The round-up of the stories that a budding Student Lawyer should be aware of this week. Sign up here to get these updates in your inbox every week.
Ikea’s Acquisition of Topshop’s Former Landmark Store
Reported by Eleanor Aindow
On 26 October 2021, Ikea bought Topshop’s former flagship Oxford Street store. This comes after Sir Philip Green’s retail empire, Arcadia Group, which included Topshop, fell into administration in November last year after its years of declining sales were finally compounded by the pandemic. A conditional purchase contract has been signed for the property, which is around 100 000 square foot, and the £378 million deal is expected to complete in January 2022. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is representing Arcadia, Topshop’s parent company, while Reed Smith is acting for Ingka, the largest Ikea retailer. This will mark the completion of the sell-off of Arcadia Group’s assets.
Ikea is reportedly hoping to open its Oxford Street store in autumn 2023, focusing on home furnishing accessories, while their full range of furniture will remain available for home delivery. This will make Ikea a direct competitor to H&M and Zara, both of which have their own homeware chains, as well as the likes of Next, John Lewis, and Urban Outfitters. The homeware market is expected to grow by an impressive 9.4% in 2021, and will continue to grow in the following years.
The move onto Oxford Street is part of Ikea’s strategy adjustment in recent years. To reflect the change in shopping behaviour, Ikea has departed from its giant warehouse stores on the outer edges of cities and added more inner-city store formats, which include click and collect services, planning studios, and home furnishing accessories. Ikea has trialled inner-city formats in major cities across Europe for more than two years, opening its first in Paris in 2019 and thereafter in Moscow, Madrid, New York and Tokyo. The Oxford Street store will be its biggest inner-city format store to date.
Despite recognizing the increase in popularity of online shopping, the retail manager of Ikea UK & Ireland, Peter Jelkeby, has stated that physical stores are an essential component of the Ikea experience. The Oxford Street store will help to make Ikea both more accessible and more sustainable, as shoppers can travel by public transport rather than by car.
Ikea’s move onto Oxford Street at a time when many traditional retail stores such as Debenhams and House of Fraser have closed or have relocated out of prime retail shopping areas could signal a new age for the British high street. In upcoming years, law firms could see an increase in innovative brands aiming to acquire this prime retail space.
The US, a backsliding democracy ?
Reported by Emma Ducroix
The annual list of “backsliding” democracies has just been published by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and the US has been added for the first time.
IDEA bases its assessments on 50 years of democratic indicators in about 160 countries, classifying them into three categories: democracies (including those that are “regressing”), “hybrid” governments and authoritarian regimes.
A certain international think tank, IDEA, has said that the “visible deterioration” of civil liberties in the US has begun at least in 2019.
Worldwide, more than one in four people live in a declining democracy, a proportion that rises to more than two in three if authoritarian or “hybrid” regimes are added, according to the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
“This year we coded the US as regressing for the first time, but our data suggest that the regressive episode has begun at least in 2019,” the institute said in its report.
Alexander Hudson, co-author of the report, said: “The United States is a high-performing democracy, and even improved its performance in the indicators of non-partisan administration (corruption and predictable enforcement) in 2020. However, the decline in civil liberties and government controls indicates that there are serious problems with the foundations of democracy.”
The report states, “A historic turning point occurred in 2020-21 when former President Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 US election results.”
In addition, Hudson highlighted a “decline in the quality of freedom of association and assembly during the summer of protests in 2020” after the police killing of George Floyd.
The organisation’s secretary-general, Kevin Casas-Zamora, said: “The visible deterioration of democracy in the United States, as evidenced by the growing tendency to contest credible election results, efforts to suppress participation (in elections) and the rampant polarisation… is one of the most worrying developments.”
He warned of a ripple effect, noting, “The violent contestation of the 2020 election without any evidence of fraud has been replicated, in different ways, in places as diverse as Myanmar, Peru and Israel.”
The number of declining democracies has doubled in the last decade, accounting for a quarter of the world’s population. In addition to “established democracies” such as the US, the list includes EU member states such as Hungary, Poland and Slovenia.
Two countries that were on the list last year – Ukraine and Northern Macedonia – were removed this year after their situation improved. Two others, Mali and Serbia, left the list because they were no longer considered democracies.
While Myanmar moved from being a democracy to an authoritarian regime, Afghanistan and Mali entered this category by leaving their former label as hybrid governments.
