Professor Conor Gearty

Professor Conor Gearty

Human Rights at LSE

Someone who’s not compliant to power.

I think my presence is a signal to people who are not,

effortlessly  of British culture,

that they can be themselves and succeed.

I personally have not received much direct discrimination. It’s interesting because obviously I’m Irish.  I came to England at time of serious political violence between the two countries.   In the early years in Cambridge I received  some patronizing attitudes.    How charming and feckless the Irish are. That kind of stereotype.


I’ve had an incredibly successful academic career.   I do not generalize from my own experience.  I’m very conscious that Irish people of a different class, are very much discriminated against .

So I stand a little outside.  That’s the freedom of academia.   You’re not going to get sacked.  That might be called  kind of integrity.   But its easy to have integrity if you’re secure.

For 7 years I was the Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics.   I was both  professor  of Human Rights Law, teaching research students, but also I was bringing together interested parties, people in academia, people in government and NGO’s in the study of Human Rights.   To push ahead the agenda of human rights, in the academic  environment.  So it was a lovely opportunity to invite people along, to public  events.   In Spring 2013 I became Director of LSE’s Institute of Public Affairs .

Director of the Centre for Human Rights

Lawyer and lecturer at London School of Economics

Initially, I argued for the repeal of the  Human Rights Act of 1998.  For years, I thought that Human Rights were fatuous, do gooding, empty symbols.   I grew into them.   I’m certainly a bit sceptical.  It has too many disciples. It needs some critical friends. Rights are a way of expressing ourselves.

The most surprising event was the keenness  of L.S.E to keep me when I had a job elsewhere,and that’s why I’ve ended up running the Institute of Public Affairs .   I was quite surprised when I became a fellow of the British  Academy.   Two examples of external judgement  of me. Which surprised me because I did not know I was held in high esteem in Academe.

Role models and women

A  strong role model of my early life was my grandmother, whose  qualities were empathy, intelligence and honesty.

None of the women in my family were treated differently,  and this may explain part of my attitude to women.  My four sisters all went to the same  college, the same university  as me and built professional lives.  I see this as quite an important part of who I am.

I did notice that, at around 10, My father’s mother definitely regarded her own daughters,  despite their being professional people, a doctor and a teacher, as the ones who were expected to clean up.

IMG_0971Pressure point for Human Rights

One pressure point for Human Rights would be to reduce the influence of money on the political process.   You don’t need to reduce the influence of money on judicial process because judges are not corrupt.  Because judgements cannot be bought in an auction.  They can partly be bought by the expensive barristers you can recruit, but Judges can’t be bought.   It’s not the structures,  it’s process behind the structure.   If you could  change the structure, they would just find another area to operate.

Significant women 

There are quite a lot of significant women in my life.   In their own ways, all of my sisters.  My grandmother,  mother,  sisters, my aunt still alive aged 90.   My wife, who sadly died, was a very strong influence.   My current partner.  Professionally,there are lots of significant women.

I think one of the most important attributes I have, which is entirely by accident, as the way I was brought up,  I work well with women.  I find women extremely easy to work with and  I would always  want to have women involved in key decisions.

My aunt, godmother, was a  professional social worker in Ireland. She never married.  A  professional who remained ever childish, but with all the best attributes of childishness, inquisitiveness, energy, enthusiasm.

Role models

Current role models include  Noam Chomsky, not necessarily politically.   What he’s done is  pretty remarkable.  An academic and activist .   Which combined with longevity, he’s now 85, makes him a pretty strong role model.

Mary Robinson, an academic, who’s  not afraid of getting involved in politics and International justice.

In July  this year, the Secretary General of the UN appointed  Mary Robinson as his Special Envoy for Climate Change.

Both of them, as well as Roger Federer and David Bowie have each aged on their own terms.

One of the challenges for all of us is to grow old gracefully, and with integrity.   I would hope to write intelligently and be unpurchased right through until I’m quite old.

Fathers and families

Many, many women who’ve succeeded, in 70s in Ireland  have had very strong relationships with their fathers . I once asked Mary Robinson how she could think about being a lawyer, and it had never occurred to her family, that she could not be.

My confidence comes from the loving support of my mother, and my grandmother, and my loving family. Large families are incredibly important.  They are the group engaged with you in a large project which is life.

I think my presence is a signal to people who are not effortlessly 

of British culture, That they can be themselves and succeed.

When I talk to diverse audiences, when I meet men and women, in the established world of Britain, which is now much stronger than it was, male Eton and male Oxford.   I think it’s something people remember.  Oh yes, there’s that Irish guy.  Just that sense of an attitude.   I think attitude is remembered when ideas aren’t.

Advice to young people 

Take the opposite position.   Follow your own ideas and instincts and let the future be made by that.  Not the other way round.  The really sad people, of whom there are many, identify a spot they want to reach and they tailor their life to reach it and they are live a life of falseness searching for something they have to get to.

Knowing yourself and being confident .




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