The second Max Planck Law Conference, now an annual event, was expected to take place in its usual venue, Harnack House, Berlin. In response to the worsening COVID-19 situation, the organizers, Professor Russell Miller and Dr Gilbert Leung, moved the event online. With over 100 participants all of whom were able to actively engage at different levels, the move online proved to be a great success.

Session one: Professor Stefan Vogenauer, Chair of Max Planck Law, opened proceedings. Professor Miller then provided an overview of proceedings for the next  two days.  This first session focused on Max Planck Law’s centralized activities with presentations by Professor Miller on the Curriculum, Dr Leung on Communications and the “Impacts” series, Professor Vogenauer and Professor Jens M. Scherpe on the Cambridge Exchange (Research Partnership), and finally Dr Augustìn Casagrande on Forum Latin America.

Session two was devoted to Max Planck Law’s decentralized activities. To this end, a number of doctoral and postdoctoral researchers from across the Max Planck Law network presented proposals and initiatives:

Dr Jenifer Trinks (Hamburg) presented her proposal for “Max Planck Law @ PhD Net”, a platform for PhDs to engage with colleagues from other Institutes and receive feedback on their current projects from different interdisciplinary perspectives.

Dr Felix-Anselm van Lier (Halle) and Ms Alexandra Woods (Frankfurt) presented their proposal for the “Max Planck Law-Technology-Society”, a hub for the exchange of ideas on common themes, concerns, and challenges raised by the complex and interdependent relationships between law, technology, and society.

Mr Faris Nasrallah (Halle) presented his idea for the “Arbitration Group”, which aims at combining and pooling the existing expertise international arbitration across the Max Planck Society.

Dr Victoria Barnes (Frankfurt), Dr Amber Maggio (Frankfurt), and Ms Zeynep Yazici Caglar (Frankurt) proposed the setting-up of the “Minerva LAW network”,  a space to discuss matters relating to gender and the law, and for bringing female legal researchers in the Max Planck Society together with leaders in order to spark innovative and engaging discussions about career development.

After the presentations, conference attendees entered breakout rooms hosted by the presenters, with each room representing one project or initiative,  to register their interest and for further discussions.

The final session of the day was led by Dr Jasper Kunstreich (Frankfurt), who presented a fascinating history of law research in the Max Planck Society, a rich heritage that underlies what we see today as Max Planck Law.

(See video below: Max Planck Law Conf. 2020 day 1 s. 3)

The virtual cocktails afterwards was an opportunity for everyone to meet each other to discuss the day’s events or simply to get to know each other over a glass or two.

The second day was devoted to a substantive programme devoted to the theme of “Rights Inflation or Rights Realization”.

The first session was a Senior Researcher panel moderated by Professor Dirk Hanschel (Halle).

First up was Dr Katrin Kappler (Freiburg), who spoke on the ongoing process of realizing LGBTI rights and why we should avoid blanket discussions about rights inflation.

Next, Dr Raffaela Kunz (Heidelberg) spoke on open access and how human rights should not overlook the global knowledge gap.

Dr Lily Martinet (Luxembourg) followed by presenting traditional hunting as a case study on the tensions that can rise between the exercise of cultural rights and the need to preserve nature and wildlife.

Finally, Dr Heiko Richter (Munich) spoke on the tension between freedom of information or expression, on the one hand, and intellectual property, on the other hand.

In the second sessionProfessor Anne Peters (Heidelberg) presented her keynote lecture entitled “Global Rights. Animal Rights”. Her wide-ranging talk addressed, amongst other things, the difference between subjective and objective rights, the question of the inflation of rights, the importance of justification for deciding which rights should be acknowledged, as well as the multiple critiques of rights from the ideological left and right, what she also termed the “unholy alliance” against rights.

With regard to the rights of animals, Professor Peters noted how universal rights were originally the rights of a privileged few and expressed her conviction that the circle of rights should be extended beyond humans to animals as well as natural entities. Arguing against ableism in rights, those who need rights the most include animals. Rights are the rights of others, those beings deprived of rights, Professor Peters concluded. The lecture provoked, as successful lectures often do, many searching questions from the audience.

(See video below: Max Planck Law Conf. 2020 day 2 s. 2)

In the final session, Professors Marie-Claire Foblets (Halle), Hélène Luiz Fabri (Luxembourg), Ralf Posher (Freiburg), and Wolfgang Schön (Munich) engaged in a Directors’ roundtable moderated by Professor Anuscheh Farahat (FAU).

Among the many important issues addressed were the question of too many or few human rights, the (German) principal of proportionality in fundamental rights, and the “pandora’s box” question of universality in human rights.

(See video below: Max Planck Law Conf. 2020 day 2 s. 3)

If the first day of the conference was about engaging the Max Planck Law network, the second day was a celebration of the breadth and depth of research across Max Planck Law. It showcased work from senior researchers, the profound insights of a keynote lecture, and enlightening conversations among esteemed Directors.

Professor Vogenauer closed the conference with a fitting call to maintain the highest ambitions for Max Planck Law with a view to an in-person conference next year in Berlin.