For the fifth consecutive year, in 2020, more countries are moving towards authoritarianism than democratisation. International IDEA expects this trend to continue in 2021.
For 2021, the group’s provisional assessment is that the world has 98 democracies – the lowest number in many years – as well as 20 hybrid governments including Russia, Morocco and Turkey, and 47 authoritarian regimes including China, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Iran.
If you add the declining democracies to the hybrid and authoritarian states, “we are talking about 70% of the world’s population,” said Casas-Zamora. “This means that there is something fundamentally wrong with the quality of democracy.”
The report says the trend of democratic erosion has “become more acute and worrying” since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Some countries, including Hungary, India, the Philippines and the United States, have (imposed) measures that amount to violations of democracy – that is, measures that are disproportionate, illegal, indefinite or irrelevant to the nature of the emergency,” the report said.
Casas-Zamora said, “The pandemic has certainly accelerated and amplified some negative trends, especially in places where democracy and the rule of law were in trouble before the pandemic.”
Croatia violated the right to life of an Afghan girl, according to the European Court of Human Rights
Reported by Emma Ducroix
The girl was six-year-old Madina Hussiny, who lost her life after police refused to let her family apply for asylum and forced her to walk back to Serbia.
As far as the facts are concerned, Madina and her family had managed to enter Croatia by crossing fields and going over and under fences, but that night, like many others, she was arrested by Croatian police.
According to her family, she was initially happy to see the officers, expecting to be taken to a police station to lodge a formal asylum application, which is their right under EU law. Instead, they were taken to the railway and ordered to walk back to Serbia.
“I begged: ‘If you won’t accept us, let us stay here tonight. In this weather we are already tired and cold, the children are small’,” Madina’s mother Muslima told The Guardian in 2017. “But they were inhumane.”
Croatian border guards initially denied that Madina and her family had set foot in their country before her death. However, four years later, the ECHR ruled that the Zagreb authorities had played a role in her death by refusing her family’s request for asylum, and thus putting the six-year-old girl in the path of the train.
Indeed, after a four-year legal battle, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Croatian police were responsible for Madina’s death when they forced her family to return to Serbia by train without giving them the opportunity to apply for asylum.
The little girl was beaten and killed by a train after being turned away with her family by Croatian authorities in 2017.
The judges of the ECHR (Strasbourg), declared that the Republic of Croatia had violated the girl’s right to life, treated the children inhumanely by keeping them in detention, unlawfully deprived the whole family of their freedom, collectively deported part of the family from Croatia and finally prevented access to their lawyer.
“This is a great victory for justice, after four years of exhausting legal struggle,” said the voluntary organisation Are You Syrious (AYS), which together with the Centre for Peace Studies, an NGO promoting non-violence, supported the Afghan family. “The verdict will not bring the girl back, but we hope it will give the family some closure.
“The European Court found that Croatia collectively deported the mother and her six children from Croatian territory in the middle of the night outside of any legal procedure and without taking into account their individual situation,” said Antonia Pindulić, a lawyer at the Centre for Peace Studies, which, along with AYS and the Border Violence Monitoring Network, intervened in the case as a third party.
The charities said the ECHR was the last resort to seek justice after Croatian institutions failed to effectively investigate the circumstances that led to the six-year-old’s death.
Thermal camera recordings, key evidence available to the police, had mysteriously disappeared.
“We expect Prime Minister [Andrej] Plenković to urgently return those responsible for the death of a child to our borders because of the actions of the institutions that we, the citizens of Croatia, fund,” the Center for Peace Studies and AYS said at a press conference before the Croatian government.
“This verdict should not be limited to the Republic of Croatia paying €40,000 (£33,000) in non-pecuniary damages to Madina’s family from the state budget,” said Tajana Tadić of AYS. For all the victims at our borders, for the people who died there, as well as for all the activists who have been intimidated into silence about this, it is time to bring to justice those who enable and cover up this violence, and this responsibility must be sought at the top of the Home Office.”
Hundreds of migrants travel the snowy Balkan route every day in an attempt to reach central Europe. Most are stopped by Croatian police, searched, often allegedly robbed, sexually assaulted and violently pushed back to Bosnia, where for months thousands of asylum seekers have been stranded in freezing temperatures.
Last October, major European media outlets broadcast footage showing a masked Croatian police officer beating young asylum seekers with a baton at the country’s border with Bosnia.
On Friday, Interior Minister Davor Božinović said he would not resign after a week of silence.