Sixth form students from six secondary schools from across London took part in the first human rights debating competition coordinated by Britain in Europe and the ‘Knowing our Rights’ project at Brunel University London, in collaboration with the Institute of Ideas and ‘Debating Matters’.
The project, which is funded by the Open Society Forum and the Open Society Initiative for Europe, aims to enhance engagement with cutting edge human rights research and facilitate evidence-based understandings of the effect of the European Convention on Human Rights upon life in the UK.
Ravensbourne School and Upton Court Grammar School won their groups, and a prize of £150 each to support debating activities. All debaters from the six participant schools were given a copy of the late Tom Bingham’s The Rule of Law, in which, one of the greatest legal minds of our times, provided a masterful account of the ‘rule of law as the foundation of modern states and civilizations’.
The three rounds of highly intellectually challenging debates revolved around controversial human rights issues: whether the burqa should be banned, if prisoners should have the vote and whether we should expect privacy online. The students showed a good understanding of the key dilemmas facing our society, and good awareness of the work of the national courts and the European Court of Human Rights.
Jack Galea, 18 from Ravensbourne School said: “It was a fantastic experience. Obviously, I am happy that we won, but the major point is that we met other young intelligent people and we had a wonderful conversation.’’
The national coordinator for Debating Matters, Nadia Butt, who acted as chair in group 1, said: “It was tough and it was meant to be tough. This is the reason that students were judged by a prestigious panel of academics’’.
The panels of judges comprised many Brunel University academics: Justin Fisher, Head of the department of politics, history and the Brunel Law School and Professor of political science, Javaid Rehman, Professor of International Human Rights at Brunel Law School, Anthony Inglese CB, Honorary Professor at Brunel Law School; Julian Petley, Professor of Screen Media; and Dr Andreas Dimopoulos, lecturer at Brunel Law School.
These were joined by scholars and practitioners from outside Brunel such as Andrew Wheelhouse, Senior Paralegal at Bates Wells Braithwaite LLP, Laura Thomas, Director and Consultant at Laura Thomas Consulting Pty Ltd, Merris Amos, Reader in International Human Rights at QMU, and Sir Geoffrey Nice QC.
Prof Arad Reisberg, Head of Law at Brunel, observed after the event: “This was an excellent and timely debate of the highest quality; it was good to see how engaged the next generation of students are with human rights issues. We all have a stake and an obligation as researchers to engage with and contribute to current human rights debates that matter to us all.”
You can follow the ‘Knowing our Rights’ project on twitter at @KnowingOurRts and #OurRights