Ben Emmerson QC

Call: 1986 | Silk: 2000

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Ben Emmerson QC has an international practice, with 30 years’ experience representing individual and corporate clients before international courts and tribunals. He is a versatile litigator and has appeared at the highest appellate levels, in numerous leading cases, across a range of disciplines including public international law, public and administrative law, commercial litigation, arbitration and human rights law. He is also a recognised expert in domestic and international criminal law. A seasoned courtroom advocate, with renowned tactical expertise, he has been described by Chambers and Partners Guide to the UK Bar as “one of the ten best silks in the country”.

In his international practice, Ben represents foreign governments in inter-State litigation, as well as current and former Heads of State and other political figures. His clients have included the Governments of Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, Kosovo, and Ukraine, as well as the former Presidents of the Maldives and Catalonia, and the former Prime Ministers of Kosovo and Ukraine. He also provides advice to a number of States in Africa and the Middle East. He regularly acts in investment treaty arbitration and other international commercial arbitration disputes. He is currently leading four inter-State cases against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights, arising out the invasions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the annexation of Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine.

Within the UK, Ben advises and represents corporate clients on a range of issues relating to ethics, good governance and regulation. He is a specialist in the emerging field of business and human rights, and regularly advises multinational companies and their boards on the application of international law to their operations or supply chains. His clients in this field have included leading international oil and gas companies, communications companies and social media giants (including Facebook and Google). He also advises and represents corporate clients on a range of regulatory matters, as well as acting in alleged criminal cartel prosecutions, bribery and corruption investigations, and cases involving alleged insider dealing and market manipulation.

Ben has a strong track record of successfully representing corporate media clients in freedom of expression cases. He was adviser to the BBC, and its Director General Mark Thompson on the investigative journalism aspects of the Leveson Inquiry, and is a former Special Adviser to the House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges in connection with the News International Phone Hacking Inquiry.

He has appeared in more than 30 cases before the European Court of Human Rights, acting both for and against the government of the United Kingdom and other Council of Europe Member States, in cases covering a wide range of international law issues including diplomatic and state immunity, parliamentary privilege, judicial independence, and discipline within the armed forces. Ben was leading counsel for Marina Litvinenko in the public inquiry into the murder of her husband, Alexander Litvinenko, by agents of the Russian FSB. He previously represented Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange in connection with his proposed extradition to Sweden; and GCHQ whistle-blower, Katherine Gunn, who was prosecuted under the Official Secrets Acts after revealing US attempts to manipulate the UN Security Council into authorising the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He recently acted for tennis star Boris Becker, and previously represented Pakistani fast bowler Mohammad Amir on match-fixing allegations.

The current edition of Chambers and Partners identifies Ben as a “starred individual”, and a “masterful silk” who is “famed for his involvement in some of the most high-profile cases of recent years”. He is described as having “an outstanding reputation” and “an esteemed international practice”. The Legal 500 also lists him as a leading silk across several fields of law, describing him as a “highly skilled, knowledgeable and much-respected counsel” who is “strategic, nuanced and practical” whilst being “robust and willing to commit to an opinion”. In 2016, he was awarded the Lawyer Magazine’s Barrister of the Year Award, and has been described by the Prime Minister as “one of the UK’s most distinguished lawyers in the field of national and international human rights law”.

In addition to his career at the Bar, Ben also sits part time as an Appeals Judge of the UN Mechanism for the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, and was (until 2017) the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights. In that capacity, he reported to the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council, as well as to relevant entities of the UN Security Council. In addition to numerous thematic reports, he conducted country missions to Chile, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Sri Lanka and Burkina Faso. He was previously Special Adviser to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, and a former Special Adviser to the Appeals Chamber of the UN-backed Khymer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia.

In this country, Ben is a deputy High Court Judge, a Master of the Bench of Middle Temple, a Visiting Professor of International Law and Security at the University of Oxford, and an Honorary Fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford. He also holds an honorary PhD from the University of Bristol. Ben is a former editor of the European Human Rights Law Review, and co-author of the leading text Human Rights and Criminal Justice (3rd Edition).

