Lawyers, Causes and Political Violence: Re-examining Legal Professionalism in Conflicted and Transitional Societies

Event date
21 October 2015
Event time
Oxford week
White & Case Lecture Theatre
Prof Kieran McEvoy


Based upon fieldwork in a range of jurisdictions (including Northern Ireland, South Africa, Israel\Palestine, Cambodia, Chile and Tunisia), this paper explores the particular challenges for lawyers in managing relations with politically motivated clients charged with terrorism, treason, sedition and related offences. Lawyers in some cases will share the political objectives of their clients – in other cases they may not. Regardless, lawyers are inevitably faced with very direct ethical challenges in their interaction with such clients (e.g. the information which clients wish to pass on to family or indeed colleagues on the outside). In addition, often the broader political and military movements to which their clients belong will have a direct influence in terms of legal strategies deployed (including whether or not to recognise the court), lines of argumentation and the ways in which legality is ‘performed’ in what are inevitably highly politicised legal settings. This paper explores the ways in which lawyers navigate these complex issues; the versions of professionalism (including notions of neutrality) which are constructed by lawyers in such settings; the relationship between such lawyers and their professional associations and the ways in which such challenges are (or are not) addressed in backward looking transitional justice mechanisms exploring the role that lawyers play during periods of conflict or authoritarianism.



Kieran McEvoy Professor of Law and Transitional Justice and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, Queen’s University Belfast. His areas of research interest include transitional justice, human rights, the sociology of the legal profession, penology, comparative legal studies, conflict resolution and restorative justice. He has written or edited six books and over fifty journal articles and scholarly book chapters. He is a previous winner of the British Society of Criminology book of the year award and the Socio-Legal Studies Association article of the year award, 3 times. He has been a Visiting Scholar at Fordham University Law School; New York University Law School; University of Cambridge; the London School of Economics and the School of Law at Berkeley, University of California and was a Fulbright Distinguished Scholar at Harvard Law School for a year. He as conducted research on transitional justice in over a dozen countries. 

He is also a long term human rights activist. In addition to his current comparative work on lawyers in transition, she has been leading a project in Northern Ireland drafting a shadow ‘dealing with the past bill’ which is mirroring the bill to be introduced by the British government in autumn 2015.The Shadow Bill will be launched at the House of Parliament Westminster, on Wed 21st October 2015 at 6.30pm.

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