Human Rights and Democracy Forum

About us

The Human Rights and Democracy Forum was established in 2017 to support research and innovative research-led teaching involving questions of human rights and democracy. Based in Exeter Law School, the forum encompasses research on the legal, political, contextual and historical dimensions of these issues, including substantive, comparative and theoretical methods. Welcoming colleagues from all disciplines, as well as the participation of undergraduate and postgraduate students, the Forum’s main activities include:

  • Supporting and developing individual and collaborative research projects
  • Delivering undergraduate and postgraduate modules in these areas, drawing on members' research expertise
  • Running research seminars by Forum members and by guest speakers
  • Developing connections with external networks, organisations and institutions in related areas
  • Supporting postgraduate research students working in related areas
  • Providing opportunities for undergraduate students to become involved with Forum activities, to develop their interests and provide opportunities to explore research and employment ideas

There is a strong tradition and a wealth of human rights research at Exeter Law School, with other ongoing activities in this area in the Exeter Centre for International Law.


Name Research interests

David Barrett 

Socio-economic rights, particularly the right to education; equality law and human rights law; national human rights institutions, regulators, inspectorates and ombudsmen; theories of regulation and governance

Christine Bicknell

European and international human rights law; prevention and prohibition of torture under the European Convention on Human Rights and UN law

Bertha Chakawarika

PhD researcher working on international human rights law, particularly children’s rights to autonomy, parental rights, the right to freedom of religion and the rights of the larger community within a modern liberal democracy.

Philippa Collins 

Employment law and rights in England and Wales, the law on dismissal, ECHR law relating to employment, rights and the distinction between public and private law

Catherine Dupré

Comparative constitutional law; human dignity and human rights; the European Convention on Human Rights; human rights in the EU; judicial dialogue; the rule of law and democracy in Europe

Abi Dymond

Policing and human rights, international human rights law and standards, police use of force, less lethal weapons, torture prevention, detention monitoring bodies, equipment with no use other than torture and ill-treatment

Obinna Edeji PhD researcher working on international human rights law; economic social and cultural rights; domestic implementation of socio-economic rights and their nexus with human dignity; the right to education and its implementation

Richard Edwards

Constitutional law; human rights under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights; civil liberties and human rights in criminal justice, policing, and police powers

Mollie Gascoigne

PhD researcher working on systems of legal gender recognition, especially the Gender Recognition Act 2004; human dignity and human rights law; LGBTQI+ rights, with a specific interest in transgender and non-binary rights

Swati Gola

Human rights dimensions of international trade in healthcare services in Indian and international law; the right to health; public and private duties in the health sector

Ben Hudson

International human rights law; internal displacement, refugee movements and migration; European Convention on Human Rights; vulnerability and human rights; access to higher education

Dimitrios Kagiaros

Human rights and public law including whistle-blower protection, the impact of the European sovereign debt crisis on human rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to Freedom of Expression

Robert Lamb

The history of modern political thought and contemporary political philosophy, with a particular focus on human rights. His current work focuses both on general historical and philosophical understandings of human rights as a moral idea, and also on particular conceptions of specific human rights (such as rights to property, asylum, and political participation) in modern political texts

Rebecca Lawrence 

PhD researcher working on prisoners’ rights under the ECHR; criminal justice and human rights; EU law; international criminal law and public international law

Adam McCann

The relation between law, governance, and human rights; especially the legal framework surrounding end-of-life medical decisions in the context of broader governance and political theories

Alex Prichard

International relations; anarchy and constitutionalism; theoretical dimensions of anarchist constitutional politics. 

Brian Rappert

International humanitarian law; secrecy; disarmament; the use of force; chemical and biological weapons; evidence-based policing

Raawiyah Rifath 

PhD researcher working on the burden of proof in relation to LGBTQI+ asylum seekers; sexuality rights; immigration, including asylum and refugee law and international human rights law

Stephen Skinner

Comparative legal history of criminal law in democratic and anti-democratic systems; the rule of law; the right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights and the use of lethal force in domestic policing operations

Alice Venn

International human rights law, focusing on the remedies available to climate-vulnerable Small Island Developing States and climate justice frameworks for law and policy-making.

