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Human Rights as Risk: Examining the Risk-Rights Relationships in a New Way

Prof Noel Whitty
University of Nottingham

Date: 07 October 2008
Time: 1-2:30pm
Venue: CARR Seminar Room, H615

Over the last decade, UK criminal justice policy and practice have been transformed by the focus on risk. During this same period, the UK has experienced a seismic shift with the growth of rights consciousness and claims, the passing of the Human Rights Act 1998, and a deeper culture of rights adjudication. These trends make the management of organisational risk within the criminal justice sector more complex and unpredictable. This paper argues that human rights advocates need to engage more closely with the new world of risk and rights.

The conventional way of understanding the risk-rights relationship fixates on risk versus rights. This paper argues that human rights needs to find ways to change this frame to risk and rights. Two sub-frames can be suggested: a risk within rights approach which emphasises that the prevention of (future) harm can be interpreted inside the existing framework of human rights; and a rights as risk approach which emerges from the focus on the management of organisational risk. This paper will concentrate on the latter in light of the growing recognition that managing risk means managing the risk of rights. Human rights are a particularly complex organisational risk. They have the potential to disrupt the interests and overall standing of an organisation, not least because they encompass, but are not limited to, legal risk. Furthermore, risks exist in both engaging with, and rejecting, human rights. This paper highlights the range of influences, demands and obligations which have the capacity to lead to the construction of rights as risk, including the way that organisational cultures shape how human rights are interpreted and institutionalised.

About the speaker
Noel Whitty is Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Nottingham. He has published on different aspects of UK human rights law and activism. His current research focuses on the co-existence of risk and rights discourses in contemporary criminal justice settings. Recent publications include 'MAPPA for Kids: Discourses of Security, Risk and Children's Rights' in K. Baker and A. Sutherland (eds), Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements and Youth Justice (Policy Press, 2008); 'Is Human Rights Prepared? Risk, Rights and Public Health Emergencies' (with Thérèse Murphy, forthcoming); and 'Risk and Human Rights in UK Prison Governance' (2007) 47 British Journal of Criminology 798 (with Thérèse Murphy).