Conor Gearty

please note:
on leave Lent and Summer 2017

Administrative support: Bradley Barlow
and Zoe Paxman
Room: SAR.G.04
Tel. 020-7849-4643
Twitter: @conorgearty

Conor Gearty was born in Ireland and graduated in law from University College Dublin before moving to Wolfson College, Cambridge in 1980 to study for a Master’s Degree and then for a PhD. He became a fellow of Emmanuel College Cambridge in 1983 and in 1990 he moved to the school of law at King’s College London where he was first a senior lecturer, then a reader and finally (from 1995) a professor. He was Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights (2002-2009) and is Professor of human rights law in the LSE Law Department. He has published widely on terrorism, civil liberties and human rights. Conor is also a barrister and was a founder member of Matrix chambers from where he continues to practise. He has been a frequent adviser to judges, practitioners and public authorities on the implications of the UK Human Rights Act, and has frequently lectured at home and abroad on the topic of human rights. He has appeared in human rights cases in the House of Lords, the Court of Appeal and the High Court. He has also been a visiting professor at Boston University, the University of Richmond, the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney. Conor is a Fellow of the British Academy, a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, a Bencher of Middle Temple and has honorary doctorates from Sacred Heart University in the United States, University College Dublin in Ireland and Brunel and Roehampton universities in the UK. In 2012 he became Director of LSE’s Institute of Public Affairs and in this capacity was responsible for a crowd-sourced UK Constitution, drafted in 2015 and available at His latest book On Fantasy Island. Britain, Europe and Human Rights was published by OUP in September 2016: see for video and written extracts from it.

His personal website is

see also Conor Gearty's LSE Experts page

see also Conor Gearty's online project, The Rights' Future (now completed)

see also Conor Gearty's personal website.

see also


Research Interests

Current research interests include into terrorism, human rights and civil liberties. Research grants since 2001 have been from the ESRC for research into British attitudes to civil liberties and terrorism and for a seminar series on the role of civil society in the context of national security. As Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights, Gearty was responsible for the successful running of the centre. Collaborative events have been with the Centre for Civil Society, the Gender Institute and the European Institute. The Institute of Public Affairs runs LSE’s Masters in Public Policy and has as one of its principal goals the increase of impact of LSE scholarship, including legal scholarship, in public life.

External Activities
  • Editorial Board of Irish Jurist and Journal of Civil Liberties and Modern Law Review

  • special adviser House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, 2005

  • Made submissions to the Newton Privy Counsellors Review of Terrorism Law (2001), Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into terrorism (2001) and the Armstrong Joint Committee on Extended Detention (2011)

  • Informal adviser to Amnesty and Liberty


Professor Gearty teaches public law at undergraduate level and various human rights and terrorism courses on the LLM



On Fantasy Island. Britain Strasbourg and Human Rights (OUP, 2016)

In the 2015 UK General Election, the Conservative party pledged to reset the UK's relations with Europe, holding an in-out referendum on membership of the European Union and repealing the Human Rights Act, to be replaced with a UK Bill of Rights. With the decision now taken to leave the EU, the future of the Human Rights Act and the UK's relations to the European Convention on Human Rights remains uncertain.

Conor Gearty, one of the country's leading experts on human rights, here dissects the myths and fantasies that drive English exceptionalism over Europe, and shape the case for repealing the Human Rights Act. He presents a passionate case for keeping the existing legal framework for protecting human rights and our relationship with the European Convention. Analysing the reform agenda from the perspective of British law, history, politics, and culture, he lays bare the misunderstandings of the human rights system that have driven the debate so far.

