Leslie Thomas QC appointed Gresham Professor of Law

Thursday 4 June 2020

Leslie Thomas QC of the Garden Court Civil Liberties Team to give first year of lectures on Death, The State, and Human Rights.

He will be the first black Gresham Law Professor.  

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We are delighted to congratulate Leslie Thomas QC on his appointment as Gresham Professor of Law. Gresham College is London’s oldest Higher Education Institution.

He will succeed Jo Delahunty QC.  The Gresham Law Professorship is prestigious in the legal world, and recent Professors include Sir David Calcutt, Richard Susskind, Vernon Bogdanor, Baroness Deech of Cumnor and Sir Geoffrey Nice.

Leslie Thomas QC is a specialist in international human rights and constitutional law practice. The cases in which he has taken part include the New Cross Fire inquest, the Mark Duggan inquest, the Hillsborough inquest, the Birmingham Pub Bombings inquest, and the Grenfell public inquiry. He has a strong teaching background, including work for Kingston University, the University of Westminster and the Open University, and is a well-known public speaker in the legal field.

He will be the first black Gresham Law Professor.  

Leslie Thomas QC said:

“If George Floyd’s brutal and racist death teaches us anything it is what the Black Community have strongly suspected and complained about for decades, namely for all the lip service society pays to the cold legal concept such as ‘the right to a fair trial’, this is rendered utterly meaningless and sterile if you are black but never get to trial because you are killed by law enforcement agencies. The focus is wrong. The debate shouldn’t be solely about ‘due process’, it has got to start with a fundamental respect for the ‘right to life’. I intend to shine a spotlight on the deficiencies in the system and what I believe we need to do to ensure that ‘Black Lives matter’ equal to other lives.

“I want to share my knowledge of law, in the hope that I can educate and inspire audiences with my love and enthusiasm for the law and help them to understand the role of law as a tool for social change. I share the College’s commitment to providing free education of the highest possible standards. This is dear to my heart. Throughout my career, I have been seeking to teach others what I know.”

As Gresham Professor of Law he will continue the College’s tradition of delivering free public lectures within the City of London and beyond. All Gresham lectures are live-streamed. The Law Professorship is one of the original seven Gresham Professorships established in Thomas Gresham’s will of 1575.

Sir Richard J Evans, Provost of Gresham College, said:

“I am delighted that Leslie Thomas QC is our next Gresham Professor of Law. He is a brilliant QC and a talented and dedicated communicator who is already well-known through his work at the Grenfell Inquiry.”

The Lectures

A series of six free public lectures a year is delivered by each of the College’s ten Professors. These are augmented by series presented by Visiting Professors and as many as 40 individual lectures from a range of illustrious speakers selected from the worlds of academia, the arts, law, medicine, politics and industry.

In 2020-21, Leslie Thomas will be giving a series of lectures called Death, The State, and Human Rights.

1. Does The State Really Care When It Kills You? Thursday 1st October 2020, 6pm - 7pm
This lecture will focus on human rights and the wrongs of unexpected and/or sudden deaths in which the state is implicated. It will cover the importance of a proper death investigation, the impact on the family and state, how Magna Carta influences death investigations 800 years on, and current trends and statistics in state deaths. How does the state show it cares when deaths occur? Does the state learn lessons? How can the bereaved move on?

2. Who Investigates Sudden Death? Thursday 3rd December 2020, 6pm-7pm, Barnard’s Inn Hall
How do we investigate violent and unexpected deaths at the inquest? Who investigates? When do deaths get referred to the Coroner? Are inquests non-adversarial and inquisitorial?  When do you have a jury? What are findings, determinations and conclusions (aka verdicts)? Can you appeal?  Is the process transparent to the public and user friendly? Fit for purpose or in need of reform?

3. Is There A Level Playing Field At Inquests? From Death on the Rock to the Birmingham Pub Bombings Thursday 4th February 2021, 6pm-7pm, Barnard’s Inn Hall
Is there is a level playing field between participants at inquests? What does ‘equality of arms’ mean? Is such a concept appropriate when looking at inquests? Are inquiries better? How have they developed since the IRA Death on The Rock case? What are the problems faced by those representing families. Is there a case for fundamental change? If so what model should we adopt to replace the present system?

4. Policing Police Restraint Thursday 4th March 2021, 6pm-7pm, Barnard’s Inn Hall
We hear too often about sudden death in adults following prolonged and often unnecessary police restraint. What do people know about the dangers of restraint and how widespread is our understanding of such deaths? This talk explores the legal implications facing the state and what steps can be done and implemented to save more lives and have safer policing. Do these deaths disproportionately affect African Caribbean men given recent BAME stop and search statistics?

5. Should The State Be More Candid About Sudden Death? Thursday 6th May 2021, 6pm-7pm, Barnard’s Inn Hall
Should there be a legal duty on the state to be more transparent in sudden and unexpected death cases? The lecture discusses the duty of candour, namely the principle that public authorities must assist the court with full and accurate explanations of the facts relevant to the issues the court must decide, rather than the authority’s objective being to win at all costs. What would a new legal duty look like? Who would enforce it? What would the sanctions be?

6. Witness Anonymity:  ‘I Want To Look Into The Eyes Of My Son’s Killer and Know His Name’  Thursday 3rd June 2021, 6pm-7pm, Barnard’s Inn Hall
The screening of witnesses for anonymity in in the context of inquests and public inquiries is hugely contentious. Why does putting witnesses behind a screen cause such concern for human rights and civil liberties advocates? What are protective measures? Has there been an increase in such applications? Who makes them? Why do state agents who have done nothing wrong want to hide? What are the benefits for families and the public of seeing important witnesses giving evidence?

More information about the Law Professorship can be found here.

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