Gerry Simpson

Administrative support: Rachel Yarham

Gerry Simpson holds the Kenneth Bailey Chair of Law at the University of Melbourne and is currently a Soros Fellow (based at the Tbilisi State University, Georgia). He will take up a Chair of Public International Law at The London School of Economics in January, 2016.

Gerry  is the author of Great Powers and Outlaw States (Cambridge, 2004) and Law, War and Crime: War Crimes Trials and the Reinvention of International Law (Polity 2007).

He is the co-editor (with Kevin Jon Heller) of Hidden Histories (Oxford, 2014) and (with Raimond Gaita) of Who’s Afraid of International Law? (Monash, forthcoming, 2015).

Gerry currently is writing about the literary life of international law; an exploratory essay – The Sentimental Life of International Law –  was published recently in the London Review of International Law.

He is an editor of The London Review of International Law and an occasional essayist and contributor for Arena Magazine in Melbourne (his latest essay is entitled “Syrian Fantasies”) and The Conversation.  He will teach Rethinking International Law, Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the LSE in Lent, 2016. Also, in early 2016, Gerry will give a public lecture at Kent Law School entitled “Anti-Anti-Anti-Impunity: critics and their critics”.  

Research Interests

He is the author of Great Powers and Outlaw States (Cambridge, 2004) (awarded the American Society of International Law's annual prize for Pre-eminent Contribution to Creative Legal Scholarship) and is co-editor (with Tim McCormack) of The Law of War Crimes: National and International Approaches. His most recent books were War Crimes Law Volumes I and II (Ashgate, 2005) and he is currently completing two books: Law, War and Crime, (Polity, 2006) and Iraq and Just War (ed. Ashgate, 2006).

External Activities

Dr Simpson has worked for several NGOs and was a member of the Australian Government Delegation to the Rome Diplomatic Conference for the Negotiation of the Statute for the International Criminal Court. In 2004, he was the Sir Ninian Stephen Visiting Fellow in the Asia-Pacific Centre for Military Law, University of Melbourne. He appears regularly in the British media (writing for the BBC and appearing on television), and engages in human rights training with the UK Foreign Office and the Belgrade Humanitarian Law Centre.


Law, War and Crime : War Crime Trials and the Reinvention of International Law (Polity 2007)

Law, War and Crime - coverFrom events at Nuremberg and Tokyo after World War II, to the recent trials of Slobodan Milošević and Saddam Hussein, war crimes trials are an increasingly pervasive feature of the aftermath of conflict. In his new book, Law, War and Crime, Gerry Simpson explores the meaning and effect of such trials, and places them in their broader political and cultural contexts. The book traces the development of the war crimes field from its origins in the outlawing of piracy to its contemporary manifestation in the establishment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Great Powers and Outlaw States (Cambridge, 2004)

Great Powers - cover

From the Congress of Vienna to the "war on terrorism", the roles of "great powers and outlaw states" have had a major impact on international relations. Gerry Simpson describes the ways in which an international legal order based on "sovereign equality" has accommodated the great powers and regulated outlaw states since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Simpson also offers a way of understanding recent transformations in the global political order by recalling the lessons of the past--in particular, through the recent violent conflicts in Kosovo and Afghanistan.


Foreword Professor James Crawford; Preface; Acknowledgements; Part I. Introduction: 1. Great powers and outlaw states; Part II. Concepts: 2. Sovereign equalities; 3. Legalised hierarchies; Part III. Histories: Great Powers: 4. Legalised hegemony: Vienna to The Hague 1815–1906; 5. ‘Extreme equality’: rupture at The Hague 1907; 6. The great powers, sovereign equality and the making of the UN charter: San Francisco 1945; 7. Holy alliances: Verona 1818 and Kosovo 1999; Part IV. Histories: Outlaw States: 8. Unequal sovereigns 1815–1839; 9. Peace-loving nations: 1945; 10. Outlaw states: 1999; Part V. Conclusion: 11. Arguing about Afghanistan: great powers and outlaw states redux; 12. The puzzle of sovereignty.