Helena Wray

Migration law, especially the regulation of family migration and citizenship


Associate members

Kingsley Abbott, Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, Asia Pacific Programme, International Commission of Jurists
Jonathan Cooper, OBE, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers and editor, European Human Rights Law Review
John Wadham, Associate Tenant, Doughty Street Chambers
Adam Wagner, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers and founder, UK Human Rights blog






Current projects

Prevention of Torture across Europe

Christine Bicknell is conducting research into the work of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). The CPT has a mandate to undertake preventive visits to places of detention across all Council of Europe states. Christine’s particular interest is in the CPT’s standards, their implementation, and the use and application of both the CPT’s standards and its findings by the European Court of Human Rights. In one aspect of this Christine is currently co-authoring a book about the CPT’s work, which has been commissioned by the Council of Europe. Though its focus is very much on Europe, the study necessarily situates the CPT within a broader international framework of torture prevention, which has become more complex since the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) came into force in 2006. Against the background of additional external scrutiny of places of detention from both international and domestic bodies, further potential challenges come from within the Council of Europe itself. The relatively recent European Court of Human Rights case, Mursic v Croatia, challenges the view that the CPT and the Court work as synergistically as could be hoped. Relatedly Christine has been researching overlapping, and sometimes conflicting competencies of different bodies with a specific mandate to prevent torture, and their work specifically in Europe, as well as the dialogues and interactions among them. See the news tab for her latest work in this field. In this area Christine has also published work focussing on the effect of corruption on human rights protection, including conceptualising the corruption phenomenon in the context of criminal justice systems where the majority of torture and ill-treatment is recorded. This aspect of her work aims to bring greater clarity to understanding precisely what torture looks like in these contexts, which includes discussion of the fact that torture itself is a corrupt practice. This conceptual view of the corruption phenomenon, which argues for a context specific handling of the issue, is a necessary first step towards further work to establish more precisely the role that corruption plays in thwarting work to eradicate torture, a point that remains underdeveloped both at policy level and in the academic literature.

Standard of Proof at the European Court of Human Rights

Christine Bicknell has been researching the standard of proof as it is set out and applied by the European Court of Human Rights. In a detailed analysis of the Court’s jurisprudence, with reference particularly to Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (prohibition of torture) cases, this research grapples with the fact that while the Court professes to uphold a standard of proof ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ it at the same time acknowledges a less rigorous degree of probability than that allowed for in criminal trials. Since the standard should be a measure of certainty, and not of probability, this is problematic. Christine’s research in this area also engages with the fact that the standard of proof in this context is closely aligned with the burden of proof, and considers how in certain circumstances the Court is prepared to reverse this burden, transferring it onto the state.

Human Dignity, Human Rights and Democracy: UK Legal Practice in Focus

Catherine Dupré has been a pioneer in studying and developing the concept of human dignity in the field of comparative constitutional law and her latest monograph, The Age of Dignity (Bloomsbury/Hart 2015), stands out in the field as the first comprehensive and theoretical engagement with these issues in the European context. She expanded the original theoretical scope of her research with an ESRC funded project on ‘Human Dignity in UK Legal Practice: Realities, Challenges, Potentials’ in collaboration with Daniel Bedford (University of Portsmouth) and barristers and solicitors from London-based chambers, including Doughty Street, Garden Court and Matrix. In 2018-19, she guest-edited a special issue of the European Human Rights Law Review on human dignity in UK legal practice.

