CAL UGRS projects: Birmingham Law School

Here you can find out about the UG Research Scholarship projects that are being offered by academics in Birmingham Law School in summer 2019.

Non-finalist UG students in CAL can apply to any project that is running. However, you can only apply for one project. So, please make sure you read the project summaries and ‘skills required’ sections carefully before applying.

Student applications open at the beginning of February, the deadline for applications is Friday 29 March 2019. We aim to inform all applicants whether their application is successful in early May.


The United States and International Trade Liberalisation: Reciprocal Defence Procurement Agreements

Project Proposer/s: Dr Luke R A Butler

Project Summary

International trade allows companies in one country to bid for government contracts in another to supply anything from office computers to fighter-jets. However, Governments use protectionist “buy national” legislation to reserve contracts to domestic companies to the exclusion of foreign companies. Recognising the importance of defence market access (worth billions annually), the US has signed “reciprocal defence procurement agreements” (RDPs) with other countries guaranteeing US and foreign bidders equal treatment in each others’ markets for defence procurement. The original RDPs were signed during the Cold War with transatlantic allies. However, today, there is increasing US “buy national” rhetoric and the EU is re-orienting its defence trade policy away from the US. Further, the US continues to negotiate RDPs with non-EU countries. This project asks: what is the continuing rationale of the RDPs? How are they being implemented? Are they effective instruments of trade liberalisation? Should they be reformed and how?

What the researcher will do

The project will: 

  1. Collate all available information on reciprocal defence procurement memoranda of understanding;
  2. Critically examine the rationale and provisions of these arrangements from both the US and signatory perspectives; and
  3. Evaluate the effectiveness of the arrangements and consider proposals for their reform. 

The list of current RDPs in force can be found here

Tasks for the researcher

  1. Week 1: Draw up a table of the current RDP signatories according to their membership of certain international organisations (e.g. the EU, NATO, NAFTA, WTO etc) as well as any other bi/multi-lateral regional geographical/political/military alliances. These membership “constellations” have important implications for understanding their use by the US and the potential/limitations of reform
  2. Week 2: Conduct a literature review of any relevant academic/press literature on the RDPs
  3. Week 3 and 4: Identify/examine similarities and differences between the texts of RDP agreements ready for analysis
  4. Week 4 and 5 Determine how the RDPs have been implemented/transposed/given effect as a matter of policy in each of the signatories’ jurisdictions

Skills required by the Scholarship holder

No prior knowledge of public procurement law or defence procurement is required. The project focuses on international trade law, of which prior knowledge is desirable but not essential. The scholarship holder will simply need to have key skills in the compilation and synthesis of relevant legal texts. In particular, the scholarship holder will need:

  • Organisational skills in mapping and compiling legal materials
  • Analytical skills in the interpretation of international legal documents in context
  • Confidence in communicating research findings directly to the academic lead in written and oral form

How will your Project benefit the Scholarship holder?

The academic lead specialises in researching niche areas of the law and policy that have been rarely, if ever explored. As a result, the scholarship holder will:

  1. Develop foundational skills in legal research and method. The researcher will gain an insight into developing a research project from the ground up, what informs intuitions about research and how to begin an investigation based on limited academic resources;
  2. Make a formative contribution to exploratory research. This is not an established field. There is not an extensive body of pre-existing literature. Many of the legal materials to be studied have not been examined before; 
  3. Be at an advantage in proposing future undergraduate dissertations or undertaking postgraduate study, having acquired and/or further refined key research skills;
  4. Receive due credit in the form of an acknowledged citation for the research assistance provided (a list of contributors can be found in the preface to the academic lead’s last book).
  5. Stand out from peers who might be inclined to pursue more conventional research subjects. It will be a CV talking point.

Minorities and the Postcolonial ‘Development’ State: The Case of the Rohingya in Myanmar

Project Proposer/s: Dr Mohammad (Shahab) Shahabuddin 

The unique process of the ‘making’ of postcolonial states, through the operation of international law, is intrinsically connected to the suppression of ethnic minorities. With the continuation of colonial boundaries, ambivalence with minority group rights, and neoliberal ‘developmentalism’, international law often facilitates minority crises. Against this background, the proposed project will specifically look into the phenomenon of the postcolonial ‘development-state’, the role of international law in its making, and its repercussions for minorities.

Offering a critical historical account of the use of economic development as a language of ‘civilisation’ and ‘progress’, the project will explain how national minorities in postcolonial states have been further marginalised through economic liberalisation and developmentalism. International institutions actively prescribe or even impose these policies as conditionality. Recent economic liberalisation in Myanmar and the prioritisation of ‘development’ over human rights by international institutions are directly connected to the Rohingya crisis (our case study for the project). 

