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2005 Hamlyn Lectures - can human rights survive?

Professor Conor Gearty, Rausing Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights and professor of human rights law at LSE, is to give the 2005 Hamlyn Lectures.

Professor Gearty, also a founding member of Matrix Chambers, will be the latest in a long line of judges, legal academics and experts to deliver these prestigious lectures, held each autumn. The series first began 56 years ago in 1949, when Lord Denning spoke on Freedom under the Law. Other speakers have included Lord Woolf, Lord Scarman, LSE emeritus professor Michael Zander and last year's lecturer Sir Bob Hepple QC FBA.

Professor Gearty's lectures will consider whether the subject of human rights can survive what he identifies as the three crises that are facing it at present. He also analyses what the subject needs to do if it is to meet its current challenges and prosper in the future.

  • At LSE on 10 November, in The Crisis of Authority, he asks how the idea needs to be made to work in our age of relativism, uncertainty and anxiety when the whole idea of rights appears shallow and naive.
  • At the University of Durham on 15 November, in The Crisis of Legalism, he assesses how the idea of human rights has coped with its incorporation in legal form in the Human Rights Act, arguing that the record is much better and more democratic than human rights enthusiasts allow.
  • At Queen's University Belfast on 17 November, in The Crisis of Scarce Resources, he confronts the challenges that may destroy the language of human rights for the generations that follow us: the bogus war on terror and - much more ominously - the war for which that fabricated conflict is a harbinger, the future battle for the world's diminishing resources.

Writing about his choice of subject matter for the lectures, Professor Gearty commented: '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. 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'.

'It has not worked out quite like this. Through the genius and hard work of our predecessors, we have been able to carve out for ourselves a civilised niche in a small, accidentally perfect place floating in a universe that is otherwise unknowable. To survive and to continue to thrive, we urgently need a new way of explaining ourselves to each other and saying how it is we fit where we happen to be. If the idea of human rights manages to survive its current problems, it can provide exactly this guidance and direction. No other narrative even begins to compete. We all have a stake in the outcome.'

More details on the Hamlyn lectures will follow in the autumn. The lectures will also be published in 2005-06.


Contact Professor Conor Gearty, Centre for the Study of Human Rights, LSE, at c.a.gearty@lse.ac.uk|  or on 020 7955 6554.

Jess Winterstein, LSE Press Office, on 020 7955 7060.


The Hamlyn Trust was created by Miss Emma Hamlyn in memory of her father, a solicitor and justice of the peace. The trust's aim is to further knowledge and understanding of the law, including the comparative jurisprudence of the chief European countries, among the people of the UK. Its objective is achieved primarily by an annual series of public lectures by distinguished judges, legal practitioners, academic lawyers and other eminent speakers.

The Centre for the Study of Human Rights at LSE was launched in autumn 2000 - and, thanks to the generous support of The Sigrid Rausing Trust- has had a full-time director in post since October 2002. The Centre draws upon LSE's considerable expertise and resources in the social sciences to develop its programmes of teaching, research and outreach in the field of human rights. See Centre for the Study of Human Rights|

7 June 2005