The Head of the University of Lincoln’s Law School delivered a lecture in the United States earlier this month.
Duncan French’s talk, delivered on October 5, was titled “Good Governance: Environmental Rights as Citizen Rights.” In partnership with the Lincoln Cathedral, the presentation was part of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta celebrations.
The Linc talked with Mr French about his already-held lecture, how it went and the response he received.
Q: Who was your audience?
A: The Clark Art Institute is in a town with Williams College and there are a number of higher education establishments quite close by, so I think there were a number of academics, but I think it was a real mix of academics, students and others who were interested.
Q: What do you mean when you use the term “environmental issues?”
A:I explored in a little more detail whether there is a human right to environment, particularly to a healthy environment. One of the interesting things over the last probably 10 or 15 years is asking the question of how far does human rights relate to the environment. There is the right to life, right to freedom from torture or the right to association, but you don’t normally associate it with environmental issues. We haven’t historically, but we have started to. Some constitutions like South Africa have a specific provision that people are entitled to a right to a healthy environment.
Q: What do you think Magna Carta can teach us today?
A:I spent some time going through what we think Magna Carta says. I made a bit of a jump and said it is not ahistorical to use Magna Carta as a part of the history of democracy or political ideas. The barons actually began the process of holding the executive to account. I used that means to say one of the most interesting things, from my perspective, is to what extend can we use that same right as individuals to be able to hold the executive to account today.
Whilst most of my lecture was on environmental issues, I did raise more general points that we do constantly protect the right to individuals and constrain the power of estate. There were particular examples: the interception of private information by the NSA in the US, the constant need to ensure the freedom from torture, the right to life in many respects, both in its absolute terms and in terms of improving the right to life in terms of clean drinking water. All those things highlight the need for the civilian to be active, to engage and to monitor the estate, which remains as important now as it did then.
Q: How do you distinguish between the right to life and the right to environment?
A: The United States’ understanding of the right to life is often very different than the rest of the world. One woman raised it very politely in the lecture. She asked, “Do you mean pro or anti-choice?” I said that I am not using the right to life in those terms. Because the rest of the world do not really concern themselves with the abortion debate like the Americans do. I mean the right to life in terms of absolute right to life, so the ability for people to actually live, to have the conditions to be able to live healthily.
About 120 people attended the lecture. Today, the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta continues as it travels in the United States.Tweet