Crises in European Constitutionalism and Democracy

Catherine Dupré’s research expertise in Hungarian constitutionalism returned to the forefront of her research activities with the adoption of the new Hungarian Fundamental Law in 2011. Professor Dupré was one of the first scholars to engage in critical discussion of the Hungarian government’s self-proclaimed turn to ‘illiberal democracy’. Her analysis of the Fundamental Law’s provision on human dignity was translated in Hungarian, Spanish, Italian and French. Building on a ground-breaking paper (C Dupre, ‘Unconstitutional Constitution: a Timely Concept’ in A von Bogdandyand P Sonnevend (eds.), Constitutional Crisis in the European Constitutional Area: Theory, Law and Politics in Hungary and Romania, Oxford: CH Beck, Nomos and Hart, 1995), she is currently developing a theoretical framework for European constitutionalism, aiming to enhance the protection of democracy in Europe. In order to promote international discussion on the crises of democracy that have since spread outside Hungary to other EU Member States, she convened an interdisciplinary conference in Budapest in June 2016 together with leading Hungarian constitutional law scholars, Gábor Tóth and Kriszta Kovács.

Icelandic Constitutional Reform

Catherine Dupré’s ongoing interest in constitutional reform and constitution-making processes is currently focussed on Iceland where reform of the constitution was triggered in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse. Together with Ágúst Thór Árnason, Professor Dupré convened the first international conference to discuss and reflect on the constitutional reform, at the University of Akureyri in September 2016. Building on this conference, the convenors are co-editing a collection of essays to be published by Routledge, which brings together the key actors in the Icelandic constitutional reform, and analyses all the main stages in the process between 2009 and 2017.

State Power and the Rule of Law under Democracy and Anti-Democracy: English and Italian Criminal Law in the Interwar Period

Stephen Skinner is researching the relationships between state power and the rule of law in contrasting politico-legal systems through a comparative history of criminal law in democratic Britain and Fascist Italy in the interwar period. The project examines the ideological, contextual and jurisprudential foundations of general provisions and specific offences in the 1930 Italian Penal Code and contemporaneous English criminal law, focussing on crimes against the state, public order provisions and concepts of legality and certainty. Project outputs have included a series of conference papers and articles in international peer reviewed journals, as well as an edited collection, Fascism and Criminal Law: History, Theory, Continuity (Bloomsbury-Hart, 2015). Professor Skinner is currently editing a second collection of essays, entitled Ideology and Criminal Law under Fascist, National-Socialist and Authoritarian Regimes (under contract with Bloomsbury-Hart).

Lethal Force, the Right to Life and the ECHR

Stephen Skinner is also working on the theoretical, substantive, contextual and interpretative dimensions of European human rights law on the use of lethal and life-threatening force in domestic policing and security operations. Starting with a study of how the European Court of Human Rights has developed its case law on such uses of force and the right to life under Article 2 of the ECHR, the project encompasses inter-disciplinary analysis of legal narrative construction, the development of standards by the European Court of Human Rights and their implications, alternative extra-legal perspectives on the use of force and related human rights questions, as well as engagement with aspects of police training and practice. Project outputs have included a workshop at Doughty Street Chambers in March 2015, a visit to the Metropolitan Police Service’s firearms training centre in August 2015, as well as papers in human rights journals. Professor Skinner is currently working on a monograph entitled Lethal Force, the Right to Life and the ECHR: Narratives of Death and Democracy (under contract with Bloomsbury-Hart).


Past projects


Leverhulme Research Fellowship

Catherine Dupré
Leverhulme Trust
2010 - 2011

Human Dignity and Constitutionalism in Europe

Catherine Dupré
British Academy
2009 - 2010



Skinner SJ (eds)(2015). Fascism and Criminal Law: History, Theory, Continuity. Oxford, Hart

Dupre CCL (2015). The Age of Dignity: Human Rights and Constitutionalism in Europe. Oxford, Hart Publishing/Bloomsbury

McCann A, Hallo de Wolf A, van Rooij M (eds)(2014). Law and Governance: When Private Actors Contribute to Public Interests. The Hague, Eleven International

Journal articles

Bicknell CH (In Press). A Hydra in Detention Settings: a context-based inquiry of Corruption’s many heads. Human Rights Law Review  Abstract.  Full text.

Skinner SJ (2016). Crimes Against the State and the Intersection of Fascism and Democracy in the 1920s-30s: Vilification, Seditious Libel and the Limits of Legality. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 36.3, 482-504. Full text. DOI.