What the researcher will do

  • Week 1: The researcher will produce a comprehensive bibliography on international law and economic development with special focus on minorities.
  • Weeks 2-5: The researcher will make summaries of some selected materials and thematically organize those.

Skills required by the Scholarship holder

  • A general understanding of international law and economic development related issues;
  • Sound research skills, including the ability to use digital resources;
  • The capacity to understand the key argument in an academic piece and narrate this in own words; and
  • Excellent writing skills;
  • The project will deal with only normative aspects of international law. Therefore, knowledge of Myanmar or the region or any other language is NOT necessary. 

How will your Project benefit the Scholarship holder?

  • The project will offer the scholarship holder a fantastic experience of understanding how international law operates in real life and the consequences it produces.
  • The scholarship holder will also develop further their capacity of critical engagement with international law.
  • Besides, generic skills of reflective reading and writing will improve significantly.

Hacking Medical Devices and the Legitimate Scope of Intellectual Property Rights Restrictions

Project Proposer/s: Prof Muireann Quigley

Project Summary

Increasingly, attached and implanted medical devices are so-called ‘integrated goods’. They are devices which not only have a physical existence, but which are also capable of running software and of collecting, analysing, and transmitting data. These smart capabilities renders the devices capable of being hacked, something some patients have been doing in order to alter the functionality of their devices (e.g. insulin pumps). Although parties acquiring physical devices are ordinarily bound by the intellectual property rights restrictions and any licensing terms and conditions, the possibilities and consequences of this with regards to medical devices have not yet been adequately explored. This project will identify and examine the state-of-the-art of the law regarding intellectual property rights (e.g. patents, design rights, trademarks, and copyright) in implantable medical devices. There will be a particular focus on copyright infringements regarding the software in implanted smart medical devices.

What the researcher will do 

  • Identify the state-of-the-art of the law regarding IPRs, in particular copyright and software, in implantable medical devices. This will include relevant national and supra-national legal frameworks.
  • Obtain and examine licencing agreements for particular medical devices in order to identify the types of restrictions they contain.
  • Identify and save key articles which discuss the challenges of IP and medical devices. Organise them into thematic/disciplinary perspective clusters. Literatures to be searched will include relevant IP law, medical law/policy, philosophy/ethics, science and technology studies, and social science literature.
  • Literature review which identifies the main issues being discussed in different literatures in relation to IPRs and implanted medical devices.

Depending on the time available and progress made, we can appropriately amend the project as we go along 

Skills required by the Scholarship holder

The Scholarship holder will require:

  • Strong research skills in law
  • Ability to deal with voluminous and complex materials in a time efficient manner
  • Ability to work independently
  • Organisational skills and attention to detail
  • Excellent note taking skills

Basic knowledge of, and an interest in, intellectual property law and health care law would be an advantage. An ability to work across disciplines will be beneficial. 

How will your Project benefit the Scholarship holder? 

  • This project will give the Scholarship holder an opportunity to conduct research on an exciting, yet underexplored area.
  • They will develop the critical research and thinking skills, whilst gaining new knowledge across multiple disciplines.
  • Working on the project will enhance their ability to work independently at a high level.
  • They will benefit from guidance and mentorship throughout the project.
  • Their work will give them an insight into the research aspect of academic life.

Ensuring Robust Citizenship Rights

Project Proposer/s: Dr Marianne L. Wade

Project Summary

Two tragic contexts in recent British history have highlighted the law’s apparent failure to protect and serve citizens in line with the broader public’s expectation. 

The Windrush scandal saw citizens effectively stripped of this status when the pursuit of specific goals took precedence over their interests in the mind of Government. This ability to deny them social benefits and indeed to deport them must cause one to question the meaning of law.

The victims of the Grenfell tower fire were less clearly disavowed of citizenship or residency rights. However, the ability of a (quasi-) public body not only to ignore their attempts to register the concerns for their safety and indeed to seek to harness the legal system to silence them raise deep concerns about the meaning and function of rights. Consequently one must question the meaning of every individual’s position as a rights holder.

What the researcher will do

The aim of this project is to document the experiences of the individuals suffering in these scenarios and to analyse each of their status in relationship to the holders of power deciding their fate.

This requires:

  • Desk research, in particular, media analysis to document relevant factors
  • Factual treatment will then be mapped against legal norms and expectations to identify the lacuna in protections of citizens.

