Professor Conor Gearty

Professor Conor Gearty

Professor of Human Rights Law

LSE Law School

Room No
Cheng Kin Ku Building 6.10
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Key Expertise
Law; Human Rights; Terrorism studies; Civil Liberties

About me

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 LSE’s Centre for the Study of Human Rights (2002-2009) and has been Professor of human rights law at the Law School since 2002. 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 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 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, and is professor of Democracy in Paris 2 during the Academic Year 2023-24. Conor is a Fellow of the British Academy (where he is currently Vice-President for Social Sciences), 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 2021 he was appointed an honorary Queen’s Counsel (now King’s Counsel) in recognition of his services to law in England and Wales.  His book about the European Convention on Human Rights in UK law On Fantasy Island. Britain, Europe and Human Rights was published by OUP in September 2016: see for video and written extracts from it.  His next book, Homeland Insecurity. The Rise and Rise of Global Anti-Terrorism Law will be published by Polity in 2024.

Administrative support:

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 for which Gearty was responsible for some five years ran LSE’s Masters in Public Policy and had as one of its principal goals the increase of impact of LSE scholarship, including legal scholarship, in public life.  This goal was supported by large grants from the ESRC.

External activities

  • Editorial Board of  Journal of Civil Liberties, The European Human Rights Law Review 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)


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

LL106 Public Law

LL207 Civil Liberties and Human Rights

LL404E European and UK Human Rights Law

LL469 UK Human Rights Law

LL475 Terrorism and the Rule of Law

Personal websites


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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Debating Social Rights (Hart Publishing, November 2010) (with V Mantouvalou)

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.

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

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)

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

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)

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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Earlier books include:

Ewing and Gearty, Freedom under Thatcher: Civil Liberties in Modern Britain (OUP, 1990). A study of the state of freedom in Britain during the 1980s.

Gearty, Terror (Faber and Faber, 1991). A critique of the role of terrorism as an idea in law, politics and international relations.

Gearty and Tomkins (ed), Understanding Human Rights (Mansell, 1994). A review of the state of human rights law in the UK.

Gearty (ed), The European Convention on Human Rights and Civil liberties (Kluwer, 1997). A close analysis of the role of the European Convention on Human Rights in the domestic law of selected European countries.

Ewing and Gearty, The Struggle for Civil Liberties. Political Freedom and the Rule of Law in Britain, 1914-45 (OUP, 2000). An historical account of the state of civil liberties in inter-war Britain.




The Constitution LSE Institute of Public Affairs, 2015