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Can human rights survive?

Speakers: Shami Chakrabarti; Professor Kim Economides (chair); Professor Conor Gearty; Mr Gavin Phillipson; Professor William Twining
Thursday 16 November 2006


In this seminar, three leading British intellectuals and human rights activists respond to the arguments set out in Conor Gearty's latest book, based on his Hamlyn lectures 2005, Can Human Rights Survive? The challenges identified by Gearty include the so-called 'war on terror', the revival of political religion, and the steady erosion of the world's natural resources. In his book Gearty also looks critically at the very meaning of human rights and sets out an agenda for action that he says is essential if the subject is to continue to act as a force for good in the world. But is Gearty right that human rights has lost its intellectual confidence and become too easy a prey to lawyers and latter-day imperialists? Even if his diagnosis is right, is his prescription - for grand alliances and a narrower more effective human rights agenda - the right one? At this public seminar, three experts in different aspects of human rights, from the worlds of philosophy, law and NGO activism, subject Gearty's arguments to critical scrutiny. Gearty will reply to each and also answer questions from the audience.

Shami Chakrabarti has been Director of Liberty since September 2003. Shami first joined Liberty as In-House Counsel on 10 September 2001. She became heavily involved in its engagement with the 'War on Terror' and with the defence and promotion of human rights values in Parliament, the Courts and wider society.

A barrister by background, she was called to the Bar (Middle Temple) in 1994 and worked as a lawyer in the Home Office from 1996 until the summer of 2001. During that time she worked for Governments of both persuasions. She worked on policy, legislation and litigation in the counter-terror, asylum and criminal justice areas, and on the implementation of the Human Rights Act within Government.

Since becoming Liberty's Director she has written, spoken and broadcast widely on the importance of the post-WW2 human rights framework as an essential component of democratic society. She was recently appointed a Governor of the London School of Economics and sits on the Advisory Board of the British Institute of Human Rights and the Executive Committee of the Administrative Law Bar Association.

Kim Economides is Professor of Legal Ethics at the University of Exeter and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Hamlyn Trust.

Conor Gearty has been Rausing Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights and professor of human rights law at LSE since October 2002. He has published widely on terrorism, civil liberties and human rights. His books include Terror (Faber, 1990) and two books with K D Ewing, Freedom under Thatcher (1989) and The Struggle for Civil Liberties (2000).

One of his more recent books, Principles of Human Rights Adjudication, is a study of the place of the Human Rights Act in Britain's constitutional order. It locates the measure in its political and historical context and analyses the case law from the perspective not only of principle but also of practical experience. In his latest book, Can Human Rights Survive?, Conor analyses the problems facing human rights today and the challenges that need to be overcome if the subject is to continue to thrive. The book is based on the Hamlyn lectures which Conor gave in 2005. Conor is also a barrister and was a founder member of Matrix chambers from where he continues to practice.

Gavin Phillipson is Senior Lecturer in the School of Law, King's College London. From 1 January 2007 he will take up a Chair at the University of Durham. He has previously held posts at the Universities of Sussex and Essex, and qualified as a solicitor in 1995. He also currently holds the position of Senior Fellow, Centre for Media and Communications Law, University of Melbourne. He is author of several recent leading articles on civil liberties and the Human Rights Act (HRA), focussing in particular upon the development of a common law right to privacy, the "horizontal effect" issue, the impact of the HRA on the right to peaceful protest, and upon UK anti-terrorism law and policy. He has spoken on the latter topic at various symposia in Singapore, Warsaw and Berlin and recently contributed a chapter entitled 'Legislative Over-breadth, Democratic Failure and the Judicial Response: the UK's Anti-Terrorism Law and Human Rights' (with H Fenwick) to Roach, Hor and Ramraj (eds) Global Anti-Terrorism Law and Policy (Cambridge: CUP, 2005). Oxford University Press has just published his monograph, Media Freedom under the Human Rights Act, (2006) jointly authored with Helen Fenwick of Durham University.

William Twining is Emeritus Quain Professor of Jurisprudence at University College London.