Ben Emmerson

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Person.png Ben Emmerson   Website WikiquoteRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Ben Emmerson at Chatham House, 2013.jpg
Ben Emmerson at Chatham House, 2013
Kent, England

Ben Emmerson QC is an international 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.

Ben Emmerson represented Abdullah al-Senussi who was convicted in July 2015 and sentenced to death by a Libyan court for allegedly committing crimes against humanity during the NATO bombing of Libya in 2011.[1][2]


Emmerson was called to the bar in 1986. Until 1999 he 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. In April 2000 he was appointed Queen's Counsel.[4]

Gay rights

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.[5][6]

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",[7] while David Pannick QC called it "a welcome victory for reason over pure prejudice".[8]

Freedom of speech

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.[9]

International Courts

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.[10]

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 Khymer 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.[11] 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". The same year he was a winner at the Liberty Human Rights awards.[12] 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".[13]


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:Libya: Fine, but why Britainarticle20 March 2011Brian BarderDavid Cameron seemingly Gung Ho on toppling the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, while Barack Obama takes a back seat


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