For more information about the book, including a video, blog and chapter one, see

The Meanings of Rights: The Philosophy and Social Theory of Human Rights (Cambridge University Press, 2014) ed. (with Professor Costas Douzinas)

Does the apparent victory, universality and ubiquity of the idea of rights indicate that such rights have transcended all conflicts of interests and moved beyond the presumption that it is the clash of ideas that drives culture? Or has the rhetorical triumph of rights not been replicated in reality? The contributors to this book answer these questions in the context of an increasing wealth gap between the metropolitan elites and the rest, a chasm in income and chances between the rich and the poor, and walls which divide the comfortable middle classes from the 'underclass'. Why do these inequalities persist in our supposed human rights-abiding societies? In seeking to address the foundations, genealogies, meaning and impact of rights, this book captures some of the energy, breadth, power and paradoxes that make deployment of the language of human rights such an essential but changeable part of so many of our contemporary discourses.

Liberty and Security (Polity, 2013)

All aspire to liberty and security in their lives but few people truly enjoy them. This book explains why this is so. In what Conor Gearty calls our 'neo-democratic' world, the proclamation of universal liberty and security is mocked by facts on the ground: the vast inequalities in supposedly free societies, the authoritarian regimes with regular elections, and the terrible socio-economic deprivation camouflaged by cynically proclaimed commitments to human rights. Gearty's book offers an explanation of how this has come about, providing also a criticism of the present age which tolerates it. He then goes on to set out a manifesto for a better future, a place where liberty and security can be rich platforms for everyone's life. The book identifies neo-democracies as those places which play at democracy so as to disguise the injustice at their core. But it is not just the new 'democracies' that have turned 'neo', the so-called established democracies are also hurtling in the same direction, as is the United Nations. A new vision of universal freedom is urgently required. Drawing on scholarship in law, human rights and political science this book argues for just such a vision, one in which the great achievements of our democratic past are not jettisoned as easily as were the socialist ideals of the original democracy-makers.

The Cambridge Companion to Human Rights Law, eds. Conor Gearty, Costas Douzinas (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Human rights are considered one of the big ideas of the early twenty-first century. This book presents in an authoritative and readable form the variety of platforms on which human rights law is practiced today, reflecting also on the dynamic inter-relationships that exist between these various levels. The collection has a critical edge. The chapters engage with how human rights law has developed in its various subfields, what (if anything) has been achieved and at what cost, in terms of expected or produced unexpected side-effects. The authors pass judgment about the consistency, efficacy and success of human rights law (set against the standards of the field itself or other external goals). Written by world-class academics, this Companion will be essential reading for students and scholars of human rights law.

C A Gearty and V Mantouvalou, Debating Social Rights (Hart Publishing, November 2010)

Debating Law is a new series that gives scholarly experts the opportunity to offer contrasting perspectives on significant topics of contemporary, general interest. In this second volume of the series, Conor Gearty argues that for rights to work effectively in the wider promotion of social justice, they need to be kept as far away as possible from the courts. He acknowledges the value of rights language in legal and political debate and accepts that human rights are not solely civil and political, with social rights language clearly having a progressive, emancipatory dimension. However he says that lawyers — even well-intentioned lawyers — damage the achievability of the kind of radical transformation in the priorities of states that a genuine commitment to social rights surely necessitates. Virginia Mantouvalou argues that social rights, defined as entitlements to the satisfaction of basic needs, are as essential for the well-being of the individual and the community as long-established civil and political rights. The real challenge, she suggests, is how best to give effect to social rights. Drawing on examples from around the world, she argues for their 'legalisation', and examines the role of courts and the role of legislatures in this process, both at a national and a supranational level.

Essays on Human Rights and Terrorism (Cameron May, 2008)

Essays on Human Rights and Terrorism

Conor Gearty has been writing on human rights, civil liberties and terrorism for over twenty-five years. In this book, his writings on the global, regional and comparative dimensions to his subject are brought together for the first time. The book contains articles from law journals and literary periodicals as well as written versions of a number of distinguished lectures on these topics that have been given by the author. There are also three especially commissioned pieces on the particular application of human rights law and practice in Asia, dealing with the universality of human rights, the impact of 'Asian values' on human rights, and the challenge posed by China for contemporary human rights thinking. With chapters on the United States and the European region, and also on such terrorism/human rights related problems as Northern Ireland, the book offers a broad overview of a series of legal issues pressing in on the world today.

