Current Projects

Scholars in the Centre for Health, Law, and Society produce research that pushes the boundaries of health law, both at the level of theory and in its practical application. We encourage a dynamic and inclusive research environment, with a clear focus on academic collaboration and the promotion of partnerships in policy, practice, and governance. 

Professor John Coggon

Using Global Positioning System (GPS) Technologies for Safer Walking: A participative inquiry project

This 28-month project, led by Dr Ruth Bartlett at the University of Southampton and funded by the Alzheimer's Society, aims to examine the effectiveness and acceptability of using technologies to promote safer walking for people with dementia, mainly from the standpoint of people with dementia and their families, and the police. The project takes a rights-based approach, and will lead to the development of practical guidance.

Further details can be found on the University of Southampton website and at the Alzheimer's Society.

‌Dr Judy Laing

Collaboration with UK National Preventive Mechanism on monitoring in psychiatric detention

Dr Judy Laing (as a member of the Human Rights Implementation Centre and co-Director of the Centre for Health, Law, and Society) organised a session on mental health monitoring and international human rights standards at the International Association of Law and Mental Health Congress in Prague in July 2017. The session included members of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), Scottish Mental Welfare Commission and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority in Northern Ireland. Together these bodies make up the UK National Preventive Mechanism with responsibility for monitoring mental health detention across the UK. The session in Prague focused on how monitors can effectively implement international human rights standards in their monitoring work, with a particular focus on the obligations in United Nations Optional Protocol on the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  This session forms part of Judy’s ongoing external engagement work with the UK National Preventive Mechanism on monitoring in psychiatric detention.

Expert meeting on the conclusions relating to UK psychiatric institutions by the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT)

Dr Judy Laing participated in an expert meeting on the conclusions relating to UK psychiatric institutions by the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT) at the University of Essex in July 2017, as part of the Human Rights Centre's Detention, Rights and Social Justice Programme. The CPT report was published in April 2017 and highlighted several human rights concerns about the treatment of patients detained in psychiatric hospitals in England relating to the safeguards concerning forced treatment, the use of force on patients and the use of long-term segregation and night-time confinement in high secure hospitals. The workshop explored issues relating to consent to treatment and the need for additional safeguards; expanding the remit of the Mental Health Tribunal; the use of force, particularly in forensic psychiatric hospitals; and long -term segregation and night-time confinement in high secure hospitals. The meeting will lead to an outcome paper which sets out recommendations for implementation. More information can be found on the Council of Europe's website.

‌Dr Sheelagh McGuinness

Death before Birth: Understanding, informing and supporting the choices made by people who have experienced miscarriage, termination, and stillbirth.

'Death before Birth' is a two-year ESRC-funded project, running from 2016-18. Through it, we aim to examine how people in England who have experienced miscarriage, termination for fetal abnormality, and stillbirth reach decisions concerning the disposal of the remains of pregnancy, how their perceptions of the law impact on their decision-making, and how they communicate their experiences and choices to those there to support them. We will also be examining the existing guidance on disposal of the remains of pregnancy, investigating how it is interpreted in practice by professionals and the extent to which it takes account of the views, experiences and needs of the bereaved. It is an interdisciplinary project, combining aspects of socio-legal studies, cultural studies, and linguistics. Further details can be found:

The Abortion Act: A Promise Fulfilled

The Abortion Act was passed on 27 October 1967, at the vanguard of a wave of liberalising change across the western world and directly inspiring reform in a number of other countries. This two-day conference takes place in the week of the fiftieth anniversary, at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London. The Abortion Act 1967 (The Act) represented the fulfilment of over thirty years of sustained campaigning by the Abortion Law Reform Association, reflecting a liberalising reform agenda that sought to promote public health and address social inequality. At the same time, the Act was embedded in extant nineteenth-century criminal law responses to abortion, and was shaped by a medical model for its management. The Conference is sponsored by the Wellcome Trust. The conference will take place on 24-25 October 2017.  Further details can be found:

Nuffield Council on Bioethics. Background research paper on the statutory time limit for maintaining human embryos in culture. £3000.

