I was one of a team of 4 students working with North Yorkshire Police on a human rights placement in York. We looked at the impact of framing of rights on their implementation and on the identification of methods of framing to meet particular target audiences.
I had returned to academic study towards the end of my sixth decade. This was after 35 years of professional life as a lawyer, during the last 25 of which I had had little contact with the police. But what I had seen suggested that things had changed a lot in the meantime, especially with the implementation of the Human Rights Act. Without this insight, which was rapidly confirmed on contact with our partner liaison, I would have shared the view of many students on the course (particularly those with personal experience from their own home countries) that the police were a paradoxical choice of partner for a project based on human rights.
On the front line
Any such reservations were swept away over the course of a fortnight spent interviewing frontline officers, individually and in a focus group, over their responses to words and phrases associated with human rights concepts as encountered by them in the course of their everyday duties within the force and in direct contact with the public. This was reinforced by research and reading (also covered in lectures and seminars during the preceding term) into project management and research methodologies. Then came the writing of the report itself with the need to transform the data collected into evidence-based conclusions, leading to specific recommendations – and all to be backed by academic rigour and referencing.
For someone looking for a change of direction late in working life, both the project and the course generally offered eye-opening opportunities with specific application to the recent dedication of my adopted home city of York as a Human Rights City.