Ben Emmerson

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Ben Emmerson

Ben Emmerson at Chatham House 2013.jpg
Emmerson at Chatham House in 2013
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights
In office
Preceded byMartin Scheinin
Succeeded byFionnuala Ní Aoláin
Personal details
Born (1963-08-10) August 10, 1963 (age 55)
Kent, England
WebsiteMatrix Chambers

Ben Emmerson, QC (born 10 August 1963)[1] is a British lawyer, specialising in European human rights law, public international law and international criminal law. He was a founder member of Matrix Chambers and has 25 years’ experience litigating before international courts and tribunals including the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. He helped draft the 1998 Human Rights Act introduced by Tony Blair.[2] Within the UK he is a deputy High Court Judge, a Master of the Bench of Middle Temple and an Honorary Fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford.

In 2014 he was appointed Counsel for the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales, but was suspended from duty and then resigned in September 2016. In December 2016, Mr. Emmerson was cleared of wrong-doing and IICSA has formally launched a separate, independent examination of the way Emmerson’s resignation was handled. It may now ask why Emmerson was not asked about the now discredited allegation at the time so that he could respond. The human rights campaigner Helena Kennedy, who has worked with Emmerson, welcomed the independent inquiry’s finding that dismissed the allegations of sexual misconduct. "I have known Ben for many, many years," Lady Kennedy said. "He's a feminist. He lives as he speaks. He had discussed this matter with me. He's not someone who takes liberties with people. I shared his shock when a public allegation was made. I'm satisfied that it was ill-founded."[3]

Early life and career[edit]

Born in Kent, his father Brian Emmerson was finance director of the Stock Exchange in London. He attended Douai School and Bristol University,[1] and was called to the bar in 1986. Until 1999 Emmerson was a member of Doughty Street Chambers,[4] but in February 2000 he left to join the new Matrix Chambers which specialises in human rights.[5] In April 2000 he was appointed Queen's Counsel.[6]

Human rights[edit]

Gay rights[edit]

In the late 1990s, Emmerson represented the Bolton 7, a group of men who had engaged in consensual group sex but were prosecuted for gross indecency and buggery under the Sexual Offences Act 1967. At the time, it was illegal for men to have sex with each other if more than two men were present, since it was deemed to be a public act; however, group sex was legal for heterosexuals and lesbians. Emmerson argued that the prosecution violated the European Convention on Human Rights and that, although it had not been incorporated into English law at the time, the judge was obliged to consider it.[7][8]

In 1999 he successfully represented at the ECHR two of four homosexual members of the British Armed Forces who had been dismissed for their sexual orientation. The UK government was ordered to pay compensation and decided to put on hold all other investigations into homosexuals that it was conducting. The Guardian called it an "historic decision",[9] while David Pannick QC called it "a welcome victory for reason over pure prejudice".[10]

Freedom of speech[edit]

In 2012, Emmerson represented a man at appeal after he was convicted of sending "a message of a menacing character" under the Communications Act 2003, for posting a joke on Twitter which was interpreted as a threat to blow up an airport. Emmerson argued that the response had been disproportionate, that common sense was required "to avoid the law ending up looking silly" and that the man lacked the mens rea (intent) to be menacing.[11]

International Courts[edit]

Emmerson is currently the British judge on the Residual Mechanism of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.[12]

He has previously acted as Special Adviser to the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court and Special Adviser to the international judges of the UN backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia.

In June 2011 he was elected by the UN Human Rights Council as UN Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights.[13] In this capacity he reports annually to the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council and relevant entities established by the Security Council. He also conducts country visits and reports, and provides technical and other advice to states.

Israeli Killer Robots[edit]

In May 2013 Emmerson was involved in a special investigation for the UN General Assembly on drone warfare and targeted killings.[14] According to Emmerson' report, Israel, as well as US, have developed various types of fully or semi-autonomous weapons. In the report they are called “lethal autonomous robotics” or LARs for short.[15] The report states: “Decisions over life and death in armed conflict may require compassion and intuition. Humans — while they are fallible — at least might possess these qualities, whereas robots definitely do not.”[14] In his report, Emmerson notes the arguments of robot proponents that death-dealing autonomous weapons “will not be susceptible to some of the human shortcomings that may undermine the protection of life and typically they would not act out of revenge, panic, anger, spite, prejudice or fear."[16] However, he report also states that robots could cause intentional suffering on civilian populations, for example through torture.”[17]

Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse[edit]

