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Meet our Doctoral Researchers

Here at the School of Law, we offer a wide range of support on a variety of PhD research topics.

Our staff supervisors all come from different legal backgrounds, which has opened the doors to the diverse selection of research topics you'll see below. 

We've asked our current doctoral researchers to share a little bit about their projects, so you can get a taste of what we cover within the School of Law at Birmingham City University!

Oleksandra Vytiaganets Law PhD Profile Picture 100x150

Oleksandra Vytiaganets

Centre Affiliation(s): Centre for Law, Science and Policy.

Supervisory Team: Dr Haydn Davies, Dr Mark Eccleston-Turner

Title of PhD Research Project: International Investment Law and the Effect on ‘Public Health Sovereignty’ in Nation States.

Summary of PhD Research Project: The proliferation of international investment agreements (“IIAs”) has resulted in states having to observe legally binding responsibilities before foreign investors. While states commonly see IIAs as attractive tools to bring foreign direct investment, many of such Agreements may impact the public health policy in states by enabling private investors to challenge perceived unfavourable state regulation at arbitration tribunals. Therefore, to promote and facilitate FDI, states-parties to such agreements have compromised their sovereign right to conduct public health policy. My PhD project seeks to explore the relationship between the right and obligation of the sovereign state to promote the public interest in public health regulations and private right of international investors accorded by international investment agreements.

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Gareth R. Lee

Centre Affiliation(s): Centre for American Legal Studies 

Supervisory Team: Dr Anne Richardson Oakes and Professor Jon Yorke

Title of PhD Research Project: Are the American Bar Association Performance Guidelines Indicators of Compliance with the Sixth Amendment’s Effective Assistance of Counsel Requirement Death Penalty Cases?

Summary of PhD Research Project: My research examines the judicial consideration of the American Bar Association’s Guidelines in Death Penalty Cases to determine the locus of power within the legal system regarding Sixth Amendment claims. The application of the Proportionality Doctrine of the Supreme Court is being examined through the interpretation of the Doctrine by the Steikers. The aim is to apply this interpretation to courts’ decision making to determine if their application of ABA guidelines in death penalty cases meets both the test of the Sixth Amendment and the Proportionality Doctrine. My research should demonstrate that the Proportionality Doctrine has not been met and as such there should be a further narrowing of the application of the death penalty to exclude those who have ineffective assistance of counsel at trial.

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Amelia Shooter

Centre Affiliation(s): Centre for Law, Science and Policy and Centre for American Legal Studies/

Supervisory Team: Dr Haydn Davies, Dr Sarah Cooper, Dr Mark Eccleston-Turner

Title of PhD Research Project: 100 Years of the National Research Council: A Critical Examination of US Judicial Deference to “Agency Science”

Summary of PhD Research Project: Amelia’s research centres on the impact of the National Research Council over the last twenty-five years. The study focuses on the way that judges have made use of six reports of the National Academy of Sciences when making admissibility and interpretation decisions on the forensic sciences. The six reports were published between 1992 and 2009, and each examines the scientific reliability and validity underpinning forensic science evidence. Techniques discussed by the NAS include fingerprint evidence, DNA, lie detector technology, and bullet identification. This study examines appellate judicial decisions that make reference to at least one of these six reports, and explores the extent to which judges engage with the underpinning science contained in the reports. Judicial engagement will be captured on a “spectrum of deference” in the hope of providing an insight into judicial understanding of the forensic sciences.

Emmanuela Enweonwu Law PhD Profile Picture 100x150

Emmanuela Enweonwu

Centre Affiliation(s): Centre for Human Rights

Supervisory Team: Dr. Haydn Davies and Chipo Mwale

Title of PhD Research Project: The Potential Effect of Social Change of The Regulation Of Child Marriage In Nigeria

Summary of PhD Research Project: Nigeria has the highest rates of child marriage in West Africa, accounting for almost half of child marriages in this region. In response, Nigeria enacted the Child Rights Act (CRA) 2003 in compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989. Despite this, little progress has been made; principally because of the unchanging policies of state governments and the attitudes of the people.  While many scholars have called for making of new “specific laws”, evidence shows the lack of effectiveness of this strategy. My research therefore aims critically to evaluate the obstacles hindering the success of the CRA; and seeks to explore a new solution to the problem by adopting the social change approach – as used successfully in some countries already – as a strategy to bring about the much-needed legal reform. 

Minh Thy Van Pham Law PhD Profile Picture 100x150

Minh Thy Van Pham

Centre Affiliation(s): Centre for Law, Science, and Policy and Centre for American Legal Studies

Supervisory Team: Dr. Ewan Kirk, Dr. Anne Richardson-Oakes, Alec Morris

Title of PhD Research Project: Do copyright laws of the United Kingdom and the United States effectively protect the authors of fanfiction? 

