Statues, contested histories and the law

Thursday 12 May 2022

In summer 2020, the statue of Edward Colston, a merchant and trader of enslaved persons, was toppled by protestors and pushed into the harbour in Bristol, England. The statue’s removal provoked both public applause and condemnation. The so-called ‘Colston Four’ were acquitted of criminal damage in January 2022; but the UK’s Attorney General is currently seeking clarification from the Court of Appeal over the legal arguments presented in the case.

Following a year’s passage through Parliament, the UK’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act received Royal Assent at the end of April 2022. Its inclusion of the possibility for substantially higher maximum sentences for those convicted of criminal damage to a memorial – increased from three months to ten years – also brings into focus the issues discussed in this podcast, around dealing with controversial historical legacies and restorative justice.

In February 2021 the IBA published a landmark eBook, Contested Histories in Public Spaces: Principles, Processes, Best Practices and hosted a webinar discussing the complexities around the removal of statues and monuments, the Colston statue and the need for dialogue.


  • Baroness Usha Prashar, crossbench member, UK House of Lords
  • Dr Mark Ellis, Executive Director, International Bar Association
  • Marti Burgess, Board Chair, Black South West Network
  • Dr Joanna Burch-Brown, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Bristol
  • Lamberto Zannier, former Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe High Commissioner on National Minorities
  • Dr Timothy Ryback, Director, Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation

Download the eBook

Statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, England, shortly before it was taken down by protestors. Chris Sharp/