Sanghmitra LLM Law student

Sanghmitra Singh

India

LLM Criminal Justice and Penal Change

Tell us a bit about your background please…
I belong to a small town in Central India and I left my parent's place when I secured a place at a law university in 2011. It’s a five-year integrated course and I graduated with a B.A. (Sociology) and LL.B. (honours) from National Law University, Odisha in 2016. While criminal law, constitutional law, and human rights were my favourite subjects in law school, sociology is one subject that I believe really expands one’s mind and world view. One gets to understand how things really work in society – and be value-neutral about it, meaning, seeing things as they are, which further teaches how systemic oppression can work in society. And once you start seeing that, you’ll realise it’s everywhere.

My first assignment in law school dealt with human rights and as a concept, it just makes sense: giving everybody the exact same, basic rights and dignity, simply by the virtue of being a human. How could anyone be against that? I knew since then that I wanted to contribute to society in some way and do something meaningful with my law degree. I worked with a media firm for a while but it just wasn’t fulfilling or rewarding on a personal level.

Of course, it helped that my constitutional law and sociology professors were brilliant and that always leaves a huge impact on students. The Constitution of India is a powerful and brilliantly written document and again, makes perfect sense. Law school is still one of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Five years just flew by!

What inspired you to further your studies (beyond undergraduate level)?
After graduation, I worked as a human rights lawyer with an international NGO. I was a part of the Access to Justice Team, and worked for Prison Reforms. This is where my love for constitutional law, politics, human rights and sociology turned tangible. Apart from research, advocacy, conferences, writing press releases and blog posts, one of my jobs was to get illegally detained foreign national prisoners out of jails. This was the first time I got a first-hand understanding of systemic oppression within the criminal justice system. Prisons are inherently capitalistic in nature and it discriminates every minority group possible: I talk more about this in the next section. I knew then that I needed a dedicated, separate degree to better understand the justice system and its obvious shortcomings.

Why did you choose to study for the LLM Criminal Justice and Penal Change?
During my short stint of working with prison reforms, I realise that the justice system favours the rich, white, straight men. It is inherently capitalistic in nature and actively discriminates women, children, people of colour, trans and specially-abled persons. Because prisoners are seen as criminals, thugs, and sub-humans, they are perhaps the least talked about people in any society. What we don’t realise is that more than 50% of prisoners are under-trials or pre-trial detained. This means that their trial has not even started. This is out-rightly unconstitutional, illegal, unlawful, and inhumane.

While India has a whopping 65% of pre-trial detainees, a majority of them being ethnic and religious minorities (Muslims, Dalits, etc.), the situation in developed countries is no better. The African-Americans in the USA, despite forming only 12% of the total population, constitute around 30% of their prison population. The Aboriginals in Australia, despite being a minority in the country, primarily constitute their prison population. In the UK as well, it’s only the poor people who end up being in jails. Most people end up in jail simply because they cannot afford bail money. So there is an obvious pattern of problems here. In order to study all of this in detail, it was necessary to pursue a degree in criminology or criminal justice. I’m here because I’m really curious about the justice system.

What attracted you to Strathclyde specifically?
I’m going to be honest, Strathclyde was my safety school. I also got an offer from Warwick and University College, Dublin for different M.A. courses, but I was really intrigued by criminology and criminal justice. I had heard great things about Prof. Cyrus Tata, Director of the Centre for Law, Crime and Justice, and his work on prison reforms is closely related to the work that I did. I also knew of the brilliant Dr. Mike Nellis, Emeritus Professor of Criminal and Community Justice in the Law School. He’s not only knowledgeable and sociable, but also extremely articulate and eloquent. It’s a treat simply to listen to him speak. It’s no surprise that anyone who knows him has the utmost respect and admiration for him. 

Although I didn’t know of Dr Giuseppe Maglione, Lecturer in Criminology at Edinburgh Napier University before I came to the university, it’s been wonderful to be in his class. He’s by far the friendliest, most enthusiastic, funniest, and accommodating lecturer. He’s very passionate about social justice and it shows. In fact, I’ve nominated him for the Teaching Excellence Award because I genuinely think he deserves it.

I’d also wonderful things about Glasgow and really wanted to spend some time here.

What has been the highlight of your time at Strathclyde/highlight of the course so far?
I love it when law and social sciences interact, and this course has delivered exactly that. The reading lists are extensive, relevant and interesting. However, the quality of professors and lecturers in this particular course steal the show for me. Lecturers can make or break a module. I feel extremely lucky to be under the guidance of such brilliant, extraordinary and encouraging academicians.

I’ve also met some of the most interesting colleagues in my course, from attorneys to journalists to fiscals and psychology graduates. Everyone is passionate about the subject and it’s very reassuring to meet left-leaning people who actually care about the real issues in this world.

Our visits to the Sheriff court, Barlinnie prison, CCTV Centre, Electronic Monitoring Centre, which are module enablers, were also a lot of fun. Gaining a first-hand perspective is a totally different ballgame. Criminal Justice is perhaps the only course that gives so much practical exposure.

What do you like most about Glasgow?
Glasgow is known to be the friendliest city in the UK and I can see why. The nicest, warmest, most respectful and helpful bunch of people I’ve ever met. I love museums, live concerts, gigs, theatre, art and book fairs and I’m severely impressed. There’s always something eventful happening here! I’m still exploring a lot of places. And I’m absolutely in love with haggis: it’s the perfect comfort food for a cold, dark weather.

Have you come across any challenges during your studies, and how have you overcome them?
My biggest challenge was to catch up with the exhaustive reading lists specified for every subject for every week. I’m a quick reader and I genuinely enjoy reading, but having to read 6-9 academic papers or books every week is a big deal. Honestly, I’m still struggling with it, but taking it one day: one paper at a time helps.

What would be your advice for people considering taking this course?
I’d absolutely recommend it. I know other LLM programs are quite interesting as well, but nobody seems to be enjoying the course as much as we are. You just cannot go wrong with it, especially if you’re somebody who feels strongly about the justice system.

What do you think of the support available (supervisors, tutors, professional services etc)?
All tutors and supervisors are friendly, helpful, approachable and knowledgeable. I’ve already specifically spoken about them and I could go on.

I also used the student counselling services as seasonal depression hit me really hard last year. The weather was dark and cold for months and I never really got to transition moving away from my home country to thousands of miles away. My counsellor is a really warm, encouraging, and empathetic person and she actually knows me better than my last therapist now! There are also tons of fun events by the Student Union and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them and meeting new people from across the globe. 

What are your ambitions for the future?
I hope to do another master’s in international development and gender studies and pursue legal writing/journalism on a professional level. Either that, or continue to work for the criminal justice system in whatever way I can, perhaps as a restorative justice practitioner, or as a politician (if I get the ticket). Right now, it’s all about gaining different academic perspectives.