Looking Back on the Biggest Stories of 2016
From the biggest political shift for a generation, to new invasive legislation and Brexit.
Here is a quick review of some of the biggest news stories from the turbulent year that was 2016.
The Syrian Conflict Enters Another Year
From the most heart-breaking scenes to ever fill our news feeds, to some of the biggest demonstrations of human compassion. An anti-regime uprising which began in 2011 has since spiralled into a civil war, resulting in over 250,000 deaths, and a further 11 million to become displaced as they flee.
This conflict, in very very simply terms, is between those loyal and opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, in addition to the so-called ‘Islamic State’. There are also large influences from other nations, including the UK, the US, France, Turkey, and Russia.
Syria has been one of the most polarising modern wars of this century, and has raised issues regarding the on-going humanitarian aid crises, the abandonment of refugees in legal limbo, and multiple ‘cease fires’ that never last, or come to fruition. Its impact has been felt hard, and will no doubt continue to grow as we move into 2017.
The UK Budget 2016 Announced
In March George Osborne delivered his eighth Budget as chancellor, which aimed to ‘put the next generation first in uncertain times, against a deteriorating global economic outlook […] this Budget delivers security for working people’
Well George, we shall see… Here is the full document if you missed it!
EU Referendum Campaign Begins
The Brexit campaign polarised the country and caused chaos in the news – which was often filled with heated and often very entertaining debates. It was also a time when several prominent individuals utilised a bunch of opinions-labelled-facts and statistics-pulled-from-a-hat to sway the voting population. For an interesting read, here article about a claim to the CPS regarding whether the leave campaign ‘knowingly mislead’ voters.
The Panama Papers Leak
This was the unprecedented leak of 11.5 million documents from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. This gargantuan leak basically exposed many rich, powerful, and famous individuals who were using off-shore tax havens. Now, squirrelling money away is not an illegal act per say, and there are plenty of legitimate reasons for doing so to protect your assets, but that is not to say everyone whose name was released was innocent…
The Hillsborough Inquests
The Hillsborough disaster resulted in 96 deaths when a part of the stadium collapsed at a semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989. After a two year inquest, 500 witnesses, and 4000 documents, the Jurors concluded that the then match commander was ‘responsible for manslaughter by gross negligence’ due to a breach of his duty of care.
Further details of the inquest can be found here
*This tragedy also resulted in the leading tort psychiatric injury case of Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police  1 AC 310
The Psychoactive Substances Bill 2016
Often referred to as the ‘legal highs bill’, this came into force on the 26th May. This act defined ‘psycho active substances’, and made it an offence to produce, supply, offer to supply, possess with intent to supply, possess on custodial premises, import or export said substances. Some have claimed this law is nothing but a ‘blanket ban on pleasure’, and have also criticised it as ‘unworkable’, claiming that a psychoactive substance cannot be unequivocally proven.
Since its implementation, over 500 arrests and first-convictions have occurred under the act.
Brexit: The UK Votes to Leave the EU
Yes there was a huge frenzy of outright disbelief when 51.9% of those who voted, voted in favour of leaving the European Union. The effect of such a monumental decision left everyone in a bit of a daze, with the word ‘uncertainty’ permeating every news story. Even the out-voters panicked, resulting in one of them creating a petition calling for a second referendum. This received a large number of signatures and support, but was swiftly rejected by the government. This is because we live in a democracy, and that means that you can’t keep repeating a referendum until you get the result that one side wants. That would defeat the point, no?
The turn-out was quite large for a vote of this size, at 72.2%. However, that still meant that over a quarter of eligible individuals did not vote. In addition, something else which has been pointed out is that only 36% of 18-24 years old’s voted. Thus, from the generation that had the most at stake, 64% did not vote. So, those who, unless for good reason, did not vote – do not feel betrayed! This is the harsh truth of democracy – no vote, no opinion. So, let’s keep calm and carry on, we always have the US election to look forward to after all!
Chilcot Inquiry Report Published
After several years it has now been concluded that Tony Blair, in relation to the Iraq war, ‘over stated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, sent ill-prepared troops into battle, and had “wholly inadequate” plans for the aftermath‘. Jeremy Corbyn, who voted against military action in Iraq, stated that the report proved ‘military aggression [was] launched on a false pretext‘, something which has overwhelmingly been regarded as illegal in international opinion since.
The total number of fatalities from the Iraq war is unknown; however, estimations have claimed numbers to be as high as 461,000.
In response to the report, Tony Blair stated that he expressed ‘more sorrow, regret and apology than [they] may ever know or can believe‘. I would raise the issue that the families of those who lost their lives during that unnecessary conflict would have a lot to say about that comment, Tony.
However, in the true colours of a politician, Blair of course went on to uphold the government’s decision despite the report; and how they had none the less ‘acted in good faith’, and without ‘secret commitments’ or falsified intelligence. The full report and its findings can be read here.
Theresa May Becomes PM
With David Cameron slinking away with his tail between his legs, and not taking responsibility for cleaning up the mess he caused; who would become our prime minister?
And then, out of nowhere! Theresa May.
This was quite a sudden piece of information for many. However, the Conservative Party is free to change its leader without an election, and after her sole remaining challenger withdrew, May became the leader of the party, and as a result our new prime minister.
The US and China Ratify Paris Climate Deal
The Paris climate deal is the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement, which as of December 2016 194 UNFCCC members have signed, of which 120 have ratified into their domestic law. Thus, as the world’s two largest economies and largest producers of emissions, China and the US signing this agreement has been a very positive step forward.
However, changes will not occur overnight and there are many steps and procedures that need to be adhered to before this can be called a success story.