Prize Winner
ASIL: Certificate of Merit for Pre-eminent Contribution to Creative Legal Scholarship

War Crimes: Volumes I and II (Ashgate, 2004)

The past two decades have witnessed a revival of interest in international criminal law. This renascence has been stimulated by events such as the wars suffered by Sierra Leone and Cambodia, and the establishment of the world's first permanent international criminal court. These volumes consider war crimes law from a theoretical and historical perspective, presenting the finest English-language scholarship on the subject.

Volume I: Introduction. Part I: General Problems: Selectivity and Incoherence: Georg Schwarzenberger (1950), The problem of an international criminal law; Steven R. Ratner (1998), The schizophrenias of international criminal law; Robert Cryer (2001), The boundaries of liability in international criminal law, or 'Selectivity by Stealth'. Why Prosecute and Where?: Mark J. Osiel (2002), Why prosecute? critics of mass atrocity; Payam Akhavan (2001), Beyond impunity: can international criminal justice prevent future atrocities?; Jose Alvarez (1999), Crimes of states/crimes of hate: lessons from Rwanda; Rosalind Dixon (2002), Rape as a crime in international humanitarian law: where to from here?. Who to Prosecute?: George P. Fletcher (2002), The Storrs lectures: Liberals and romantics at war: the problem of collective guilt; Sanford Levinson (1973), Responsibility for crimes of war. What Sort of Project?: Gerry J. Simpson (1997), Didactic and dissident histories in war crimes trials. Name index. Volume II: Introduction. Part II: Dissenting Judgements: Nuremberg: David Luban (1987), The legacies of Nuremberg; Edward M. Morgan (1988), Retributory theater; Laurence Douglas (1996), The memory of judgment: the law, the Holocaust and denial. Tokyo and Manila: Elizabeth S. Kopelman (1991), Ideology and international law: the dissent of the Indian justice at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial; Ann Marie Prévost (1992), Race and war crimes: the 1945 War Crimes Trial of General Tomoyuki Yamashita. Jerusalem: Georg Schwarzenberger (1962), The Eichmann judgement: an essay in censorial jurisprudence; Shoshana Felman (2001), Theaters of justice: Arendt in Jerusalem, the Eichmann trial, and the redefinition of legal meaning in the wake of the Holocaust. Baghdad: Roger Normand and Chris af Jochnick (1994), The legitimation of violence: a critical analysis of the Gulf War. The Hague and Arusha: Alfred Rubin (1994), An international criminal tribunal for Former Yugoslavia; Makau Mutua (1997), Never again: questioning the Yugoslav and Rwanda tribunals; Anonymous (1996), Human rights in peace negotiations; Martti Koskenniemi (2002), Between impunity and show trials. Rome: Frédéric Mégret (2001), Three dangers for the International Criminal Court: a critical look at a consensual project. Name Index.

'Whatever one's views, this book deserves to be welcomed for making available in one place some of the most informed writings on this contentious subject.' Journal of the Commonwealth Lawyers' Association

Selected articles
and chapters in books

“Duelling Agendas: International Law and International Relations (Again)”, Toronto Journal of International Law and International Relations (2005), pp 61-74.

“International Law and the War in Iraq”, Melbourne University Journal of International Law (2005) pp. 167-188

In this paper I argue that the 2003 War on Iraq was illegal, and that this illegality matters. In the first substantive part of the paper (Section II), I consider three legal justifications that have been offered, to varying degrees, formally and informally, for the war. These are self-defence (and its more contentious variants, anticipatory self-defence and preventative war), collective security under Chapter VV of the United Nations Charter, and, finally, the doctrine of humanitarian intervention. None of these provides a secure basis for going to war. The most plausible of these justifications, based on an interpretation of existing Security Council resolutions, is arcane and unconvincing. Section III situates the debate over the war in the context of some recent dilemmas concerning the international order; namely the problem of law in international affairs, the question of novelty, the claims of equality, the assessment of evidence and the presence of hyperpower. Section IV ends by reminding readers of the many and varied ways in which international law does matter in ways that transcend the tedious debates about compliance.