‌Professor Aurora Plomer

Research project on Constitutional Hedges of Intellectual Property (2016-2020)

This project is funded by the Academy of Finland and led by Prof. Tuomas Mylly (University of Turku).  An international group of collaborators will examine constitutional aspects of intellectual property rights over a period of four years. The first meeting took place at the University of Sussex (25th-26th May 2017).  Aurora presented a paper on judicial and legislative control of patent offices which focused on the grant of patents on isolated genes and biological materials.

ValEUR Research Project: ‘Governing values, governing through values, governed by values? The European Union as a risk polity 

This project is led by Prof. Francois Foret at  the University Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium). Aurora was part of a panel of international scholars who contribute to the project and presented their work at the Council of European Studies Conference on Sustainability and Transformation (Glasgow, 12th-14th July 2017). The project output will be an edited collection published by Routledge. Aurora’s contribution examines whether the legal protection of human dignity in Europe is threatened by the existence of two European human rights Treaties interpreted by two separate supranational courts.

The Future of the Unified Patent Court post-Brexit

This project builds on Aurora’s research on the normative and institutional (dis)integration of the European Patent system which she begun at EUI ( It  focuses on the governance of the European Patent system and its democratic legitimacy. It analyses the jurisdiction of the European Patent Organization and the Unified Patent Court and their relationship with the Court of Justice of the European Union and the UK Supreme Court post-Brexit. Aurora presented a paper on this topic at the iCON International Conference on Courts, Power and Public Law (Copenhagen, 5th-7th July 2017). 

‌Dr Oliver Quick

Money no one wants to have to receive or pay: negligence indemnity schemes and models of clinical-insurer engagement

Clinical negligence causes significant harm to patients, their families and also clinicians. Compensation awards and legal costs also deplete the finances of healthcare systems. No one wants to make or receive these payments, which could instead be reinvested in patient care. This collaborative project (with Professor Tim Draycott and Dr Chris Yau) aims to explore different models of state insurer engagement with maternity units that may improve care and outcomes, as well as reduce litigation costs. This study, funded by The Health Foundation, will draw on semi-structured interviews and focus groups with key personnel at five state insurers of clinical negligence: NHS LA (England), LOF (Sweden), VMIA (Melbourne), the Central Legal Office (Scotland) and Welsh Risk Pool Services. It will generate new empirical material about how these agencies attempt to engage with clinicians in order to prevent harm and improve safety.

Maternal and neonatal safety: mapping the policy landscape

This project, funded by the Policy Bristol support scheme, aims to understand the health policy landscape in the context of maternal and neonatal safety. This follows recent proposals by the UK Department of Health to introduce a ‘Rapid Resolution and Redress’ scheme for severe birth injury, the renaming of the NHS Litigation Authority as NHS Resolution, and the introduction of an ‘early notification scheme’ for severe brain injury incidents. This project will involve interviews with key figures from the maternal health environment to better understand what influences policy formation and explore the evidence base for policy development.  

Leaving patients to their own devices? Smart technology, safety and therapeutic relationships

Increased use of health monitoring devices by patients is becoming an important aspect of self-care and preventive medicine. It may also enhance accurate symptom reports, diagnoses and prompt referral to specialist care. However, the development, marketing and use of such technology raise significant ethical implications for patient safety and therapeutic relationships. In collaboration with Professor Anita Ho and funded by a British Council Collaborative Development Award, this project explores the legal and regulatory challenges of ensuring that this technology is used effectively and safely.

Implementing the statutory duty of candour in healthcare: an early evaluation

Having previously argued in favour of creating this legal duty which was introduced in November 2014, this project will explore its implementation. It will aim to gain insights into how hospitals interpret the key elements of the duty, how information is communicated to harmed patients, what professionals feel about it, and whether it is helping to create a more open culture within healthcare. To date, there has been no qualitative research exploring how hospitals are complying with the duty of candour, with some concerns raised about an inconsistent and superficial approach to its enforcement.