Non-Credit Course: Human Rights Strategy Human Rights Activism, Protest and the Law in the UK

Applications are now open.  Deadline:  noon Monday 23rd October 2023. 

The Bonavero Institute seeks to enrich the human rights experience of Oxford students, and to assist them to develop careers in the broad field of human rights. Its “Gateways to Human Rights Research and Practice” initiative aims to deepen student engagement with the institute’s research projects and to provide insights into human rights practice. Several programmes form part of this initiative: Non-credit Courses on Human Rights Strategy, Research Training Programmes, various opportunities for Human Rights Mooting, the Collaborative Legal Aid Clinics at HMP Huntercombe and at UK prisons holding foreign national women, and our Summer Fellowship Programme


In Michaelmas Term 2023 the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights will be offering a non-credit course in developing strategies for the protection and promotion of human rights with a focus on the role of law in relation to human rights activism in the UK. The course will assess the impact of recent developments in UK law on the ability of human rights activists to organise and protest, as well as the use of law by activists to challenge human rights violations.  

Content of the project

This seminar series considers the current legal landscape related to the right to protest. Its overall aim is to engage students in the critical evaluation of the relevant international human rights framework as well as recent powers introduced in the UK and elsewhere to restrict protest rights. In doing so, the series will present insights from practitioners and activists on the operation of the relevant legal frameworks in practice.  

The seminars will cover several different topics related to this landscape:   

  • Seminar One: The Importance of Protest for Human Rights and Democracy   

This seminar will examine the role of protest in securing human rights protection. The class will have the chance to debate the importance of disruptive forms of protest for the development of women’s rights and labour rights, drawing from examples of their own choosing. Then, in conversation with an expert in international human rights law, the seminar will examine the development of legal protections for the right to protest in international and regional human rights law.  

  • Seminar Two: Complexities Arising from Protest in Practice 

This seminar will consider complex issues raised by protecting protest in practice by reference to three case studies: Just Stop Oil, anti-lockdown protests during the COVID-19 pandemic, and recent protests led by schoolgirls in Iran. Such issues arise for example when protest rights conflict with other human rights, and related public interests such as public order. In examining these tensions, the seminar will cover topics such as accessibility to protest by those with disabilities and the psychology of crowds. Issues related to the scope of protest rights are also considered, such as whether these rights apply in the case of protests conducted online. The class will question the extent to which the protections in international human rights law appropriately navigate such complexities.   

  • Seminar Three: New Powers to Restrict Protest – in Theory 

This class will focus on new UK law to restrict protest introduced by the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Act 2022, the Public Order Act 1986 (Serious Disruption to the Life of the Community) Regulations 2023, and the Public Order Act 2023. The class will, in small groups, conduct a policy review of separate parts of this new legislation, based on the black letter of the powers themselves. The class will then hear from a legal expert about the new powers. 

  • Seminar Four – New Powers to Restrict Protest – in Practice  

This final seminar will focus on critically assessing the new UK powers on the basis of how they will operate in practice. The class will hear from an individual who has been directly affected by the recent changes to protest law. The class will then debate the extent to which the new powers are justified, by reference to the case studies examined in Seminar Two, including to assess whether such powers are compatible with international and regional human rights law.  

A limited number of 15 places is available.  

There will be no formal mode of assessment but students who are admitted to the course will be expected to attend every seminar and to read background material, especially relevant cases. Students will be encouraged to write short case notes on the case discussed, and will be offered advice and feedback.   

Convenor: Dr Daniella Lock, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights  

Coordination: Professor Freya Baetens, Head of Programmes of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights 

Profile of participants 

  • Graduate and undergraduate law students; Master of Public Policy students at the Blavatnik School of Government; graduate students from other Faculties with a previous law degree or demonstrated experience in human rights.  

  • Demonstrated interest in human rights.  

  • Availability: Participants must commit to attending all four sessions. It will also be expected that students have read any preparatory reading material sent out in advance.  

Time schedule 

Thursday 9 November 2023 4-6pm   

Thursday 16 November 2023 4-6pm  

Thursday 23 November 2023 4-6pm  

Thursday 30 November 2023 4-6pm   

Delivery: Hybrid. Seminars will take place at the Gilly Leventis Meeting Room at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, Mansfield College, but some speakers will be presenting online. Students are expected to attend in person.  


Please send a letter setting out why you would like to participate in this course and how it fits with your degree programme or relevant experience, together with your CV to by 23 October 2023, noon.   

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