Ben Emmerson

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Ben Emmerson, QC
Ben Emmerson at Chatham House 2013.jpg
Emmerson at Chatham House in 2013
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights
Assumed office
Preceded by Martin Scheinin
Personal details
Born (1963-08-10) August 10, 1963 (age 53)
Kent, England
Nationality British
Occupation Barrister

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. 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.[2]


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,[3] but in February 2000 he left to join the new set Matrix Chambers who specialised in human rights.[4] In April 2000 he was appointed Queen's Counsel.[5]

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; group sex was legal for heterosexuals and lesbians however. 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.[6][7]

In 1999 he successfully represented two of four homosexual members of the British Armed Forces who had been dismissed for their sexual orientation at the ECHR. 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",[8] while David Pannick QC called it "a welcome victory for reason over pure prejudice".[9]

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.[10]

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.[11]

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.[12] 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.


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"[3] The same year he was a winner at the Liberty Human Rights awards.[13] 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".[14]


  1. ^ a b Peter Stanford (2012-05-12). "Top QC says human rights laws need "serious change"". The Telegraph. 
  2. ^ Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse: The Panel. Retrieved 17 November 2014
  3. ^ a b 19 April 1999 (1999-04-19). "The top five criminal talents". The Lawyer. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
  4. ^ "Doughty Street Chambers - Legal Diary". The Times. 2000-02-08. 
  5. ^ "A record 82 people joined the elite ranks ...". The Times. 2000-04-25. 
  6. ^ Kathy Marks (1997-04-25). "Gay group sex ban to be challenged in Euro court". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
  7. ^ Kathy Marks (1998-02-21). "Men in gay sex parties case escape sentences". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
  8. ^ Richard Norton-Taylor and Clare Dyer (1999-09-28). "Historic ruling ends services gay ban". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
  9. ^ David Pannick QC (1999-10-19). "Why we must not penalise parts of a private personality". The Times. 
  10. ^ John Aston, Jan Colley (2012-02-08). "Airport tweet 'made law look silly'". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ "Ben Emmerson". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
  13. ^ "Geoffrey Bindman and Ben Emmerson - Legal Diary". The Times. 1999-12-14. 
  14. ^ Marin Bright (2002-08-04). "Called to the bar... with a burning desire for justice". The Observer. Retrieved 2013-11-23.