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Participating in a European Workshop on Blockchain and the Law

Iris Wuisman and Morshed Mannan of the Company Law department attended a European workshop on blockchain and the law at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence on 30 November 2017- 1 December 2017.

The programme was organized by COALA (Coalition of Automated Legal Applications) LEX, a leading transnational group of lawyers, academics, computer scientists and entrepreneurs exploring the challenges and opportunities of blockchain technology, and was organized by the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies and Law Department of EUI.

There were five simultaneous working groups exploring identity and privacy, the enforcement of smart contracts, the regulation of initial coin offerings (ICOs), the implications of blockchain on governmental and public institutions and the governance of decentralised blockchain-based organisations. Iris was appointed as the co-coordinator of the governance working group, along with Christopher Wray, Chief Legal Counsel of Mattereum for the workshop in Florence.

After recapitulating the earlier activities of COALA LEX on the aforementioned topics, a series of breakout sessions were held. The governance working group was composed of legal researchers, lawyers, an entrepreneur and a philosopher of technology. As a result, the ensuing discussions unpacked the various elements of ‘governance’ and examined its components through a Hohfeldian analysis of rights (liberty rights, claim rights, power and immunity). This facilitated the creation of a nascent conceptual framework with which to understand the decentralised organisations emerging on the blockchain. The other working groups focused on the prospects of creating a European-level blockchain infrastructure, the possibility of using blockchain to fragment individual identity so as to protect privacy and reflect the plurality of a person’s identities, assessing smart contracts against European contract law doctrine and understanding the supranational and national regulation of ICOs in the EU and Switzerland. To build on this work, reports and scientific articles will be written, and as representatives from the European Commission were present during the workshop, it will hopefully contribute to EU policy and regulation of this fast-moving area.