked really well and it was exciting to see the different areas of research coming in

Tabitha: I conducted research on the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Having studied the LLM module European Human Rights Law this year, this role enabled me to build upon my understanding of this area of law. My primary focus was on Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, which is the right to free elections and much of the jurisprudence of the ECtHR had been used by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. 

Emma: This project provided me with an invaluable insight into legal research and sparked a genuine interest in this particular area of human rights law. It has been incredibly rewarding seeing my name on a document given to a real court! As a result, I am more determined than ever to pursue a career in human rights law! It is an added bonus that I can provide employers with evidence of my ability to conduct real legal research and work remotely as part of a team. I would wholeheartedly encourage any student to get involved in any opportunity that gives them the chance to see their favourite subject in action - it will help you to confirm your career aspirations and only strengthen your love for the topic.

Kate: I have learned a lot from working on this project. I have gained confidence in working remotely, while improving my legal research skills. It expanded my knowledge on the jurisprudence of different jurisdictions, particularly countries in the Americas. It broadened my insight into their rich history and politics, which I had not previously had the opportunity to explore. In addition to research, my attention to detail, my teamwork, and organisational skills were developed during this project. This was an invaluable opportunity that showcased the talents of the whole group and provided an experience to learn from our peers and their knowledge as it grew. 

Lotte: This project has given me deeper insight into how collaborative research projects function, and how I could personally improve my own research skills for future projects. As you are producing work for others to interpret, edit and present, you have to develop a keen eye for relevant materials and detail that the lead researcher is looking for. The skills I have learnt on this project has been invaluable for my current LLM research in International Human Rights Law and has reaffirmed my goals of working on further research projects and ultimately completing a PhD.

Tabitha: Working on the amicus curiae was such an invaluable experience. It allowed me to develop my legal research skills and how I identify, apply and interpret relevant information from a variety of sources and jurisdictions. Through working collaboratively, we were able to utilise everyone’s experience and knowledge to create a successful piece of work. Furthermore, balancing the work for the amicus with other essays and inclusive assessments helped me to improve my time management and planning skills. I also learned how to effectively work remotely, which will be something I can take forward, as we see changes in the way we are working and learning. All of these skills will be undeniably beneficial for the completion of my dissertation, as well as any future work in the legal field.