“Human rights barrister” Amal Clooney

Yet another occasion to note that what passes for human rights advocacy is often nothing of the sort: famous “human rights barrister” Amal Clooney, alas, appears to be arguing the speech-suppressive side of a high-profile freedom of speech case. [Telegraph]

More, and clarification: Walter Katz responds, condensed from Twitter, to a Ted Frank tweet characterizing Clooney as having sided against speech: “This completely misrepresents Clooney’s role. Turkey was not a party to the initial prosecution at the initial ECHR appeal, Turkey did appear and basically argued there was no genocide to deny. The ECHR opinion was ambiguous about the genocide factual question. It is that specific issue which Armenia is challenging, i.e. court, don’t buy Turkey that there was no genocide. Armenia’s argument has little to do with the free expression issue.” Cite: Asbarez.com.

My response, again patched together and condensed from Twitter: My reading of the Asbarez coverage: Clooney’s co-counsel Geoff Robertson, from the same “human rights” law firm Doughty Street Chambers, argued pro-conviction on frank anti-speech grounds. If she left the pro-censorship advocacy to her law partner and handled only a narrower issue — I hope because she disagrees with him! — then, yes, a point in her favor. Update: this video does show her approximately six-minute speech focusing on the “setting the record straight” issue and on Turkish government hypocrisy. Whatever this may or may not illuminate about Clooney’s personal involvement, the coverage in both the Telegraph and Asbarez makes it hard for me to go along with the idea that either Armenia’s role or Robertson’s arguments on its behalf have “little to do with the free expression issue.”

Ted Frank’s response, once more condensed: “The story says she is ‘defending the conviction.’ Armenia’s role in the case is arguing for reinstatement of conviction. [Citing Clooney’s comments about not aiming to restrict free speech is] putting too much weight on a self-serving disingenuous throwaway line. ‘Free speech but’ not free speech.”

Full hearing video here.


  • There’s a misunderstanding here of how the UK bar works.

    Barristers are open to take both sides of cases (there’s no such things as “plaintiff’s” or “defendant’s” lawyers) and a “human rights lawyer” is somebody who specialises in human rights law not an advocate for human rights.

    And Clooney and Robertson are not partners – they are both self-employed independent contractors who share office space and facilities

  • Thanks for clarification re: use of the word “partner.” Notwithstanding the UK’s traditional cab-rank (take all comers) rule, many discussions of Doughty Street Chambers do suggest that it is oriented toward progressive causes and clients and would be less likely to be found representing causes and clients on the other side. Perhaps British readers can help our American audience sort out how a reputation of this sort (if accurate) can arise under a formally neutral set of rules.

  • Robertson leads this Chamber. He is QC and those who gave not been designated QC are equivalent to junior lawyers in the US.

  • I imagine that one way in which a firm can acquire a reputation for representing one side in a cab rank rule system is through the public statements of its members on relevant issues, including the early cases that it handles. Prospective clients are, presumably, unlikely to approach a firm with a reputation for hostility to their side.

    It is not surprising to see advocates of human rights and civil rights clash since human rights and civil liberties overlap but take different perspectives which bring them into conflict in some cases. Civil libertarians are generally focussed on individual rights, while human rights advocates are often more interested in group rights. Where individual rights conflict with group rights, the will find themselves in opposition.

  • If one accepts the idea behind Holocaust-denial bans, Clooney’s support for an Armenian-genocide-denial ban is quite reasonable (except to nationalist Turks).

    Personally, I consider Holocaust-denial bans as an unnecessary first step down a slippery slope. Holocaust-denial is legal in the USA, yet nowhere else (outside Israel) are Holocaust deniers so isolated and despised.

  • On that very point, note the interesting Sam Schulman piece linked here about a week ago:


  • I strongly suspect that banning Holocaust denial is not only unnecessary but counterproductive as it allows denialists to argue, not unreasonably, that their opponents are compelled to ban their ideas because they are unable to defeat them using evidence and argument.