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Civil Liberties (Oxford University Press, 2007)

Civil Liberties

This book traces the origins of the term civil liberties, unpicking its various layers of meaning and explaining what it has come to mean today. Gearty argues that the protection of civil liberties is a vital front in the struggle to preserve political freedom and that a proper understanding of and commitment to civil liberties has never been more important. Civil Liberties provides a fresh, clear, and stimulating approach to civil liberties by tying the law and practice of the subject firmly to democratic and political rights. The author examines the key civil liberties of our democratic age: the right to vote; the rights to life, liberty and security of the person; the freedoms of thought, conscience, expression, association and assembly; and discusses the contemporary challenges that civil liberties face, including globalisation and the war on terror

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Downes, David and Rock, Paul and Chinkin, Christine and Gearty, Conor, eds.  Crime, social control and human rights: from moral panics to states of denial. (Willan Publishing :  2007)

The work of Stanley Cohen over four decades has come to acquire a classical status in the fields of criminology, sociology and human rights. His writing, research, teaching and practical engagement in these fields have been at once rigorously analytical and intellectually inspiring. It amounts to a unique contribution, immensely varied yet with several unifying themes, and it has made, and continues to make, a lasting impact around the world. His work thus has a protean character and scope which transcend time and place. This book of essays in Stanley Cohen’s honour aims to build on and reflect some of his many-sided contributions. It contains chapters by some of the world’s leading thinkers as well as the rising generation of scholars and practitioners whose approach has been shaped in significant respects by his own.

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Can Human Rights Survive? (Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Can Human Rights Survive?

The Hamlyn lectures 2005 reworked and greatly expanded for publication: For years the subject of human rights was on the margin of legal and political debate, supported with zeal by the few and ignored by the many. Then, with the end of the Cold War came recognition, prestige and immense influence. Vast numbers of new believers were recruited from the lost ideologies of past eras. The excesses of the global market drove even capitalists into its embrace. Democracy everywhere redefined itself to make human rights an essential part of its make-up rather than the subversion of true majority rule that it had long been believed to be. By the start of the new millennium, the idea of human rights was well-entrenched as the key ethic of its age, the moral music that was to accompany ‘the end of history’. But various challenges now threaten the power of the idea. This book assesses three in particular: the challenge of authority; the challenge of legalism and the challenge of national security. It then analyses what the subject needs to do to ensure its survival and what the new challenges are that lie ahead for it.

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Principles of Human Rights Adjudication (OUP, 2004, 230pp ISBN 0 19 9270686)

Principles of Human Rights Adjudication - cover

This book analyses the impact of the Human Rights Act on UK law, setting out the three principles which the courts deploy in interpreting the Act and the three aspirations that judges ought to have in mind when approaching interpetation of the Act.

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Selected articles
and chapters in books

'The Human Rights Act should not be repealed' LSE Law Policy Briefings 16/2016

There is no reason to repeal the Human Rights Act and the government’s manifesto commitment to do so should be dropped. The objections to it are misconceived, the arguments against it being based either on inaccurate understandings of what it says or error-strewn assertions about the nature of its impact. The political motive for attacking the Act – to undermine the UK’s association with Europe – has been overtaken by the much greater European disengagement of BREXIT.

'Neo-Democracy: ‘Useful Idiot’ of Neo-Liberalism?' British Journal of Criminology (2016)

This article explores a possible link between ‘neo-democratic’ states (the subject of a recent book by the author) and the underlying politico-economic ideology of our post-1989 world, neo-liberalism. Taking the United Kingdom and the United States as examples, it argues that the shift in our way of looking at the world that neo-liberalism represents involves a forsaking of many of the assumptions of the social democratic polity of the 20th century. However, this is not a leap into an unknown future so much as it is a return to a particular past. In the threatened transition to fully fledged neo-liberalism, ‘neo-democracy’ fulfils a useful role as mask that hides from us the great political, ethical and legal changes entailed in such a move.