  • Recent cases
    • The Litvinenko Inquiry [2016]. Ben represented the family of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, at the public inquiry into his murder in London in 2006 by agents of the Russian FSB through by poisoning with the radioactive isotope Polonium 210.
    • R (Marina Litvinenko) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, [2014] EWHC 194 (Admin). Successful judicial review of the Home Secretary’s refusal to set up a public inquiry to examine Russian State responsibility for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
    • Prosecutor v Ramush Haradinaj, IT-04-84bis-T, Judgment 29 November 2012. Successful defence of the former Prime Minister of Kosovo on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity (following a trial process lasting 7 years).
    • Austin and others v UK, [2012] ECHR 459. The ECHR Grand Chamber judgment concerning the use of controversial “kettling” tactics by police during a May Day demonstration in 2001.
    • Georgia v Russia (Admissibility decision, 12 December 2011, Application No. 38263/08). Emmerson acts as lead counsel before the ECHR for the Government of Georgia in its inter-state claim in the European Court of Human Rights against Russia, arising out of the invasion in August 2008 of the autonomous regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The application, which raises controversial issues of international law was declared admissible and is currently in the merits phase of the Court’s deliberations.
    • A and Others v UK [2009] ECHR 301. The ECHR held that the UK derogation from the ECHR to enable indefinite detention of foreign terrorist suspects without trial under Part 4 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (“the Belmarsh case”) was in violation of the derogation provisions of Article 15. The ECHR also held that the right to a fair trial required that the person affected should be entitled to know, and respond to, the essential factual allegations made against them in closed proceedings.
    • Gillan and others v UK [2009] ECHR 28 (12 January 2010). Ben represented the complainants who had been detained and searched whilst handing out anti-war leaflets outside an arms fair in London. The ECHR held that the use of random stop and search powers (under sections 44 to 47 of the Terrorism Act 2000) against peaceful protestors was a violation of the right to privacy under Article 8 ECHR.
    • Kafkaris v Cyprus [2008] ECHR 21906/04. Ben successfully represented the Government of Cyprus in the ECHR against a challenge to the imposition of a whole life sentence on a man convicted of a terrorist murder in which a number of innocent people (including children) were killed or injured.
    • SSHD v JJ and ors [2008] 1 AC 385; SSHD v E and anor [2008] 1 AC 499 (Articles 5 and 6: permissible limits on the imposition of terrorist control orders).
    • R (Laporte) v Chief Constable of Gloucestershire [2007] 2 WLR 46. Ben represented a group of peace campaigners protesting at Fairford Air Force base which was then being used by the USAF to launch B52 bombing raids on Iraq. The House of Lords held that the police strategy of detaining them en route to the demonstration (on the ground that the demonstration was a threatened breach of the peace), turning away their coaches and escorting them back to London, amounted to a violation of the freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR and the rights of peaceful assembly and association under Article 11 ECHR and was unlawful.
    • A and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department (No. 2) [2006] 2 AC 221 (Article 6 ECHR, Article 15 UNCAT: admissibility in SIAC proceedings of evidence obtained through the use of torture by a foreign state).
    • R (O) v Crown Court at Harrow Governor of HMP Wormwood Scrubbs [2006] 3 WLR 195: Ben successfully defended the DPP and the Home Office against a challenge to legislation restricting the power of a criminal court to grant bail in a rape case to a defendant with a previous conviction for rape.
    • A and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2005] 2 AC 68 (Articles 5 and 15: compatibility with Article 15 of the UK’s derogation from Article 5 to authorise indefinite detention of foreign terrorist suspects without trial).
    • R v Bentham [2005] UKHL 18 (meaning of possession of an imitation firearm for the purposes of section 17(2) of the Firearmsa Act 1968).
    • Kyprianou v Cyprus, Application No. 73797/01, Grand Chamber, Judgment 15 December 2005 (summary domestic process for “contempt in the face of the court” incompartible with Article 6).
    • R v H and C [2004] 2 AC 134 (Article 6: fair trial, requirement for special advocate to represent the interests of the accused in ex parte public interest immunity proceedings in the Crown Court and the Court of Appeal).
    • Edwards and Lewis v UK (2005) 40 EHRR 24. The applicant alleged a violation of the right to a fair trial under Article 6 ECHR in a criminal case in which the judge had rejected his claim to entrapment on the basis of evidence which the judge had been shown during an ex parte public interest immunity application. This decision led to the introduction of the “special advocate” procedure in criminal cases, to safeguard the rights of the accused during ex parte public interest immunity hearings.
