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Report from the 2023 Paul Heim Education Award Participant, Jagna Olejniczak

Jagna Olejniczak, recipient of the Paul Heim Education Award in 2023, reflects on her time studying at the European University Institute, Florence.

The skyline of Florence in the late afternoon
A woman in a black top smiles at the camera. Behind her is the skyline of Florence.

I am extremely grateful to the Lincoln’s Inn for enabling me to participate in this year’s specialised Human Rights course on the “Equality and International Law: Dealing with Disability”.

The course was offered by the European University Institute (EUI) and set in Villa Salviati – a medieval building in Florence, bought by Medici Family in 1500s, now owned by the Italian State.

Throughout the course, I had the chance to talk to students from different jurisdictions and grasp how the rights of people with disabilities are protected in different parts of the world. Through the modules themselves, I learnt how different regimes vary in approaches to reasonable accommodation and positive obligations imposed on the states. The main distinction was drawn between the protection offered by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the European Convention of Human Rights. As human rights law is one of my primary areas of interest, such comparison was particularly illuminating.

Courses covered legal theory, international legal practice, history and sessions on effective advocacy: the last assessment involved producing submissions for the Crowter v Secretary of State for Health and Social Care case – a challenge to the UK’s policy allowing longer time for women to have an abortion in cases where foetus is found to have certain disabilities.

Other topics included:

  • the (un)desirability of UN bodies (e.g., CRPD Committee, Human Rights Committee, and Committee on the Rights of the Child) holding contradictory views on controversial issues, such as involuntary detention;
  • history of the shift from a welfare state approach to disability to a human rights and anti-discrimination paradigm;
  • ECtHR’s caselaw on NGOs’ legal standing in cases where the potential applicant has died before the application was lodged and there is no one with power of attorney (de facto, exception to the requirement of the “victim status”), and
  • how can law respond to “unintentional ableism”.

The course led me to explore the UK’s stance on the CRPD, relevant Strasbourg’s caselaw, and the application of the Public Sector Equality Duty in relation to disability by the domestic courts.

Apart from the comprehensive curriculum, the award allowed me to spend two weeks exploring Florentine museums and top pizza/gelato spots. I managed to visit a winery in Chianti and take part in rooftop drinks organised by the EUI. Thanks to the award, I had an intellectually and culturally stimulating two weeks, delving into a fascinating aspect of the area of law I want to pursue in the future.


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