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Completed Projects

Engagement Project

Human Cloning and Stem Cell Research Through the Medium of Law

Durham CELLS ran an interdisciplinary project to engage 16-18 year old students in learning about two exciting areas of biomedical science. Events took place on stem cell research in 2014, and on human cloning and mitochondrial donation in 2015. Students studying AS and A levels from four local schools took part in law-in-action workshops to experience how our society debates controversial issues.

For stream 1, student engaged in a mock parliamentary debate on stem cell research. For stream 2, students engaged in a mock court case on human cloning and a mock parliamentary debate on mitochondrial donation. Stream 3 involved dissemination of the experiences and research results to wider audiences.

This project ran for 36 months from 1/02/14 to 1/02/17 and was funded by a Wellcome Trust People Award.

Projects outputs include:


Ethical Rationalism and the Law

What role does reason play in determining what, if anything, is morally right? Book cover titled 'Ethical Rationalism and the Law'What role does morality play in law? Perhaps the most controversial answer to these fundamental questions is that reason supports a supreme principle of both morality and legality. This project seeks to cast a fresh critical eye over the coherence of modern approaches to ethical rationalism within law, and reflect on the intellectual history on which it builds. The project will then take the debate beyond the traditional concerns of legal theory into areas such as the relationship between morality and international law, and the impact of ethically controversial medical innovations on legal understanding.

In October 2015, a group of scholars in law and philosophy gathered to consider these issues. This conference was jointly funded by Durham CELLS and the University of Bristol Law School and held in the Senate Rooms of Durham Castle.

Final collection: P Capps & SD Pattinson, Ethical Rationalism and the Law (Hart, 2017)

Making Decisions on Behalf of Young Children


Several recent high-profile cases involve disagreements between parents of young children and healthcare professionals. Whilst parents generally make medical decisions for their very young children, their powers are limited where the child is being given medical treatment and the parental view is considered by health care professionals to conflict with the best interests of the child. Problems intensify if the parents seek treatment aboard or if the therapy they want is experimental. Where disagreement cannot be resolved, the court is often called upon to make an independent assessment. In the UK the best interests test is determinative, but there is renewed pressure to challenge its application and give greater powers to parents.

In the cases of GardHaastrup and Evans, the High Court granted the declarations sought by respective NHS Trusts: decisions that were upheld on appeal. Charlie Gard, Isaiah Haastrup and Alfie Evans were given palliative care and died soon after the final judgments. In Raqeeb, the court held that the 5-year-old could travel to Italy for further treatment, notwithstanding the view of the treating health care professionals that this would be contrary to her best interests.

The cases raise several important issues, many of which are explored in three case notes from Durham CELLS members. van Leeuwen (2020) analyses the interaction between the best interests test and the right to freely receive services in Article 56 TFEU in Raqeeb. Cave and Nottingham (2018) uphold the application of the best interests test as opposed to a test of significant harm. Cave, Brierley and Archard (2019) highlight problematic aspects in the application of the best interests test in Raqeeb

Inaugural Annual Lecture

In the 2020 Durham CELLS inaugural Annual Lecture, Katie Gollop QC explores the issues further, asking who decides when parents seek to take children abroad for treatment health care professional considers to be contrary to the child’s best interests.

Key Project Outputs

Van Leeuwen, Barend (2020). Free movement of life? The interaction between the best interests test and the right to freely receive services in Tafida Raqeeb., Public Law.

Cave, Emma, Archard, David & Brierley, Joe (2019). Making decisions for children: Accommodating parental choice in best interests determinations. Barts Health NHS Trust v Raqeeb [2019] EWHC 2530 (Fam); Raqeeb and Barts Health NHS Trust [2019] EWHC 2531 (Admin). Medical Law Review

Cave, Emma & Nottingham, Emma (2018). Who Knows Best (Interests)? The Case of Charlie Gard. Medical Law Review 26(3): 500-513.


Criminal Justice Responses to Maternal Filicide: Judging the Failed Mother

This project examines criminal justice response to women suspected of killing their newborn children. The research analyses court transcripts of criminal hearings of women who have been convicted of offences related to newborn child death in England and Wales between 2010 and 2019. The key finding from this project is the connection drawn between pregnancy and expectations of motherly behaviour: it is assumed that women will put the needs of the foetus before their own, and so act to protect their unborn ‘child’. Such expectations fail to consider the incredibly difficult situations accused women find themselves in and the experience of a crisis pregnancy. Emma concludes that, despite the born alive rule, criminal law is being applied to punish women who have failed to embody the role of the ‘responsible’ pregnant woman, and so the ‘good’ mother. The use of criminal law in this way has serious consequences for women’s rights, and the ethical and legal challenges of legally controlling and regulating behaviour in pregnancy.

  • This project is funded by CHASE: Consortium of the Humanities and the Arts South-east England PhD Studentship Award (AHRC) AH/L503861/ and the Socio-Legal Studies Association Research Grants Scheme 2018.