In 2014, Emmerson was appointed Counsel for the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales.[18] On 28 September 2016, he was suspended from duty. The inquiry said it had "become very concerned about aspects" of his leadership of his team.[19] The following day, Emmerson resigned from the position, saying that "it is now time for someone else to take the helm" and denying that his resignation was due to differences of opinion with the Inquiry's chair, Alexis Jay.[20] It later emerged that he was forced to resign over an allegation of sexual assault was made against him, but an enquiry by a senior judge ruled that the allegation was unfounded.[21]

United Nations[edit]

Emmerson, special investigator for the United Nations Human Rights Council, stated that U.S. drone strikes may have violated international humanitarian law.[22][23]

In July 2017 Emmerson visited Sri Lanka, a country that was being criticised by the United Nations for slow progress in addressing war crimes and past human rights abuses. Emmerson commented that the international community was running out of patience.[24]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

Emmerson has accused Saudi Arabia of human rights violations including detaining and torturing free speech activists. Emmerson was denied access to Raif Badawi and other Saudi citizens he claimed had been "imprisoned for the exercise of the right to freedom of speech and opinion."[25]


Emmerson has written and lectured widely on the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. He was formerly the editor of the European Human Rights Law Review and is co-author, with Professor Andrew Ashworth QC of the leading text on the application of the Convention in criminal cases. Since 1995 he has been human rights editor of Archbold Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice, the criminal practitioner's bible.


In 1999, The Lawyer listed Emmerson as one of the top five criminal barristers in the UK. He was described as "a goliath in the area of human rights law" and "knowing the law, not just silver-tongued"[4] The same year he was a winner at the Liberty Human Rights awards.[26] In 2002, The Observer described Emmerson as one of the "most dynamic group of lawyers working in Britain today". Edward Fitzgerald said that he was "an intense and extremely forceful advocate".[27]

Notable cases[edit]

Marina Litvinenko[edit]

In 2015 Emmerson represented Marina Litvinenko, wife of Russian ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, at the inquiry into his death.[28] Alexander Litvinenko is a former Russian spy whose political fallout and subsequent poisoning death unfolded in October 2000 when he fled to the UK in breach of Russian court order preventing him from leaving the country.[29] Upon arrival, Litvinenko told police at Heathrow airport “I am a KGB officer and I am asking for political asylum”, the inquiry into his murder heard.[30] He arranged for his family’s escape after the Russian security service threatened to kill his wife and child.[31] At the completion of inquiry Emmerson commented that Russian state responsibility for Litvinenko's death had been proven "beyond reasonable doubt".[32]

Abu Qatada[edit]

In 2003, Emmerson represented Islamist cleric Abu Qatada, In 2003, along with a number of other Belmarsh inmates, at a hearing of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, arguing that they should not be detained without charge or trial.[33] Emmerson stated that this has been routinely affirmed by the last UN special rapporteur on human rights while countering terrorism, amid claims that only emergency, derogations, suspension, or permanent restrictions could help the fight against terrorism.[34] Qatada was arrested in 1993 over false documents while applying for asylum in United Kingdom.[35]

Moazzam Begg[edit]

Starting in 2013 Emmerson represented former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, who was imprisoned for 6 months after a string of terrorist charges linked to the civil war in Syria were brought against him.[36] Begg, 45-year-old British citizen from Birmingham, had been in custody for seven months awaiting trial on charges connected to the civil war in Syria, including an allegation he attended a terrorism training camp there.[37] He was subsequently released from prison in 2014 after CPS dropped the case just five days before his trial.[38]

Carles Puigdemont[edit]

In 2018 Emmerson took the case of Catalan pro-independence leader Carles Puigdemont to the UN. Basic argument is that Government of Spain has violated his right to participate in political life through a “repressive” legal crackdown.[39]


In 2016 Emmerson received Barrister of the Year award for his work at the heart of two high-profile cases involving foreign governments.[40] He represented ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvenenko’s family in one of the most high-profile court cases in British history and acted for the Ministry of Justice in Georgia before the European Court of Human Rights in connection with the second inter-state case brought by Georgia against the Russian Federation in relation to the alleged attacks against civilians and the property in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[41]

External links[edit]

