Photo of Dr Stephen Skinner

Dr Stephen Skinner

Associate Professor


01392 723379

Amory 025

I am an Associate Professor in 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 primarily on criminal law under Fascism in Italy and democracy in Great Britain during the interwar period, as well as the 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 relationship among State killing, human rights and the concept of democratic society.

I have published a number of articles and book chapters on the above topics and at present am writing a monograph on lethal force in European human rights law, and editing a collection of papers on ideology and criminal law under extreme regimes, both under contract with Hart-Bloomsbury - see the research and publications tabs for more details.

I am currently Director of Exeter Law School's new Human Rights and Democracy Forum, a member of 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).

I teach two 3rd year undergraduate optional courses: 'Law, Politics and Power' (term 1-2) and 'Lethal Force, the ECHR and Democracy' (term 2); as well as part of the third year Criminal Law course. I am currently supervising a doctoral researcher working on questions of criminal law and theory.

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

Research group links

Research interests

Research Interests

My research focuses on theoretical, historical and normative dimensions of the relationship between law and democracy, which I am addressing through two interconnected projects. One of these is concerned with the use of lethal force in policing operations, the right to life, and the nature of democracy under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR); and the other project focuses on the nature of (primarily criminal) law under Italian Fascism and its relationships with law under contemporaneous democratic orders and in other authoritarian systems.

1. Lethal force, the ECHR and democracy

In this part of my research I am engaged in a project focusing on the use of lethal force in internal policing 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 a substantive analysis of the development of ECHR law on lethal force under Article 2, critical and theoretical reflection on the limits of Article 2 standards, as well as engagement with the contextual and socio-political significance of the state’s resort to lethal force in relation to human rights and concepts of democracy.

I have so far published a number of articles on aspects of this research (see my separate list of publications) and am working on a monograph entitled Lethal Force, the Right to Life and the ECHR: Narratives of Death and Democracy, under contract with Hart-Bloomsbury.

I organised a one-day workshop on these issues on 25th March 2015 at Doughty Street Chambers, London. Entitled 'Lethal Force, Policing and the ECHR: McCann and Others v UK at Twenty' the workshop included contributions from Sir Keir Starmer, Jonathan Cooper, Daniel Machover, John Wadham, as well as senior police officers and the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Co-Operation Unit.

2. Law under Fascism and contemporaneous systems

This branch of my research involves exploring the ideological roots and substantive development of criminal law under Italian Fascism in comparative perspective, from the end of the First World War to the end of the Second World War. 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 analysis in Europe and the USA, and comparative analyses of specific offences and other provisions in the Code. This project, which draws on materials in a number of European languages, ranges across questions of criminal law and criminology, political and legal theory, history and historiography. The initial stages of this research were supported by a British Academy Small Grant awarded in 2011, which funded visits to Florence University Social Sciences Library (April 2011), the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History (November 2011) and the British Library (June 2012).

I have published articles on aspects of this research (see my publications list) and have edited a collection of papers on various dimensions of criminal law under Italian Fascism and other authoritarian orders. Entitled Fascism and Criminal Law: History, Theory, Continuity, this collection – which brought together a range of papers about the Italian, Romanian, Spanish, Brazilian and Japanese experiences of authoritarian criminal law – was published by Hart in spring 2015.

In September 2015, I convened a two-day workshop at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London, entitled 'Anti-Democratic Ideology and Criminal Law under Fascist, National-Socialist and Authoritarian Regimes' - see further:

The workshop explored the ‘anti-democratic’ dimensions at the heart of such politico-legal orders’ conceptualisation of criminal law, as well as other critical and comparative perspectives on the role of criminal justice in political repression and the nature of criminal law in these systems. I am currently editing a new collection of essays based on the workshop, entitled Ideology and Criminal Law under Fascist, National-Socialist and Authoritarian Regimes, which is under contract with Hart-Bloomsbury.

Other research

My other previous research interests, which have fed into the above two current projects, have included the relationships among law, justice and violence, as well as modes of critical thinking in philosophy and legal and literary theory. My work in these areas includes articles proposing a new approach to the polysemous concept of violence in relation to law, the idea of dislocation in late modern theories of justice, and the ineffable in philosophical thought, especially the concept of apophasis in negative theology and its significance for the critical imagination.

Publishing profile and conferences

As my publications list shows, I have published my research in numerous leading UK, US and French refereed journals, as well as chapters in edited collections.

I regularly present my work at international conferences, including recently the ESCLH biennial conference in Gdansk, June 2016; 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 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 most interested in supervising postgraduate research relating specifically to my main areas of research expertise, namely comparative legal history, fascism and (criminal) law and legal theory, and the use of lethal force and human rights law, but would also be interested in projects relating more generally to criminal law and theory, criminal justice and human rights law. 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 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 postgraduate researcher working on questions of criminal law and theory, focusing on the relationship between criminal law and culture.



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 various public engagement and impact-oriented activities.

I am currently involved in an international project to establish and develop a process for monitoring and recording police uses of lethal force around the world.

To support and enhance my research on lethal force and human rights law I was awarded a grant in 2014-15 from the University of Exeter Link fund to explore and develop the project’s public engagement and impact potential. Under the title ‘Lethal Force, the ECHR and Democracy: Understanding Stakeholders’ I used this funding to set up meetings with Devon and Cornwall Police tactical firearms unit; Inquest; Justice; the European Court of Human Rights; the Council of Europe's Criminal Law Co-Operation Unit and the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights; and the Metropolitan Police firearms unit.

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.

Some of my earlier theoretical research has had some interesting interdisciplinary/ extra-legal influence: my article entitled ‘Stories of Pain and the Pursuit of Justice: Law, Violence, Experience and Jurisprudence’ (2009) Law, Culture and the Humanities was used by a dramatist in preparing a paper reflecting on the presentation of police brutality on stage - see ‘Can the Theatre be a Courtroom?’, G Verdecchia, Canadian Theatre Review 142 [2010] pp.18-23.



Modules taught


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 in 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).