The State of Freedom in Europe' LSE Law Society and Economy Working Paper Series 17/2015

The reaction to 11 September damaged the liberty of those living in Europe who found themselves targeted as suspect terrorists while seeming to do little to ensure the security of the wider community. More recently a second emergency, rooted this time in the financial and economic collapse of 2008 onwards, has caused a further unraveling of Europe’s constitutional project, even threatening the gains of past generations of European idealists. In today’s Europe universal liberty and security have no meaning for many even if their shape is retained in structures that in truth mock rather than deliver democracy and human rights. This article traces the origins of the crises that have afflicted so directly the breadth of liberty and human security in the Union, demonstrating their roots in ‘viruses’ that have been present from the start of the European movement but which have now spiralled out of control. The essay ends by asking what can be done to prevent the full decline of the region into a state of neo-democratic/post-democratic unfreedom, one in which capital unbound from democracy thrives at the expense of the people.

'In praise of awkwardness: Kadi in the CJEU' E.C.L. Review 2014, 10 (1), 15-27

The European Court of Justice and the United Nations blacklisting regime - Background, case-law and conflict in relation to that regime - The Kadi II case - wider constitutional dimensions of the ruling - theoretical aspects of the dispute from rule of law perspective - the future

Conor Gearty and John Phillips, 'The Human Rights Act and business: friend or foe?' (2012) L.M.C.L.Q. 487

'Is attacking multiculturalism a way of tackling racism - or feeding it? Reflections on the Government's Prevent Strategy.' E.H.R.L.R. 2012, 2, 121-129.

Responds to the Prime Minister's criticisms of certain aspects of multiculturalism as potential threats to Western democratic values. Reflects on the views expressed in the policy statement on counter-terrorism entitled "CONTEST: The United Kingdom's Strategy for Countering Terrorism" and in the Government's June 2011 Prevent Review and Strategy, and argues that they are partisan and complacent readings of British values which may feed racist attitudes, especially towards Muslim groups. Questions the strategy's analysis of issues including the links between terrorism and extremism.

'Once upon a Country : A Palestinian life' Denning Law Journal, 2011, 239-241

'Short Cuts' London Review of Books, 33 (17) 2011p.20

'The Human Rights Act - an academic sceptic changes his mind but not his heart' European Human Rights Law Review (2010) 6 pp.582-588

Explains why the author has changed the negative position on the Human Rights Act 1998 he held during the 1990s and is now opposed to its repeal. Outlines the reasons why he has changed his opinion to favour the Act. Considers the practical application of the Act, focusing on the use of declarations of incompatibility. Examines the positive role of the judiciary in respect of the Act, noting that numerous challenges were made under the Act in terrorism-related cases. Comments on areas in which the Act has not fared as well.

'Do human rights help or hinder environmental protection?' (2010) 1 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment 7-22

'Terms of Art' (Review) (2010) 32 London Review of Books part 5 27-29 (11 March 2010)

'Response to Charles Townshend' (2009) Critical studies on terrorism  2 (2), p. 319.

'Situating international human rights law in an age of counter-terrorism' in Barnard, Catherine, (ed.) The Cambridge yearbook of European legal studies 2007-2008. Cambridge yearbook of European legal studies (10). Hart Publishing, Oxford, UK, pp. 167-188.(2008)

'The Superpatriotic Fervour of the Moment' (2008) 28 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 183-200

'Terrorism and human rights.' Government and Opposition 42 (3). pp. 340-362.  (2007)

Since the formal invocation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, much global discourse has been shaped by those principles, to the extent that one could without exaggeration describe the period as an 'age of human rights'. But will and indeed can that survive the perceived danger arising from violent acts of terrorism? Is this now an 'age of terrorism'- or at least, an 'age of counter-terrorism'- in which human rights are being accorded a secondary status? This article considers those contentions and also advocates particular roles for those who work in the human rights field.