Let us hope in the new year that the republican administration will uphold and implement this agreement – even if it is led by a man who considers man-made climate change to be a hoax. Yep, that’s right, Donald Trump does not believe in climate change.
The Uber Court Judgement
In this landmark decision, a UK employment tribunal court ruled that Uber drivers are not self-employed and should be paid a national living wage. This decision will have massive impacts for what is known as the ‘gig-economy’, which consists of short-term independent workers in flexible and temporary positions. Other examples would include Deliveroo drivers and mystery shoppers. Judges defended their decision, stating that ‘the notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform’ is to our minds faintly ridiculous‘ – And you can see their point.
Against the decision in this case, regional general manager of Uber in the UK, Jo Bertram, has raised the point that many of the firm’s drivers choose to join Uber ‘precisely because they want to be self-employed and their own boss’.
Due to the decision many firms may now face scrutiny and increasing claims regarding employees who currently do not receive holiday pay, pensions, or other entitlements. This case is very much a situation where the creation of new rights may remove the reasons why so many people opt for this form of flexible employment in the first place. It will be interesting to see how this case develop, and is applied in the future.
Trump Wins the US Presidency
Yep, there is it. Democracy in action again. Hooray? For a very interesting and informative article on this, written by one of our own students, read; ‘The American Election: A Flaw in Democracy’
The Investigatory Powers Act Receives Royal Assent
Also known as the ‘Snoopers Charter’. Why you may ask? Well, this bill provides the police and intelligence agencies with surveillance powers that are unmatched by any other country in the western world. The Bill grants the Government the power to indiscriminately hack and store data relating to internet use, emails, and text messages.
Edward Snowden: ‘The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.‘
Recently the EU court dubbed this illegal. However, this decision could be meaningless after the UK leaves the EU. But that has not happened yet!
Cryogenics Court Ruling
This was the case of a terminally ill 14-year-old girl who wished to be cryogenically frozen after her death. She sought help from the courts as her divorced parents disagreed over what should be done. Her mother supported her, but her father did not.
Cryogenic freezing is legal in the UK, but not well regulated.
This decision raised many ethical and moral issues for those concerned, but the judge concluded that the girl had the capacity to make such a decision; and after her deaths he was cryogenically preserved. An injunction was also made to prevent the father from interfering in the process.
Dakota Pipeline Suspended, For Now
After over a year of tears and tear gas, peaceful protests and police brutality; the North Dakota Pipeline has been halted. In brief summary this was a sweet-crude-oil pipeline whose construction was threatening the cultural sites and water supply of the Sioux Tribe. So what does this mean now that it has been stopped? Well:
1. Environmental impact reports will be produced
But shouldn’t these have happened anyway?
2. The Obama administration has ceased issuing permits to build.
But what happens when Trump, who supports the pipeline, comes into power?
3. And alternate routes for the pipeline are being assessed.
However this does not necessarily mean they will find any they approve of.
I doubt this will be the last we hear of this story, or it might be, as efforts to suppress it have been seen previously. Either way, the many individuals who came out to support the tribes are not completely convinced about his decision, and are continuing to camp at the site until they can guarantee the rights, land, and culture of the Sioux tribe are protected.
Changes to UK Stalking Laws
To better protect victims ‘at the earliest possible stage’, it has been proposed that the law should be able in intervene sooner in stalking cases. This would then afford victims of stalking the same protection offered to victims of domestic abuse. Recently proposals have also been made to double the maximum sentence from five to ten years; you can read about this proposal here.
Theresa May Comments on Leaving ECHR
Theresa May has stated that a key aspect of her 2020 election campaign will be a promise to leave the European Convention of Human Rights. This would, she states, later involve transferring these rights into British law
Is anyone else getting flash backs from David Cameron’s ‘British Bill of Rights’ that never came to fruition?
Perhaps it would be best for our current PM to worry about our action plan to leave the EU in the first place, and the plans for immediate future after that occurs, before she starts considering ideas for her election campaign; which isn’t for another three years… Just a thought.
Aside from torrents of celebrities, I would also like to give an honourable mention to some other incredible and inspiring people who have passed away this past year:
Dr Henry Heimlich – 1920-2016
A thoracic surgeon and medical researcher, widely credited as the creator of the Heimlich maneuver; something which has been estimated to have saved thousands of lives.
Harper Lee – 1926-2016
An accomplished novelist most widely known for writing the inspiring and classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Muhammad Ali – 1942-2016
Though most prevalent known for his boxing career, Ali was also heavily involved in activism for civil rights, and made himself an icon through his open objections to the Vietnam war.
George Michael 1963-2016
A great musician and secret philanthropist, who didn’t advertise his generosity as a media grabbing stunt, unlike so many other celebrities
Harry Wu – 1937-2016
A Chinese-born American activist best known for his efforts to expose human rights violations in China. He spent 19 years in a Chinese labour camp.
Vera Rubin – 1928-2016
A female astronomer whose pioneering work studying galactic rotation curves aided in the confirmed discovery of dark matter.
Well there you have it! Though this is obviously only a brief review, there have none the less been some truly generation-changing decision that have been made in 2016. Whether you belief they are good or bad, one thing that is for certain is that their impact will not be be limited to 2016, and it will be interesting to see how they develop in this new year.
*I also did manage to squeeze in some ‘good news’ amidst all that gloom so don’t feel too disheartened. Did you know that the Giant Panda is no longer endangered, the ozone is showing signs of healing itself, black incarceration rates are decreasing in the US, and wild Tiger numbers are increasing for the first time in 100 years? More good news here