LSE human rights academic says he’d ‘love’ to have a public debate with Lord Sumption, who slammed him in a scathing book review

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By Katie King on

Why not?

Supreme Court justice Lord Sumption has written a pretty scathing review of a book written by London School of Economics law academic Conor Gearty.

The professor’s On Fantasy Island. Britain, Europe and Human Rights defends the Human Rights Act 1998 against the “fantasies” driving arguments for its repeal. Though perhaps an unsurprising line for human rights specialist Gearty to take, Sumption — a high-earning commercial barrister turned judge — doesn’t seem convinced. He thinks Gearty fails to acknowledge counter-arguments and adopts an “abrasive rhetoric” in his writing. Because of this, Gearty’s book:

[W]ill cheer those who already agree with him, it will do nothing to convert the sceptics.

Continuing his Gearty-directed onslaught in academic journal the Law Quarterly Review, Sumption says he cites “no evidence” for some of the assertions he makes and is “excessively fond of extravagant philippics.”

Sumption does note the book contains “much that is serious and valuable.” For example, its defence of the European Convention on Human Rights against press and political criticism in chapters five to ten is “argued with verve and learning.” That said, he is particularly critical of the “basin of abuse” Gearty throws at those who do not agree with his views. In Sumption’s words:

Underlying much of this is what seems, at any rate to this reviewer, to be a misconception of real burden of the case on the other side.

The wild-haired Supreme Court justice — who recently donned a series of funny ties while hearing the Brexit legal challenge — added:

In [Gearty’s] view, those who disagree are suffering from the delusions of post-imperial nostalgia and resentment of Britain’s declining place in the world, which is why they do not want to live by the same rules as the rest of Europe or accept the views of a foreign tribunal. No doubt there are people who do think like this. But it is hardly a fair summary of the position of the more thoughtful objectors.

Despite the harsh words, Gearty appears to have taken the whole thing in his stride. Having been made aware of the review when Legal Cheek got in touch, Gearty, a founding member of Matrix Chambers, said in response:

This is a serious review making some very strong points, some very positive about the book, some critical. I think it may well be that Lord Sumption and I have very different views of the extent to which the common law protected civil liberties in the past, and on the operation of the Convention today. I’d love to debate him in a public forum but I imagine that would never be possible — perhaps [Legal Cheek] would want to host it!

Unfortunately, having run this public debate idea past Sumption’s people, we’ve been told the review speaks for itself and that there is nothing he wishes to add to it.

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