“’We are teachers of International Law’” 17 Leiden Journal of International Law, (2004) t 363-374 (with Susan Marks, Matt Craven and Ralph Wilde)

In the general debate prior to the onset of war in Iraq, we made public our view, in a letter to the Guardian newspaper, that the war could be justified neither by reference to earlier UN Security Council resolutions nor by way of the doctrine of self-defence. In this article we reflect on some of the anxieties we experienced both before and after that ‘intervention’ in terms of the vision of international law we might unwillingly promote, and in terms of the role we appeared to assume for ourselves, and our professional colleagues, in public debate. Despite our efforts to prevent legal issues from dominating, we came to be viewed as the defenders of an anti-hegemonic legality – resisting the erosion by an opportunistic coalition of the principles of sovereignty, non-intervention, and collective security. We were concerned that this made us appear champions of international law in a way with which none of us was entirely comfortable. On the other hand, in contesting that, we seemed in danger of valorising a politics of expertise that gave international lawyers a privileged position within the debate. We reflect, then, on the consequences, intentional or otherwise, of our intervention, and explore the dilemmas associated with it. The problem with which we finally grapple is whether the relationship between critical scholarship and the techniques associated with it (anti-formalism, complexity, and indeterminacy) is such as to preclude strategic intervention in the effort to stop a war.

“The Great Powers, Sovereign Equality and the Making of the UN Charter”, 21 Australian Yearbook of International Law, (2002) at 133-158.

“Two Liberalisms”, 12(3) European Journal of International Law, (2001) 537-571

There is much talk in international law about 'liberalism'. The term means many things but is too often taken to mean only one. This essay is intended to act as an historical gloss on some contemporary debates featured eslewhere concerning the meanings of liberalism and the possible consequences of adopting liberal positions in international law. The author aims to accomplish three ends here. First he distinguishes between two different but familiar liberal conceptions of international community. The author calls these Charter liberalism and liberal anti-pluralism. Secondly, the author discusses the tension between these two conceptions during two periods of innovation in the international system, namely the late-Victorian era and the Conference at San Francisco to establish the United Nations Organization. Thirdly, he turns to the contemporary version of liberal anti-pluralism and contrasts two variants of this new liberal anti-pluralism, mild and strong, before showing how each of them constructs the problem of the 'outlaw state'.

“The Situation on the International Legal Theory Front”, 11(2) European Journal of International Law, (2000) at 439-464.

The rejuvenation of international law in the last decade has its source in two developments. On the other hand, 'critical legal scholarship' has infiltrated the discipline and provided it was a new sensibility and self-consciousness. On the other hand, liberal international lawyers have reached out to International Relations scholarship to recast the ways in which rules and power are approached. Meanwhile, the traditional debates about the source and power of norms have been invigorated by these projects. This review article considers these developments in the light of a recent contribution to international legal theory. Michael Byers' Custom, Power and the Power of Rules.

“On the Magic Mountain: Teaching Public International Law”, 10(1) European Journal of International Law, (1999), 70-92.

In this essay the author identifies a malaise in the teaching of international law resulting from a fear of being consigned to the academic peripheries. This fear arises from a sense that international lawyer are deemed not sufficiently like 'real' lawyers by some of our colleagues in the law schools and not savvy enough about global realities according to some international relations scholars. The response to these fears sometimes involves a series of compromises with 'legalism' and 'realism'. The consequences of these compromises include theoretical incoherence and a depoliticization of their subject matter. These theoretical failures drive teachers towards a mode that the author calls 'romantic'. The romantic mode is alluring but superficial and ultimately threatens to further empty international law of political content. The author suggests three possible solutions to these problems. The first is to adopt a more integrated, theoretical approach to the teaching of international law. The second is to embrace a more explicitly political method in which the teaching of international law is capable of being an imaginative act of dissent. Finally, the author suggests a way of teaching context that avoids what is described as the romantic malaise.