Summary of PhD Research Project: The relationship between fanfiction (“user creativity” in general) and copyright law has always been controversial, but this tension has deepened in recent years with the advent of Web 2.0 and expansion of copyright law. Fanfiction rarely has been treated as a derivative work, which is protected under the copyright law.  To better understand this situation, my research presents comprehensive aspects of legal problems created by fanfiction, the relationship between creative reuse in fan media, and the United States and the United Kingdom’s copyright regulations. It explains how fanfiction became a global trend and a subject of copyright infringement claims, and whether a reformed copyright law, as well as other informal practices, can protect fanfiction.

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Rose Tempowski

Centre Affiliation: Centre for Law, Science and Policy

Supervisory Team: Dr. Sarah Cooper, Jill Molloy, Professor Maxine Lintern & Professor Lissa Griffin

Title of PhD Research Project: An Examination of Judicial Engagement with ‘Juvenile Brain Science’ In US Courts

Description of PhD Research Project: Developments in the field of juvenile brain science have demonstrated that the immaturity of the adolescent brain can affect the decision-making process. Effectively weighing risk, thinking ahead, controlling impulses and being able to deal with peer pressure are all affected by areas of the brain which can continue to mature into adulthood. These scientific developments are relevant to the treatment of juveniles within the criminal justice system. During the last two decades, the US Supreme Court has repeatedly confronted the constitutionality of juvenile criminal sentences. In 2005, the death penalty was prohibited for those under 18 in a decision which made reference to developing juvenile brain science. In 2010, juvenile life without parole sentences were ruled unconstitutional for non-homicide offences and in 2012, mandatory life without parole sentences were prohibited for homicides. This project will analyse how courts across the US have engaged with brain science when dealing with juvenile offenders.

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Alice Storey

Centre Affiliation(s): Centre for Human Rights, Centre for American Legal Studies

Supervisory Team: Professor Jon Yorke & Dr. Sarah L. Cooper

Title of PhD Research Project: Facilitating the Abolition of the Death Penalty in the US: The Effectiveness of the UN Universal Periodic Review

Summary of Research Project: Alice's PhD research analyses how the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review mechanism is facilitating the abolition of the death penalty in the United States. In doing this, Alice examines the role that international law plays in the US capital system and challenges the reliance upon the theory of American exceptionalism as a reason for the US’ continued retention of capital punishment.

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Laura Smillie

Centre Affiliation(s): Centre for Law, Science & Policy, Centre for American Legal Studies.

Supervisory Team: Dr Sarah L. Cooper and Dr Mark Eccleston-Turner.

Title of PhD Research Project: An examination of judicial decision-making in vaccine harm cases in the United States.

Summary of PhD Research Project: In the United States if you have been injured by a vaccine, you can seek legal compensatory relief from two separate mechanisms: the federally controlled National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP), or through the tort of products liability. My project aims to categorise the factors that underpin the judiciary’s approach to vaccine harm claims, both in the NVICP and through state law products liability actions. To develop this typology, I will complete a systematic case-law review of vaccine harm claims from both mechanisms of legal relief. This case-law review will enable me to identify patterns in judicial legal strategies and decision-making, and ultimately inform judges, lawyers, and litigants about vaccine-harm claims.

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Sally Phillips

Centre Affiliation(s): Centre for Law, Science & Policy, Centre for American Legal Studies.

Supervisory Team: Dr Sarah L. Cooper, Dr. Haydn Davies, Jill Molloy, and Professor Lissa Griffin.

Title of PhD Research Project: An examination of judicial decision-making in Shaken Baby Syndrome Cases

Summary of PhD Research Project: Sally’s research focuses on the intersection of science and law, particularly in cases concerning Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma. Coming from a background in Criminology and Forensic Studies with a firm foundation in the natural sciences, she has a great interest in the use of science in criminal prosecutions and the judicial response to this complex juncture of disciplines. Her thesis aims to collate and operationalise the ways in which SBS science is challenged and responded to in criminal courts in the US. Her model should not only provide insight into the way SBS science is dealt with in courts, but also act as a practical tool for advocates.  

Valentina Dotto

Centre Affiliation(s): Centre for American Legal Studies

Supervisory Team: Dr. Anne Richardson Oakes and, Dr. Haydn Davies

Title of PhD Research Project: The Doctrine of Public Trust and its Application in the U.S. Constitutional System.

Summary of PhD Research Project:  My research focuses on a regulatory tool called the Doctrine of Public Trust. Since much has been written on the narrow definition of the Doctrine of Public Trust, my research uses the rhetoric and the metaphor of the Doctrine to translate broad principles of duty of care and fiduciary responsibility into useful mechanisms to establish litigation strategies. This strategies are focused on forcing governments to take action in order to create an idea of governmental responsibility towards custody and guardianship of the earth’s resources for future generations.My research has two focuses. First to tie the doctrine of environmental justice to States’ Constitutions, to identify where the constitutional provisions came from and investigate how they came to be adopted by the States.Second, to determine whether those provisions are narrow or expansive in nature and, enquire where there is not a constitutional provision in place, on what kind of litigation strategies it is possible to adopt.