Dame Rosalyn Higgins became professor of international law in the Law Department in 1981. Earlier in her career she had been at the School as a junior fellow in international studies and later as a visiting fellow. After a brilliant record as a student at Cambridge, she had spent time in the United States, including at Yale, where she obtained the JSD under Myres S. McDougal. At the School, she taught the very large undergraduate international law course, which was attended by law as well as international relations students, for whom the course was compulsory. Indeed, it was Higgins’ decision to abolish their rudimentary course and insist that they study with the law students; a feat which, she comments, they seemed to manage fine. She also expanded the offerings in international law, personally teaching courses on the United Nations, the International Law of Natural Resources and, most notably, International Human Rights. Teaching of the latter had lapsed when Cedric Thornberry had left for the UN. Co-taught with Peter Duffy of Queen Mary, the LLM course on international human rights attracted large numbers of students.
In 1984, Professor Higgins was appointed to the UN Committee on Human Rights, where she served over a decade. Before arriving at the LSE she had already made substantial contributions to scholarship with her book, The Development of International Law, and her multivolume series, United Nations Peacekeeping, both pointing to how the UN developed international law through its practices. While at the School her most notable publication was Problems and Process: International Law and How We Use It (1994), which discussed the difficult task of identifying relevant sources and applicable norms in international law, against the background of their political and social context.
Despite her substantial academic burdens, Professor Higgins built up a leading practice in international law and was appointed QC in 1986. No doubt the combination of the academic and the practical was an important factor in her appointment to the International Court of Justice in 1995, where she served some 14 years. For the last three of those she was the elected president of the court, the pinnacle of a career in international law.