amal clooney
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Amal Clooney and Philippa Webb speak to Oxford Law Faculty

On 15th May, Amal Clooney and Philippa Webb presented the event, “Waging Justice in an Age of Authoritarianism”, to an audience of Oxford Law faculty, students, and alumni at St. Hugh’s College, Clooney’s alma mater.

The event focused on Clooney and Webb’s book, The Right to a Fair Trial in International Law, a comprehensive analysis and collection of jurisprudence relating to the right to a fair trial. It was chaired by Oxford Faculty of Law professor and director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub, Sandra Fredman. 

Clooney and Webb are legal mavens who have made commendable strides in international human rights.

Clooney is an international human rights lawyer, Adjunct Professor of international human rights law at Columbia Law School, and co-founder of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.

Webb is an international public law barrister, Professor of Public International Law at King’s College London, and board member of the Clooney Foundation for Justice. 

The event began with Clooney thanking St. Hugh’s for welcoming her “back home” to where her professional life began. She then described how her relationship with Webb commenced 20 years ago when they met in the International Court of Justice.

Many cases and years later, Clooney explained, Webb was the only one she approached to write the 1,000-page book on international human rights law.

Clooney also announced that the duo have been working on another international human rights book. It will also be published by the Oxford University Press and focus on the freedom of speech, with a release scheduled for January 2024.

Clooney and Webb then discussed the importance of the right to a fair trial and how all other human rights rest on it. Without it, they explained, such rights can be denied through government overreach.

The pair’s research uncovered that in a wide range of states, including Japan, Russia, Israel, China, and Georgia, the conviction rate in criminal trials is higher than 99%. It also revealed that a startling number of laws that target expression are criminal in nature.

More than 160 states have criminal penalties for defamatory speech, and blasphemy is illicit in over 80 countries. Defamatory speech also carries the death sentence in at least 5 of these countries. 

Clooney also described how she advocates for democracy through her cases, such as that of defending former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, also known as the “Mandela of the Maldives”. Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for political dissent.

Likewise, Clooney also represents Maria Ressa, Nobel Laureate, journalist, and founder of Filipino news site Rappler. Ressa has been arrested numerous times, and criminally sentenced to decades behind bars for her advocacy of democracy in the Philippines and condemnation of former President Rodrigo Duterte. 

However, Clooney and Webb underscored that, by continuing to pursue the global fight for the right to a fair trial, we can tip the scales towards justice. Speaking to the Oxford Student after the event, Webb remarked that “Amal and I were delighted to share our work on advancing free speech and fair trials…The need for action – for the waging of justice – is urgent. The number of autocracies in the world today exceeds the number of democracies. We believe that international law is part of the solution [and] that there are many scholars and students at Oxford who feel the same way!”

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)