Skills required by the Scholarship holder

Basic grasp of or interest in human rights and immigration matters is necessary. This is, however, not limited by any specific disciplinary expertise.

How will your Project benefit the Scholarship holder?

It will provide an introduction to robust research skills useful to students across disciplines. Gaining experience in adopting different lenses to analyse current affairs.

Reconfiguring Copyright: Software-related intellectual property and open source licensing schemes

Project Proposer/s: Chen Zhu

Project Summary

This research project examines the role of free and open source software (FOSS) licensing schemes in nurturing collaborative software projects such as the GNU/Linux operating system. The FOSS phenomenon has challenged many conventional ideas that traditionally underpin the business model of proprietary software because FOSS programmers seem to contribute to relevant projects without immediate monetary incentives. This project will survey the broad landscape of different FOSS licences and investigate how they have been enforced under the current copyright regime. It intends to advance the understanding of the reconfigurable nature of copyright which is aimed at balancing the interests of both upstream and downstream creators in intellectual commons.

What the researcher will do

  • Phase I: Get familiarised with the key literature concerning software copyright law and relevant FOSS licensing schemes (Week 1)
  • Phase II: Make an annotated database of software licences with the academic supervisor’s guidance (Weeks 2-3)
  • Phase III: Make a bibliography and an annotated case list concerning software-related copyright and patents in different jurisdictions (Weeks 4-5) 

Skills required by the Scholarship holder

  • Good skills of academic writing and interpersonal communication
  • Intellectual curiosity to learn intellectual property law and software licensing
  • Ability to use legal databases to search for relevant cases and articles
  • Some basic knowledge of the Unix/Linux operating system would be appreciated but not essential

How will your Project benefit the Scholarship holder?

  • The project will expose the scholarship holder to an exciting and fasting-developing area of law related to software
  • The project will sharpen the scholar’s legal research skills and increase his or her confidence in doing independent research
  • The project will prepare the scholar for a better career prospect 
  • The scholarship holder would also gain much-needed IT skills to use some open-source tools for conducting research

The creation of a ‘national’ legal language

Project Proposer/s: Dr Karen McAuliffe

In 2007, Irish/Gaeilge was designated an official EU language (having held the status of Treaty language from 1973). However, in order to function as a full working language of the EU, not only do efforts have to be made to train and recruit suitably qualified EU civil servants working in Irish language posts, but the language itself needs to be developed, in particular Irish legal language.

This project investigates efforts being made to develop Irish legal language, at EU and national level. In particular, the project explores the way in which Irish is being developed (a) within EU institutions and (b) for EU institutions in the context of national research projects, and subsequently fed back into the Irish legal order. The primary aim of this project is to investigate what impact the creation/development of a national legal language outside the national legal order might have on that legal order. 

What the researcher will do 

  1. Conduct a basic literature review on (a) the use of Irish as a legal language in Ireland and (b) any scholarship on the status/development/use of Irish in the EU context – are there any empirical projects out there? (weeks 1 and 2)
  2. Create three distinct databases, containing: (a) EU documents referring to the status of the Irish language; (b) references from Irish courts to the Court of Justice of the European Union referring to the Irish language; (c) Official/legislative/policy documents from Ireland referring to the status of the Irish language; (weeks 3 and 4)
  3. Cross-reference those databases for references to legal language (week 5)
  4. If time permits, begin to code some preliminary interviews already carried out (guidance will be provided) (week 5) 

Skills required by the Scholarship holder

Legal research; an interest in the intersection of law and language; knowledge of how to locate relevant legislation and policy documents use legal databases; effective note taking; organisational skills; good communication skills and willingness to discuss findings with me in one-to-one meetings; Irish language knowledge is an advantage but not necessary; knowledge of Irish history/legal history is an advantage but not necessary; basic knowledge of how the EU functions/EU institutions; basic knowledge of Microsoft Excel and willingness to learn how to create a database table; 

How will your Project benefit the Scholarship holder? 

  • The project will give the student the opportunity to develop their independent research skills.It will give them space to conduct in-depth research into a topic and guidance on how to draft a literature review that they otherwise are unlikely to have prior to working on their own dissertation in final year.
  • Their research skills (searching databases; writing and summarising key findings; creation of databases etc.) will be enhanced. They will be introduced to reference software (Endnote), which will be useful as they continue with their studies and potentially into postgraduate research.
  • They will have the opportunity to develop their knowledge and understanding in an emerging area of legal research (law and language).
  • Additionally, they will have the opportunity to work with a leading researcher in that developing field, gain an insight into postgraduate research and will have their contribution acknowledged in the resulting publication(s).