McCann A (2015). Comparing the Law and Governance of Assisted Dying in Four European Nations. European Journal of Comparative Law and Governance, 2(1), 37-91.

McCann A (2014). Irish Legal solution to the Hammock Case. European Review of Private Law, 22(1), 119-129.

McCann A, Colombi Ciacchi A, Oldenhuis F (2014). Non-contractual Liability for Defective Immovable Property - the Hammock Case in a Comparative Perspective. European Review of Private Law, 22(1), 89-156.

McCann A (2014). The CJEU on Trial: Social Justice and Economic Mobility. European Review of Private Law, 22(5), 729-767.

Dupre CCL (2013). Human Dignity in Europe: a Foundational Constitutional Principle. European Public Law, 19 (2)(May 2013), 319-341.

Dupre CCL (2012). Dignity, Democracy, Civilisation. Liverpool Law Review DOI.

Duggan-Larkin J (2010). ‘Can an Intergovernmental Mechanism Increase the Protection of Human Rights? the Potential of Universal Periodic Review in Relation to the Realisation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’. Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, 28, 548-581.


Bicknell CH, Evans MD (2017). Monitoring prisons: the increasingly complex relationship between international and domestic frameworks. In Daems T, Visschers J (Eds.) Europe in Prisons, Palgrave Macmillan 

McCann A, Colombi Ciacchi A (2016). Fundamental rights and humaneness in European private law: the case of health care. In Ferreira N, Kostakopoulou D (Eds.) The Human Face of the European Union Are EU Law and Policy Humane Enough?, Cambridge University Press, 104-130. 

Skinner SJ (2016). The Core of McCann: Lethal Force and Democracy under the European Convention on Human Rights. In Early L, Austin A, Ovey C, Chernishova O (Eds.) The Right to Life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights: Twenty Years of Legal Developments since McCann v the United Kingdom, Oisterwijk: Wolf Legal Publishers, 67-73.

Skinner SJ (2015). Conclusion: Repression and Legality. In Skinner S (Ed) Fascism and Criminal Law: History, Theory, Continuity, Oxford: Hart, 191-196.

Skinner SJ (2015). Fascist by Name, Fascist by Nature? the 1930 Italian Penal Code in Academic Commentary, 1928-1946. In Skinner S (Ed) Fascism and Criminal Law: History, Theory, Continuity, Oxford: Hart, 59-84.

Skinner SJ (2015). Introduction: Fascism and Criminal Law, 'One of the Greatest Attributes of Sovereignty'. In Skinner S (Ed) Fascism and Criminal Law: History, Theory, Continuity, Oxford: Hart, 1-11.

Skinner SJ (2015). Reati contro lo Stato e l'intreccio tra fascismo e democrazia degli anni venti e trenta del Novecento: vilipendio, libello sedizioso e la sospensione della legalità. In Lacche L (Ed) Il Diritto del Duce: Giustizia e Repressione nell'Italia Fascista, Rome: Donzelli, 57-77.

Dupre CCL (2015). Unconstitutional Constitution: a Timely Concept’ in P Sonnevend (ed.), the Hungarian Constitution in the European Constitutional Area (Hart Publishing. In  (Ed) A von Bogdandy and. Sonnevend (ed.), Constitutional Crisis in the European Constitutional Area: Theory, Law and Politics in Hungary and Romania, Oxford: CH Beck, Nomos and Hart, 351-370.

McCann A (2014). Euthanasia in England, France and the Netherlands: a Comparative Law and Governance Perspective. In McCann A. Hallo de Wolf A, van Rooij M (Eds.) Law and Governance: When Private Actors Contribute to Public Interests, the Hague: Eleven International

Dupre CCL (2012). Human Dignity: Rhetoric, Protection, Instrumentalisation. In  (Ed) A Constitution for a Disunited Nation. Hungary's New Fundamental Law, Budapest: Central University Press, 143-170.




See all news.

