Photo of Dr Stephen Skinner

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 interwar period, as well as the nature and implications of the legal, theoretical and contextual connections between them;

2. the State's use of lethal force and the right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, focusing on the relationships among defensive and coercive uses of weapons, their impact, human rights and 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 new Human Rights and Democracy Forum, a member of the editorial board of the New Criminal Law Review and the international advisory panel of the International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, 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 various national and international research organisations and networks, including the European Society for Comparative Legal History and the Society of Legal Scholars. I have been a guest lecturer at the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, Turin in 2016, 2013 and 2011 (on comparative criminal law, the use of lethal force and human rights) and a visiting researcher at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History, Frankfurt in 2011 (working on perceptions of Fascist criminal law in the 1920s-40s). 

Please contact me by email to discuss any of the above areas of activity and interest.


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 aspects of this research (see my publications list) and have edited two collections of essays on dimensions of criminal law under Italian Fascism and other authoritarian regimes.

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

The second collection, based on a workshop that I convened at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in London in September 2015, is entitled Ideology and Criminal Law: Fascist, National Socialist and Authoritarian Regimes, and is due to be published by Hart in 2019. This collection 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 other critical and comparative perspectives on the role of criminal justice in political repression. It includes essays on Italian Fascism, German National Socialism, 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 controlled 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 so far published a number of articles on aspects of this research (see my publications list) and recently completed work on a monograph entitled Lethal Force, the Right to Life and the ECHR: Narratives of Death and Democracy, due to be published by Hart in 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; an Italo-Brazilian conference on 'Comparative Law and Human Rights', Rome, May 2011; the SOLON conference on 'Crime, Violence and the Modern State', Lyon, September 2011; and the International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law, Poznan, Poland, September 2010.


Research supervision

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

I am currently supervising doctoral research on criminal law and responsibility, including contextual and theoretical dimensions, and on human rights law and theory. I have previously supervised interdisciplinary PhD research on theories of criminal responsibility and graphic fiction, and on criminal law and criminal justice. 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).

Research students

I am currently supervising a thesis on questions of criminal law and theory, focusing on the relationship between criminal law and culture, and a thesis on human rights law and theory.



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).