'Rethinking civil liberties in a counter-terrorism world.' In: Deane, Seamus and Mac Suibhne, Breandán, (eds.) Field day review. Field Day Books, Dublin, Eire, pp. 125-136. 2007

'The Blair Report.' Index on censorship 36 (2). pp. 49-55. (2007)

Johnson, Mark and Gearty, Conor ) 'Civil liberties and the challenge of terrorism.' In: Park, Alison and Curtice, John and Thomson, Katarina and Phillips, Miranda and Johnson, Mark, (eds.) British social attitudes: the 23rd report: perspectives on a changing society. British social attitudes survey series (23). Sage Publications, London, UK, pp. 143-182. (2007)

Economides, Kim and Twining, William and Phillipson, Gavin and Chakrabati, Shami and Gearty, Conor (2007) 'Can human rights survive? A symposium on the 2005 Hamlyn lectures.' Public law (Summer). pp. 209-232. (2007)

'Uncommon decency.' New humanist, 121 (1). pp. 24-26. (2006)

‘Human Rights in an Age of Counter-Terrorism: Injurious, Irrelevant or Indispensable?’ (2005)] Current Legal Problems 25-46

 An essay on the Belmarsh detention case, decided by the House of Lords in December 2004. Regards the case in a generally favourable light. Essay examines how the decision came about.

'11 September 2001, Counter-Terrorism and the Human Rights Act' (2005) 32 Journal of Law and Society 18 - 33 

This article explores the impact of UK human rights law on the development of the law and practice of terrorism in the aftermath of the attacks of 11 September 2001. It discusses the political as well as legal aspects of the human rights law enacted in 1998 and asks whether the measure has been an effective guaranator against state abuse in the context of counter-terrorism.

'Keeping it honest: the role of the laity in a clerical church.' in Filochowski, Julian and Stanford, Peter, (eds.) Opening up: speaking out in the church. Darton, Longman and Todd, London, UK, pp. 257-266. ISBN 9780232526240

'Short cuts.' London review of books, 27 (6). (2005)

‘The Casement Treason Trial in its Legal Context’ in Mary Daly (ed) Roger Casement in World History (Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 2004) pp 151 - 161.

A critical assessment of Casement's trial for treason in 1916 with comparison made with way other dissidents were treated at the same time. The essay is critical of the assumption that Casement was the victim of a severe miscarriage of justice.

‘Human Rights’ in The Social Science Encyclopedia (3rd edn) Routledge, London, 2004) pp 468-472

A general essay on subject for leading encyclopedia.

'Reflections on Civil Liberties in an Age of Counter-terrorism' (2003) 41 Osgoode Hall Law Journal 185 - 210

A discussion of the principles underpinning and the practice of civil liberties in the aftermath of the events of 11 September and the 'war on terror' that the events of that day precipitated: strong theroetical dimension to article as well as practical/case oriented studies.

‘Terrorism and Morality’ [2003] European Human Rights Law Review 377-383

An essay on the language of terrorism and what the term means today and how understanding its ambiguities is the key to understanding the subject of terrorism. Argues that the conflation of description of terrorism with moral judgment of this kind of conduct is a confusion at the heart of the subject.

‘Civil Liberties and Human Rights’ in N Bamforth and P Leyland (eds) Public Law in a Multi-Layered Constitution (Hart Publishers, Oxford, 2003), ch 14, pp 371-390.

Public Law - cover

A theoretical analysis of the distinction between human rights and cvivil liberties, how the terms differ and the significance of the difference.

‘Reconciling Parliamentary Democracy and Human Rights’ (2002) 118 Law Quarterly Review 248

On the interrelationship between parliamentary soveriegnty and human rights and how the tension between the two ideas is resolved in the Human Rights Act 1998. the article involves a close scrutiny of the provisions of the Act.