Announcement: The Constitution Society Appoints Three New Research Fellows

By: The Constitution Society

The Constitution Society is delighted to announce the appointment of three new research fellows. David McCann, Binendri Perera and Keegan Shepard will join the Society from November and look to publish their research in 2024. Welcoming them to the Society, director of research Dexter Govan said: 

We are excited to announce the appointment of our new research fellows, each of whom will be conducting work into understudied aspects of our constitution. The diversity of their projects is a testament to the vitality of constitutional scholarship in the UK and once published, their reports will increase public understanding of some of the key issues driving UK politics. I’m thrilled to be able to welcome Keegan, David and Binendri to the Society.

David McCann

Biography: Dr David McCann holds a PhD in relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland from 1959-72 from Ulster University. He has worked as a lecturer in Politics and International Studies at Ulster University and as deputy editor of Northern Ireland’s biggest current affairs website, Slugger O’Toole. He also works as an analyst for local and assembly elections in Northern Ireland. His work has featured on BBC Northern Ireland, Ulster Television and RTE. He is also a columnist with the Irish News.

Project outline: Since the Brexit referendum result, societal and political discussions about the future constitutional makeup of the islands of Ireland and the UK have come to the fore: the media is an important institution that plays a critical, yet understudied, role in facilitating and shaping the emergent discourse. There is a paucity in Northern Irish studies that examine the media in scholarly research: this proposal addresses this gap in knowledge. Most scholarly and policy attention reflects upon civic society and political party approaches to the constitution. This project will add critically important insight with a structured analysis of the media approach toward the constitution. It will add a new dimension to this discussion and add to a wider understanding of the media in an ethnically divided society like Northern Ireland.

Binendri Perera

Biography: Binendri Perera is a DPhil candidate in Law at the University of Oxford. She is on study leave from her position at the Department of Public & International Law at the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. She read for her LLM at the Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was a Cogan Scholar (2018/19).  She completed her LLB at the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo. Her main research interests are constitutional law, feminist legal theory, pro-democracy movements, economic, social, and cultural rights, and rights of marginalised groups.

Project outline: In her project, Binendri will assess the application and significance of the democratic accountability of the executive and government stability in the United Kingdom’s parliamentary system, with a comparative perspective offered by Sri Lanka’s semi-presidential system. Parliamentary and presidential institutional regime types balance accountability and stability in slightly different ways. In parliamentary systems, the focus is on continuing democratic accountability, with the Prime Minister and Cabinet being accountable to Parliament. In presidential systems, democratic accountability is established through direct election of the President by the people, but once she is elected, she is in office for a fixed term. Based on the comparison, the project considers the need for the balancing of government stability and democratic accountability. Preoccupation with government stability when designing an institutional regime undermines the democratic accountability of the executive. At the same time, a degree of stability is required if governments are to set in motion long term projects that promote the public interest. 

Keegan Shepard 

Biography: Keegan Clay Shepard is a Research Fellow at NHS Resolution, where he leads the evaluation of two landmark maternity schemes: the Maternity Incentive Scheme and Early Notification Scheme. He completed his PhD at Edge Hill University, where he conducted a large qualitative study exploring the staff perceptions of patient safety in the NHS Ambulance Services. Following his PhD, Keegan’s postdoc was at the University of Oxford, where he was funded by an NIHR grant to research patient concerns and complaints with the Quality and Outcomes of Person-centred Care Policy Research Unit (QORU) under the direction of the Department of Health and Social Care. A BMJ publication from this work was selected as an NIHR Alert, which are chosen and developed to help inform policy and practice nationwide. Beyond his research background, he has also worked as a Policy Advisor for NHS Providers, as well as the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association.

Project outline: With the introduction of the Health and Care Act 2022 last year, as well as an unprecedented mismatch between demand and resource across the NHS, the complexity and uncertainty surrounding accountability in the NHS has increased. As a result, this research aims to contribute valuable insights into the dynamics of accountabilities and structures within the NHS, thereby shedding light on their alignment with democratic principles in the UK healthcare system. It is hoped that this work will clarify and illustrate how providers and commissioners of healthcare across the NHS are held to account, as well as determine whether any challenges exist which obfuscate the route to achieving accountability. The research will begin with a review of the literature, before utilising a mixed methods approach to focus on organisational structures, democratic accountability, roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders across the NHS, as well as the challenges and opportunities faced to help inform a range of recommendations to improve accountability going forward.