Blog post examines Hungary's treatment of trans rights

Dr Christine Bicknell takes part in international Prison Oversight Conference

Catherine Dupré co-convenes conference panels on human dignity.

Stephen Skinner takes part in a Human Rights Lawyers’ Association discussion panel on the significance of McCann v UK (1995)

Catherine Dupré joins board of directors of new human dignity organisation

Stephen Skinner presents a research paper on law under totalitarianism

Dimitrios Kagiaros publishes an article on austerity measures in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights

Christine Bicknell publishes an article on the standard of proof in ECHR law

Dimitrios Kagiaros publishes two book chapters

Catherine Dupré gives keynote address on human dignity and legal practice

Stephen Skinner is part of a team to research uses of lethal force by police and law enforcement agencies in Europe.

Stephen Skinner’s latest book on criminal law under authoritarian regimes published by Hart

Stephen Skinner’s book on the right to life and lethal force published by Hart

Catherine Dupré guest-edits a special issue of the European Human Rights Law Review focusing on human dignity in the UK

Professor Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos presents his research on criminal justice and human rights

Dimitrios Kagiaros contributes chapter to an edited volume on European Consensus in the European Court of Human Rights

Tom Lowenthal presents research paper on children’s rights

Preventing Torture in Europe - The Council of Europe publishes a book co-authored by Christine Bicknell

Christine Bicknell appointed Academic Fellow to the Inner Temple

Catherine Dupré gives key note address in Reykjavik

Kingsley Abbott publishes opinion piece on the misuse of law and the rule of law in Cambodia

Catherine Dupré awarded fellowship at Max Planck Institute for Public International and Comparative Law

Stephen Skinner presents conference paper on law and the state in Fascist and democratic systems

Catherine Dupré publishes opinion paper on Brexit and human dignity

Professor David Feldman gives a guest lecture in the Human Rights and Democracy Forum

Stephen Skinner presents a paper at the British Academy on Core Values in Times of Crisis

Kingsley Abbott gives speech on human rights and the rule of law in south-east Asia

Icelandic constitutional reform 2010-2017: visit of expert from Iceland

Catherine Dupré awarded ESRC Impact Cultivation Award

Democratic Governance and International Law

Human Rights Workshop with University of the Third Age

Human Dignity and a Dignified Existence

Jonathan Cooper OBE gives Human Rights and Democracy Forum inaugural lecture

Christine Bicknell presents conference paper on prison oversight in Europe

Stephen Skinner co-convenes International Experts Meeting on Police uses of Lethal Force

Catherine Dupré co-convenes 'Human Dignity and Constitutional Crisis in Europe' conference in Florence

Jess Duggan-Larkin presents a paper on the international action of states

Stephen Skinner co-convenes a conference panel to explore how law structured and supported totalitarian regimes in the first half of the twentieth century

Catherine Dupré co-convened an international conference on Icelandic constitutional reform

European Constitutional Democracy in Peril - People, Principles, Institutions: International Conference Budapest June 23-24 2016

Stephen Skinner Convenes a Workshop Examining Anti-Democratic Ideology and Criminal Law under Fascist Regimes

Lethal Force, Policing and the ECHR: McCann and Others v UK at Twenty, Doughty Street Chambers, London, 25 March 2015

Research supervision

The Law School has a dynamic international body of postgraduate researchers working in a wide range of fields. Find out more about PhD studies and funding.

We welcome enquiries from prospective research students interested in developing projects with support from any research funding body, including both the AHRC and ESRC. Please contact us to discuss possibilities.

Current research students

A range of exciting PhD projects are currently being undertaken by postgraduate students affiliated with the Human Rights and Democracy Forum: please see the Members tab above for details.

Contact us


For non-media enquiries about the Human Rights and Democracy Forum and its activities, please contact us in one of the following ways:

Stephen Skinner

Telephone: +44 (0)1392 723379

The Human Rights and Democracy Forum
Law School - Amory Building
University of Exeter
Rennes Drive


Media enquiries are also welcome - please contact:

Telephone: +44 (0)1392 722307