Rights Under Pressure: The Legitimacy Crisis of Human Rights Law

Thursday 17 November 2016, 18:00 - 19:00

UCL Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre, Wilkins Building, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

Speaker: Professor Colm O’Cinneide (UCL Laws)
Chair: The Rt. Hon. Lord Wilson of Culworth (The Supreme Court)
Admission: Free
Accreditation: This event is accredited with 1 CPD hour with the SRA and BSB
Series: Current Legal Problems 2016-17

About the lecture:

The legitimacy of existing human rights law is increasingly being called into question. In the UK, the Human Rights Act 1998 has been the subject of regular political attack, as has the influence exerted by judgments of the European Court of Human Rights over domestic law. 

Internationally, there has been a similar anti-rights turn in the political and legal climate of many states. The justifications offered in support of this pushback against rights are familiar refrains – concerns about democratic/national self-governance, the ‘stretching’ of the scope and substance of rights, and the judicialisation of matters best left to the political and administrative arms of the state. 

However, what is new is the traction that these perennial rights-sceptic arguments have acquired in recent years, at a time when human rights law appeared to have become established as part of the standard repertoire of democratic constitutionalism across the globe.

Drawing in part upon the work of Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann and others, Professor O’Cinneide will argue in this lecture that this apparent consensus masked the existence of deep underlying conceptual tensions as to the function of human rights law within the constitutional systems of democratic states – tensions which were glossed over in the post-1989 period of rights expansionism, but which now have re-emerged with a vengeance in our present era. 

If this legitimacy crisis is to be overcome, then some of these tensions will have to addressed head-on: in particular, the difference in views between those who see human rights as settled, minimalist norms which constitute part of the agreed baseline rules of the democratic game, and those who see them as open-ended norms capable of being interpreted and applied in new and more expansive ways to reflect evolving concepts of what justice requires.  

About the speaker:

Colm O’Cinneide is a Professor of Constitutional and Human Rights Law at University College London. A graduate of University College Cork and the University of Edinburgh, he was called to the Irish Bar in 1997 and subsequently was appointed to a lecturership at UCL in 2001, becoming a Reader in 2009 and Professor in 2015. He has published extensively in the field of constitutional law, human rights and discrimination law, with his work appearing in a range of leading law journals such as the American Journal of Comparative Law, the International and Comparative Law Quarterly and Public Law. Colm has also served as an expert adviser to a range of international organisations such as the European Commission, the ILO and the Council of Europe, and is a member of the academic advisory panel of Blackstone Chambers. He is also a former Vice-President of the European Committee on Social Rights, and has acted as specialist legal adviser to the Joint Committee on Human Rights of the UK Parliament on the Equality Act 2010.

About Current Legal Problems:

The Current Legal Problems annual lecture series was established over sixty years ago. The lectures are public, delivered on a weekly basis and chaired by members of the judiciary.

The Current Legal Problems (CLP) annual volume is published on behalf of UCL Laws by Oxford University Press, and features scholarly articles that offer a critical analysis of important current legal issues.

It covers all areas of legal sponsorship and features a wide range of methodological approaches to law. With its emphasis on contemporary developments, CLP is a major point of reference for legal scholarship.

Find out more about CLP on the Oxford University Press website