Open Society Foundations
Professor Stephen Skinner
Professor of Comparative Legal History and Legal Theory
I am a Professor of Comparative Legal History and Legal Theory.
My research is on the 'dark side' of law and democracy and covers two main areas:
1. The comparative legal history of criminal law and criminal justice under Fascism in Italy and liberal democracy in Great Britain during the 1920s-1940s. My work explores the development, interpretation and intersection of criminal law provisions in these two systems and their implications for subsequent understanding of the rule of law, authoritarian law, and the idea of Europe's common legal heritage.
2. State accountability for the use of lethal force in domestic policing and law enforcement, including the legal and theoretical implications of the right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and practical evaluation of the extent to which states around the world gather and disseminate data about lethal force.
Research group links
- Bracton Centre for Legal History Research (BCLHR)
- Human Rights and Democracy Forum
- Centre for Political Thought
My research engages with historical, theoretical and substantive questions about state power, the rule of law and the nature of fascism, authoritarianism and democracy. My current work is focused on two areas:
1. Criminal law and criminal justice under Fascism and democracy in the twentieth century
This branch of my research involves exploring the ideological and contextual origins, substantive development and interpretation of criminal law under Italian Fascism in comparative perspective. This work has included investigating how the 1930 Italian Penal Code (the Rocco Code) was received in contemporaneous academic commentary in Europe and the USA, and the extent to which political offences in the 1930 Rocco Code can be compared with equivalent provisions in Great Britain during the interwar period, in order to examine what differentiates or connects criminal law across divergent political systems. This research involves questions of criminal law, criminal justice, political and legal theory, history and historiography.
I have published various articles on this research (see my publications list) and have edited two collections of essays on criminal law under Italian Fascism, National Socialism and other authoritarian regimes.
The first collection,
(Hart, 2015) includes a range of papers about the Italian, Romanian, Spanish, Brazilian and Japanese experiences of authoritarian criminal law.
The second collection, Ideology and Criminal Law: Fascist, National Socialist and Authoritarian Regimes (Hart, 2019) explores the ‘anti-democratic’ and other ideological dimensions at the heart of these politico-legal orders’ conceptualization and formulation of criminal law, as well as critical and comparative perspectives on the role of criminal justice in political repression. Based on a workshop that I convened at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in London in September 2015, this collection includes essays on Italian Fascism, National Socialism in Germany and occupied Norway, Franco's regime in Spain, and the authoritarian regimes in Brazil, South Africa, Romania and Japan.
2. State accountability for lethal force in policing and law enforcement
This aspect of my research focuses on processes of state accountability for the use of lethal force in domestic policing and law enforcement operations. This has involved work on how the use of lethal force is regulated under Article 2 (the right to life) of the ECHR, and the connections among lethal force, human rights law and European democracy, which are central to judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in this area. This research involves substantive analysis of the development of ECHR law on lethal force under Article 2, critical and theoretical reflection on Article 2 law and its fundamental values, as well as engagement with the contextual and socio-political significance of the state’s resort to lethal force. I am currently involved in a wider, collaborative and international project on states' collection and dissemination of data about deaths connected with law enforcement activities worldwide.
I have published a number of articles on this research (see my publications list) and a monograph, Lethal Force, the Right to Life and the ECHR: Narratives of Death and Democracy (Hart, 2019).
The current research on monitoring state accountability for deaths connected with law enforcement is outlined on the project website, the Lethal Force Monitor.
I am a member of various international research bodies including:
- the international scientific committee of the Centre for the History of Criminal Justice (Centro per la Storia della Giustizia Criminale) run by the Universities of Bologna, Modena, Ferrara, Milano Bicocca, Benevento and Foggia.
- the international advisory committee of the University of Macerata's Quaderno di storia del penale e della giustizia.
- the European Society for Comparative Legal History.
- the American Historical Association.
I would be pleased to hear from prospective postgraduates considering research relating to my main areas of interest, namely comparative, historical and theoretical aspects of criminal law and criminal justice under democratic, fascist or authoritarian systems; political crime and criminalisation; and the state's use of lethal force in policing and law enforcement. I would also be interested in research projects relating more generally to criminal law (contemporary, historical, comparative or domestic questions) or theoretical questions about law and political systems. Proposed research in these areas could involve doctrinal, comparative, historical, theoretical or interdisciplinary methods.
I am currently involved in supervising doctoral research on human rights law and religious freedom, and on law, artistic freedom and political liberty. I have recently supervised two PhDs to successful completion (both in 2022), one on human rights law and theory relating to prisoners' rights, and the other on an empirical and theoretical analysis of legal gender recognition. I have previously supervised interdisciplinary PhD research on theories of culture and criminal responsibility (Exeter), and on criminal responsibility and identity in graphic fiction (Exeter), as well as MPhil research on domestic violence in criminal law and criminal justice (Aberystwyth). I have examined doctoral work on a critical and historical reading of law and politics under Romanian communism (Paris, La Sorbonne), domestic violence (Exeter), theories of mens rea in the criminal law of England and Wales (Exeter), police use of 'less lethal' weapons technology (Sociology, Exeter), and on English and Welsh legal history (Aberystwyth).
External impact and engagement
My work on state accountability for police use of lethal force involves engagement with international academic partners, NGOs and police oversight bodies around the world.
In 2022-23 I am involved in an international project entitled 'A Lethal Force Monitor: Next Steps', funded by the Open Society Foundations. This project is intended to develop an online lethal force monitor to provide information about how states record and publicise information about deaths resulting from or connected with law enforcement and security operations. The project is led by Professor Brian Rappert (Sociology) and two co-investigators, Dr Abi Dymond (Criminology) and myself (Law). It is a collaborative project with partners at the University of Ghent, Belgium, the Police Academy of the Netherlands, the University of Pretoria, South Africa and the State University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The monitor will include reports on jurisdictions around the world, including Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia.
In 2019-21 I was involved in the international project that laid the groundwork for the above project. Entitled 'Toward a Lethal Force Monitor: Enhancing State Accountability for Loss of Life in Law Enforcement', this earlier project was also funded by the Open Society Foundations with additional support from the Oak Foundation. The project was co-ordinated by Professor Brian Rappert (Sociology) and two co-investigators, Dr Abi Dymond (Criminology) and myself (Law), with partners from Belgium, France and the Netherlands. The project focused on current processes for recording and disseminating data about deaths resulting from or related to police uses of force. The project produced a report, Police Lethal Force and Accountability: Monitoring Deaths in Western Europe. The project was expanded to include work on monitoring processes in Kenya and South Africa, and on how future international co-operation in this field might be developed. This led to a second report, Toward a Lethal Force Monitor. Further information and both reports are available on the project website.
- Senior Fellow, Higher Education Academy and University of Exeter ASPIRE programme, 2016
Principal academic qualifications:
- PhD, European University Institute, Florence, 1998
- LLB (Hons), University of Warwick, 1992
- Professor, University of Exeter, 2020
- Associate Professor, University of Exeter, 2016-2020
- Senior Lecturer, University of Exeter, 2007-2016
- Lecturer, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1998-2000 and 2004-2007
- Lecturer, University of Warwick, 2000-2003
- Jean Monnet Research Fellow, European University Institute, 2002-2003
French and Italian (fluent); Romanian (fair); Spanish (read).