Please tell us a bit about your background.
I come from South Africa – I grew up in KwaZulu-Natal. I studied at Oxford, before going to the United States to do an LL.M. A few years later I came back to Oxford to do my doctorate. During my doctorate, I also did an LL.B. by correspondence at the University of South Africa, with a view to being able to qualify when I moved back. In retrospect, that was not time well spent!
What led you to a career in academia?
I have meandered a little bit – I practiced law in New York after finishing my LL.M., before going back to South Africa to clerk at the Constitutional Court. After my DPhil, I again went home to South Africa thinking that it would be for good. For a few reasons, that wasn’t the right move. I then moved to the Hague to clerk at the International Court of Justice, before coming to Oxford. The university is a wonderful place to teach, and Jesus a welcoming and easy-going community. Oxford is also a fantastic place to be an international lawyer – we have a very strong group of doctoral students working on interesting questions across many different areas.
What are your research interests and why have you chosen those particular areas?
I am interested in a range of things – in public law, in criminal law, and in international law. Some of my work concerns quite specific, technical questions – very much in the weeds of international law. In that vein, I have been writing on the doctrine of command responsibility in international criminal law. There are a number of unanswered questions concerning its scope and application, which have become particularly salient since the acquittal of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo by the International Criminal Court. I am also interested in wider questions, including, most recently, the issue of how domestic and international courts can build and maintain their legal and political authority. Along those lines, I have just finished a piece on judicial avoidance – of the potential value of a court deciding not to decide a certain issue at a certain time in order to maintain authority.
What are you working on at the moment?
I hope to return to an issue which I have been thinking about for a long time: the use of amnesties from criminal prosecution in peace negotiations or wider political transitions. On one hand, empirical work continues to emphasize the utility of certain forms of amnesty in, for instance, bringing spoilers into peace-talks, and recent philosophical work questions the necessity of criminal processes as a response to gross violations of human rights. On the other hand, there is a view – in the decisions of human rights courts and international criminal tribunals, as well as in some legal scholarship – that amnesties for certain kinds of wrongdoing are categorically impermissible under international law. I am pretty sure that legal claim – that amnesties are categorically impermissible – is wrong, though working through why it is wrong will take some time.
Do you have any pets?
I do not, though I am sorry about that. There is a couple who live near me who have two lovely Irish Wolfhounds. I did ask them once if they needed a dog-walker and gave them my phone number. They shuffled away uneasily.
What is your favourite place to visit in the world?
Snowdonia is quite high on the list – particularly its ridges.
What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time?
In the main, I’d say running, hiking, and reading, though the first is always something of a struggle. I recently read two non-fiction books that I’d highly recommend – one old and one new. The first is 'Love and War in the Apennines' by Eric Newby; the second is 'The Cut-Out Girl' by Bart van Es. I found them both wonderful. I also recently read 'The Grass is Singing' by Doris Lessing, which was excellent if not uplifting…