Proposal Feedback – PL and MB
We think that this is a very interesting and original subject. We appreciate that you will not have had the same access to the legal sources and that you may be a little rusty in terms of research skills, but you have already thought quite carefully about what you wish to say and considered some relevant resources (notably on legal methodology).
On the topic, we think that what you have identified is legal enough, but insert some valid questioning on law in context (what should be the role of the law and how to apply it: what legal instruments and why). We think that the subject is narrow enough but raises enough wide issues to engage in discussions and analysis. Of course, as your reading progresses, you will be able to focus on some aspects that will become more relevant or of interest. The key is to convey what your research question is testing: what are you trying to establish and how. In that respect, your research question could be reworked to make this a little clearer. Having said this, we feel that your proposal starts well by explaining the concept you are referring to and how they interlink: this is coherent and helpful. Bringing out the potential connection to minority linguistic rights is really interesting and original.
We thought that your research methodology was addressed constructively and clearly. More training will be provided on this in the course of your PhD. Although there is debate amongst scholars on how to define the boundaries of doctrinal and socio-legal research, we think that it would be sufficient to describe this as a socio-legal inquiry, which will draw upon comparative legal research. Even within socio-legal research, it is necessary to begin by establishing what the law is, so you don’t necessarily need to say that you will also undertake doctrinal research.
In terms of the proposed comparison, at present it is too broad. Although a PhD is a large research project, the key is depth and originality. There is no hard and fixed rule about the number of jurisdictions that can be compared, but most comparative law doctorates would not look at more than around three jurisdictions (in order to ensure sufficient opportunity for depth of analysis). Clearly it will make sense to include the UK as one case to be studied. Looking at the UK will, to some extent, incorporate some analysis of EU Law (as a source within UK Law), so you probably do not need to look at EU/ECHR law as a separate comparison. Likewise, the UN CRPD can be an overarching source that impacts on all the compared legal systems rather than a separate point of study (although that might happen as part of the introductory chapters).
There would certainly be plenty of material on the US and I imagine information relation to New Zealand would be relatively easy to access. In relation to Belgium, you would have to consider whether you can read the original language of the texts. This is not an indispensable condition for comparative legal research, but it is a factor to consider. One of the challenges with the legal framework on anti-discrimination in Belgium is that it is scattered across different levels of governances – the federal level, the communities and the regions. The complexity might pose a challenge to the comparison (or it could give added interest). Another case that you might want to consider is Canada. There has been a lot of literature on equality within Canadian law in recent years, particularly the emphasis on reasonable accommodation within the Canadian framework. Much of the case-law draws on the Canadian Charter of Rights, which covers a range of discrimination grounds, so it raises the question of whether it is possible to escape the rigidity of the categorisations found in (eg) the Equality Act. There is quite a famous case (Eldridge) where the Supreme Court in Canada held that the failure to provide sign language interpreters in hospitals was a breach of the equality guarantee in the Charter: http://scc-csc.lexum.com/decisia-scc-csc/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/1552/index.do
Canada is also a jurisdiction where there is an established body of law around linguistic diversity, so it struck me that it might be good from that angle as well.
Undertaking a socio-legal comparative study is already quite ambitious, so it would probably be too much to add an empirical component to the research. You could go down this route, but then you would need to narrow the comparison, eg to two jurisdictions in a more narrowly-tailored aspect of law. It is difficult to decide at this stage but it may be worth first see if empirical research already exists (in the UK and elsewhere). It may be that this is an aim you list in your proposal subject to finding how possible this is.
In terms of developing your research proposal further, it would be helpful to think about the titles for the main chapters of the thesis. Typically you will have around 5-6 main chapters, plus a shorter introduction and conclusion. This is not a rigid formula and there could be slightly less or more substantive chapters, but it is a good place to start planning. The first substantive chapter(s) will need to develop the theoretical framework. This would probably be (broadly speaking) an examination of Deaf identity and its relationship to the law. You might want to have one chapter looking as this in relation to anti-discrimination law and another chapter looking at it in relation to law on language rights. This could then set the stage for the comparative legal analysis.
Finally, we are sure that you will have been directed to do this, but just in case, you can find additional guidance on how to fill the research proposal at http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/law/postgraduate/phd-mphil-research/how-to-apply-and-entry-requirements.