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Gresham’s first black Professor of Law, Leslie Thomas QC, appointed Visiting Professor in Law at Goldsmiths

We are thrilled to announce the appointment of Professor Leslie Thomas QC as a Visiting Professor in Law at Goldsmiths.

Prof Leslie Thomas QC is the pre-eminent authority in the country in claims against the police (particularly relating to deaths in custody), other public authorities and corporations. He has appeared in leading high-profile death in custody cases representing the families of the deceased (Azelle, Rodney, Mark Duggan, Christopher Alder and Sean Rigg).

Leslie’s high-profile work includes the inquests that followed the Birmingham Pub Bombing, the Hillsborough disaster and Mark Duggan, and he is currently representing 23 clients including survivors, bereaved families and loved ones in the Grenfell Tower inquiry. He was awarded the Legal Aid Barrister of the Year award in 2012, and again in 2016, for his work on the Hillsborough disaster. He is the former joint head of Garden Court Chambers, the second largest set of chambers in the country, “committed to fighting injustice, defending human rights and upholding the rule of law”, and a diversity champion in the profession.

Prof Leslie Thomas QC making submissions before the Grenfell Tower inquiry. “A majority of the Grenfell residents who died were people of colour,” he noted. “The statistics are glaring, a stark and continuous reminder that Grenfell is inextricably linked with race. It is the elephant in the room.”

Leslie has emerged as one of the strongest legal voices in the country on the Black Lives Matter debate, contextualising it around its racialized policing dimensions and lack of diversity in the legal profession.

With the rhetorical statement, “So, you think the UK doesn’t have a policing problem . . .”, Leslie listed on Twitter 29 young black men who have died in police custody; “There are more”, he said, in an interview with The Times, adding that “the criminal justice system remains ‘institutionally racist’ with disparity in the treatment of black men at every stage”.

In an article for Counsel magazine earlier this year, Leslie called upon colleagues in the Bar to “talk about race”. “Forget the guilt and take action”, he urged. “Bias is implicit and often unconscious. It takes great courage to change the system. It benefits us all”.

Prof Thomas wrote in the Counsel magazine in July 2020: “Racism and discriminatory behaviours pervade all levels of society and our legal system is not immune from the same. I have experienced it many times in my career.”

In 2020, Leslie became the first Black Professor of Law at Gresham College. His inaugural lecture series is taking place in the current academic year, examining Death, the State and Human Rights.

We are very honoured that his appointment as a Visiting Professor at Goldsmiths coincides with his appointment and inaugural lecture series at Gresham. In his first Gresham lecture (which you can watch here, by registering with the event), on October 1st, Leslie focussed on human rights and the wrongs of unexpected and/or sudden deaths in which the state is implicated, asking whether “the state really cares when it kills you”. The next lecture takes place on December 3rd, looking into who investigates sudden death.

The Head of the Law department, Prof Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, said on the appointment: “Prof Leslie Thomas’ activist legal practice and scholarship challenge stereotypes, break new ground, and require us to think, about how we can change, what change we can bring about ourselves, how we can influence those around us, to achieve equality and justice for all. It gives me a great pleasure – I am very honoured – to welcome him at the department of Law at Goldsmiths”.

Leslie’s appointment coincides with the successful launch of a specialist LLB pathway programme at Goldsmiths (the LLB Law with Criminal Justice and Human Rights), and demonstrates our desire to actively engage with crucial equality and racial justice issues at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has taken new urgency.

Human rights experts call upon Conservative party to renew its commitment to human rights

On October 2nd, we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Human Rights Act (HRA) coming into effect.  

A number of independent human rights experts, working with our Britain in Europe think tank and Knowing Our Rights research project, from across UK academia as well as legal professionals, NGO experts and politicians, have written to Conservative MPs in the House of Commons, and Conservative Peers in the House of Lords, to highlight this important milestone and request that the Conservative party reflects upon the highly positive and beneficial influence that the Act has had on the lives of UK citizens.

The signatories include  Wera Hobhouse MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Justice and Women & Equalities, and Shadow Leader of the House; former Labour MEP Julie Ward; former Labour MP, Roger Casale; and Baroness Sarah Ludford, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (on Exiting the European Union).

In their letter, our experts request that the government uses the opportunity of this seminal anniversary – in tandem with the forthcoming one, of November 4th, which will mark 70 years from the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in Rome – to renew the UK’s commitment to the ECHR and HRA. 

In 2015, the Conservative party manifesto pledged to repeal the HRA; the 2017 manifesto committed to stay temporarily in the European Convention on Human Rights; and the 2019 manifesto promised to “update” the HRA.

In the most recent development in this area, the Lord Chancellor, HH Robert Buckland QC MP, has stated, in a letter to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights,  that the government plans for “an independent review” into the operation of the Human Rights Act to be launched “in due course”, and that the review will look into “the balance between the rights of individuals and effective government”, in line with the 2019 manifesto.

You can read the full letter here.