Oxford Nicolas Berggruen Prize for Best Doctoral Dissertation in Philosophy, Law & Politics 2023

The Law Faculty is delighted to announce the winner of the Oxford Nicolas Berggruen Prize for Best Doctoral Dissertation in Philosophy, Law & Politics 2023.

This prestigious prize is generously funded by Nicolas Berggruen of the Berggruen Institute in Los Angeles. Each year the prize is awarded to the work that is both excellent and transformative in either theory or practice. One dissertation is nominated by each of the three faculties in Oxford (Philosophy, Law, and DPIR) every year, and then selection of the prize dissertation is made among the three highly impressive nominees by a committee constituted by the terms of the prize.

A white woman standing by an ivy plant, in front of a wooden panel.

The prize 2023 is awarded to Dr Katie Johnston, for her dissertation “The impact of the coexistence of multiple norms from different sources of international law on change to the jus ad bellum”. In her dissertation, Johnston “analyses what would be required as a matter of international law to establish that a new exception to the prohibition on the use of force by states has come into existence, or that the content or scope of the existing exceptions of self-defence and collective security have changed” arguing that “while it is not impossible to create new exceptions to the prohibition on force, the complex structure of the law on the use of force means such changes  will not be easily achieved. By contrast, certain changes to the conditions for the exercise of self-defence or the authorisation of force by the Security Council may occur more easily . The result is a thesis that is, in the words of the examiners, "an outstanding piece of work and will make a notable contribution to the field ", and that, according to the advice of the examination board, is now being transformed into a monograph for publication.

Dr Katie Johnston, who is currently a Lecturer in Law at the University of Liverpool, was a Fulbright scholar at Georgetown University, worked at the UK Law Commission in London, where she researched reform of UK public law, was a legal advisor at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, and worked for a human rights NGO in Cambodia.

On hearing she had won the prize, Katie said:
"I am honoured to be awarded the Oxford Nicolas Berggruen Prize and grateful to everyone at Oxford and beyond who supported me throughout my DPhil research. It is important that when states claim to be using military force against other states in accordance with international law these legal claims are subject to rigorous scrutiny – particularly where they are based on novel or controversial analyses of the law. I hope that my thesis has contributed to clarifying the complex international legal framework that regulates the use of force by states, so that such claims of lawfulness can be properly evaluated."