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Dr Stephen Skinner

Associate Professor


01392 723379

Amory 025

I am an Associate Professor of Comparative Legal History and Human Rights.

My research is on the 'dark side' of law and democracy and covers two main areas:

1. comparative legal history, focusing on criminal law under Fascism in Italy and democracy in Great Britain during the 1920s-1940s, the nature and implications of the legal, theoretical and contextual connections between them, and the implications of those connections for the rule of law today;

2. the State's use of lethal and life-threatening force in relation to the right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the context of domestic policing, and their connections with the concept of democratic society.

See the research and publications tabs for more details of my work on these topics.

I am currently Director of Exeter Law School's Human Rights and Democracy Forum. I am a member of the editorial board of the New Criminal Law Review, the international advisory committee of the International Journal for the Semiotics of Law and the University of Macerata's Quaderno di storia del penale e della giustizia, as well as a member of the international scientific committee of the Criminality and Social Control research group based at the University of Buenos Aires. I am also a member of the European Society for Comparative Legal History and the Society of Legal Scholars.

Research group links

Research interests

 My research engages with theoretical, historical and substantive questions about state power, the rule of law and the nature of democracy. My current work is focused on exploring these issues through a comparative historical study of criminal law in democratic and anti-democratic systems during the early twentieth century. I also work on the use of lethal force in domestic policing and law enforcement operations, the right to life, and the nature of democratic society under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

1. Criminal law under Fascism and contemporaneous systems

This branch of my research involves exploring the ideological roots, substantive development and political representation of criminal law under Italian Fascism in comparative perspective. So far I have worked on the genesis and reform history of the 1930 Italian Penal Code (the Rocco Code), its reception in contemporaneous academic commentary in Europe and the USA, and analyses of specific offences and defences in the Code as compared with equivalent provisions in the law of England and Wales during the interwar period, in order to examine what differentiates or connects criminal law across divergent political systems. This project ranges across questions of criminal law, political and legal theory, history and historiography.

I have published various articles on this research (see my publications list) and have edited two collections of essays on criminal law under Italian Fascism, National Socialism and other authoritarian regimes.

The first collection, Fascism and Criminal Law: History, Theory, Continuity (Hart, 2015) includes a range of papers about the Italian, Romanian, Spanish, Brazilian and Japanese experiences of authoritarian criminal law.

The second collection, Ideology and Criminal Law: Fascist, National Socialist and Authoritarian Regimes (Hart, 2019) explores the ‘anti-democratic’ and other ideological dimensions at the heart of these politico-legal orders’ conceptualization and formulation of criminal law, as well as critical and comparative perspectives on the role of criminal justice in political repression. Based on a workshop that I convened at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in London in September 2015, this collection includes essays on Italian Fascism, National Socialism in Germany and occupied Norway, Franco's regime in Spain, and the authoritarian regimes in Brazil, South Africa, Romania and Japan.


2. Lethal force, the ECHR and democracy

This aspect of my research focuses on the use of lethal force in domestic policing and law enforcement operations in European states, how the use of such force is evaluated under Article 2 (the right to life) of the ECHR, and the connections among lethal force, human rights law and European democracy, which are central to judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in this area. This research involves substantive analysis of the development of ECHR law on lethal force under Article 2, critical and theoretical reflection on Article 2 law and its fundamental values, as well as engagement with the contextual and socio-political significance of the state’s resort to lethal force.

I have published a number of articles on this research (see my publications list) and a monograph, Lethal Force, the Right to Life and the ECHR: Narratives of Death and Democracy (Hart, 2019).


Research dissemination

I regularly present my research at international conferences, including recently the European Society for Comparative Legal History biennial conference in Paris, June 2018; a conference on 'Criminal Responsibility and Social Dangerousness' in Teramo, Italy in May 2016; the 6th Annual Conference of the German-Southeast Asian Centre of Excellence for Public Policy and Good Governance, on 'Law and Ideology', held in Bangkok in October 2015; an international symposium on 'Totalitarianism, Law and the Idea of Europe', Helsinki, May 2014; and a workshop on 'Justice, Politics and Repression under Fascism', Jesi, Italy, September 2013. Other previous presentations include the ESCLH conferences in Gdansk, June 2016; Macerata, July 2014, Amsterdam, July 2012 and Valencia, July 2010.


Research supervision

I would be pleased to hear from prospective postgraduates thinking of undertaking research relating to my main areas of interest, namely comparative legal history of criminal law; democracy, fascism, criminal law and legal theory; and the use of lethal force and human rights law. I would also be interested in projects relating more generally to comparative criminal law, criminal law and theory, and aspects of European human rights law and theory. Proposed research in these areas could include substantive, comparative, historical (18th – 20th centuries), theoretical and interdisciplinary approaches.

Research students

I am currently supervising doctoral research on human rights law and theory with regard to prisoners' rights, and on issues of gender and legal theory.

I have previously supervised interdisciplinary PhD research on theories of culture and criminal responsibility (Exeter), and on criminal responsibility and identity in graphic fiction (Exeter), as well as MPhil research on domestic violence in criminal law and criminal justice (Aberystwyth).

I have examined doctoral work on a critical and historical reading of law and politics under Romanian communism (Paris, La Sorbonne), domestic violence (Exeter), theories of mens rea in the criminal law of England and Wales (Exeter), police use of 'less lethal' weapons technology (Sociology, Exeter), and on English and Welsh legal history (Aberystwyth).


External impact and engagement

 My research on police uses of lethal and potentially lethal force in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights includes some public engagement and impact-oriented activities.

I am currently involved in discussions about developing an international project to establish a process for monitoring and recording police uses of lethal force around the world. This began with an international experts meeting in the Netherlands in September 2017, which I co-convened with a number of colleagues.

I have also organised other events in this area in recent years. In March 2015 I convened a workshop at Doughty Street Chambers, London on 'Lethal Force, Policing and the ECHR: McCann and Others v UK at Twenty' involving participants from legal practice, the police and other organisations working in this field. Following on from that workshop I co-ordinated a visit by a group of academics to the Metropolitan Police Service firearms training centre in August 2015. 



Professional qualifications:

  • Senior Fellow, Higher Education Academy and University of Exeter ASPIRE programme, 2016

Principal academic qualifications:

  • PhD, European University Institute, Florence, 1998
  • LLB (Hons), University of Warwick, 1992

Career background:

  • Associate Professor of Comparative Legal History and Human Rights, University of Exeter, 2016
  • Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Exeter, 2007-2016
  • Lecturer in Law, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1998-2000 and 2004-2007
  • Lecturer in Law, University of Warwick, 2000-2003
  • Jean Monnet Research Fellow, European University Institute, 2002-2003


French and Italian (fluent); Romanian (fair); Spanish (read).

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