Legal offices United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights


  1. ^ a b Peter Stanford (2012-05-12). "Top QC says human rights laws need "serious change"". The Telegraph.
  2. ^ "QC who defended hate preacher Abu Qatada is favourite to be Britain's new judge in Human Rights Court". 5 August 2017. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  3. ^ Sandra Lavelle (2016-12-14). "Former child abuse inquiry counsel cleared of wrongdoing". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-05-24.
  4. ^ a b 19 April 1999 (1999-04-19). "The top five criminal talents". The Lawyer. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  5. ^ "Doughty Street Chambers - Legal Diary". The Times. 2000-02-08.
  6. ^ "A record 82 people joined the elite ranks ...". The Times. 2000-04-25.
  7. ^ Kathy Marks (1997-04-25). "Gay group sex ban to be challenged in Euro court". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  8. ^ Kathy Marks (1998-02-21). "Men in gay sex parties case escape sentences". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  9. ^ Richard Norton-Taylor and Clare Dyer (1999-09-28). "Historic ruling ends services gay ban". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  10. ^ David Pannick QC (1999-10-19). "Why we must not penalise parts of a private personality". The Times.
  11. ^ John Aston, Jan Colley (2012-02-08). "Airport tweet 'made law look silly'". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  12. ^ Terri Judd (2012-08-20). "Ben Emmerson QC: The bête noire of the right wing press with a 'leviathan intellect'". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  13. ^ "Ben Emmerson". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  14. ^ a b "Israeli killer robots could be banned under UN proposal". 12 August 2017. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  15. ^ "U.N. DRONE INVESTIGATOR: IF FACTS LEAD TO U.S. WAR CRIMES, SO BE IT". 12 August 2017. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  16. ^ "UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson QC on killer robots". 12 August 2017. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  17. ^ "Over the past decade, the expanded use of unmanned armed vehicles has dramatically changed warfare, bringing with it new humanitarian and legal challenges. Now, rapid advances in technology are resulting in efforts to provide greater combat autonomy to machines". 12 August 2017. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  18. ^ Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse: The Panel Archived 2015-06-26 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 17 November 2014
  19. ^ BBC News, "Child abuse inquiry counsel Ben Emmerson QC suspended", 29 September 2016
  20. ^ "Ben Emmerson QC resigns as lawyer for child abuse inquiry". BBC News. 29 September 2016.
  21. ^ Katie King (2017-10-16). "Matrix Chambers under fire for its handling of sex assault allegation against top QC". Legal Cheek.
  22. ^ Drone strikes by US may violate international law, says UN . The Guardian. 18 October 2013.
  23. ^ UN report calls for independent investigations of drone attacks. The Guardian. 18 October 2013.
  24. ^ "Torture by Sri Lankan police routine, says human rights lawyer". The Guardian. 7 August 2017. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  25. ^ UN scrutinizes Saudi Arabia's anti-terror laws. Deutsche Welle. 4 May 2017.
  26. ^ "Geoffrey Bindman and Ben Emmerson - Legal Diary". The Times. 1999-12-14.
  27. ^ Marin Bright (2002-08-04). "Called to the bar... with a burning desire for justice". The Observer. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  28. ^ "Litvinenko inquiry: the key players". The Guardian. 5 August 2017. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  29. ^ "Litvinenko Q&A: the inquiry into the former KGB agent's murder". BBC News. 5 August 2017. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  30. ^ "Alexander Litvinenko told Heathrow police: 'I am a KGB officer asking for political asylum'". The Telegraph. 5 August 2017. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  31. ^ "Mr Litvinenko was fatally poisoned after drinking a cup of tea laced with polonium in a London hotel nearly a decade ago - a long-awaited inquiry is published today". Mirror. 5 August 2017. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  32. ^ "Mr Litvinenko's widow Marina said she believed her husband's "murderers and their paymasters" had "been unmasked"". BBC News. 5 August 2017. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  33. ^ "Ben Emmerson QC: abuse of human rights policies increases terrorism". Guardian. 5 August 2017. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  34. ^ " Terrorism, in itself, is a human rights violation". 5 August 2017. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  35. ^ "A suspected international terrorist, one of 10 people appealing against deportation, has a history of absconding, a court has heard". BBC News. 5 August 2017. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  36. ^ "Moazzam Begg to be freed as prosecutors drop terror charges". Guardian News. 10 August 2017. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  37. ^ "Moazzam Begg to be freed as prosecutors drop terror charges". Independent. 10 August 2017. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  38. ^ "Moazzam Begg released from prison after charges dropped". ITV News. 10 August 2017. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  39. ^ Strange, Hannah (2018-03-02). "Puigdemont's case presented to the UN, arguing Spain has violated his rights". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-03-04.
  40. ^ "Barrister of the Year award". 7 August 2017. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  41. ^ "The Lawyer Awards". The Lawyer. 7 August 2017. Retrieved 7 August 2017.