    • R (Middleton) v HM Coroner for Western Somerset [2004] 2 AC 182 (Article 2: state’s duty to investigate allegations of state responsibility for deaths in custody, leading to the introduction of narrative verdicts at inquests where state involvement in the death, through act or omission, is in issue).
    • Attorney General’s Reference No. 2 of 2001, Re J (Unreasonable Delay), [2004] 2 AC 72 (Article 6: right to trial within a reasonable time, remedies for unreasonable delay in criminal proceedings).
    • A v UK (2003) 36 EHRR 51: Ben appeared for the UK Government in Strasbourg in two cases challenging the principles of Parliamentary privilege which prevent MPs being sued for libel for words spoken on the floor of the House. In Zollman v UK he was instructed by the Cabinet Office after Peter Hain, then a Labour Minister, used a speech in the Commons to “name and shame” two Dutch diamond dealers whom he alleged to have been dealing in blood diamonds from Angola. The Government succeeded in both cases.
    • Pearce v Mayfield Secondary School Governing Body [2003] UKHL 34. Ben represented a lesbian teacher who alleged in the House of Lords that a school’s failure to protect her against harassment on grounds of her sexual orientation amounted to discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. This case was followed by the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 which prohibit employment discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
    • R v Lyons and others [2003] 1 AC 976 (Article 41: domestic implementation of a judgment of the ECHR in conflict with binding provisions of domestic law).
    • Fogarty v UK (2002) 24 EHRR 12. Ben appeared in the ECHR for a former employee of the US Embassy in London who had lost a claim to sex discrimination and victimisation when the Embassy claimed diplomatic and state immunity. The case turned on the compatibility of the law governing claims to state immunity with the access to court requirements of Article 6.
    • R v Kansal (Yash Pal) (Change of Law) [2002] AC 69 (Article 6: retrospective application of the Human Rights Act to cases decided before the Act came into force).
    • Z v UK (2002) 34 EHRR 3. Ben was instructed by the Official Solicitor on behalf of four children who suffered appalling neglect in their family home, but were not removed into care despite the local authority being fully aware of the conditions in which they were forced to live. The ECHR held that the conditions in the family home amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 ECHR, and that the local authority, as the responsible institution of state, was under a positive obligation to take steps to remove them. The children (whose claim had been excluded in the House of Lords on public policy grounds) succeeded and received six figure compensation awards.
    • R v. Central Criminal Court, ex parte the Guardian, the Observer and Martin Bright [2001] 2 All ER 244. Ben successfully represented the Observer newspaper and its political editor Martin Bright in a landmark challenge under Article 6 and 10 to an order for the production of documents relating to Shayler’s allegations.
    • Attorney General’s Reference No. 3 of 2000, Re G (Entrapment), [2001] 1 WLR 2060(Article 6: permissible limits of police entrapment and state-created crime).
    • Khan v UK (2001) 21 EHRR 1016. The placing of a covert listening device in the applicant’s home without primary legislation authorising its use was a violation of the right to privacy in Article 8 ECHR, but the admission of the evidence obtained through the use of the device during the applicant’s criminal trial did not violate the right to a fair trial under Article 6 ECHR since the Convention does not recognise a US-style “fruit of the poisoned tree” doctrine. This case led to the introduction of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
    • Condron v UK (2001) 31 EHRR 1. The compatibility of legislation permitting inferences to be drawn where a suspect in a criminal investigation exercises the right to remain silent in the face of police questioning. The applicants, who had been advised by their solicitor not to answer questions, were held to have been victims of a violation of the right to a fair trial under Article 6 ECHR.
    • ADT v UK (2001) 31 EHRR 3. Ben successfully argued in the ECHR that the criminal prosecution and conviction of the applicant for taking part in consensual group homosexual activity in private constituted a violation of the right to privacy in Article 8 ECHR and the protection against discrimination in Article 14 ECHR.
    • Foxley v UK (2001) 31 EHRR 25. Interception of legally privileged correspondence found to violate the right to a fair trial under Article 6 ECHR and the right to privacy under Article 8 ECHR.
    • NHS Trust A v MNHA Trust B v H [2000] AII ER (D) 1522: Emmerson appeared for the official solicitor in the first case under the Human Rights Act to determine whether the withdrawal of life support (artificial nutrition and hydration) to insensate patients in a permanent vegetative state is compatible with the right to life in Article 2.
    • McGonnell v UK (2000) 30 EHRR 289. The case concerned the concentration of judicial, legislative and executive functions performed by the Bailiff of Guernsey in breach of the constitutional separation of powers, but led in part to the separation of the functions formerly concentrated in the Lord Chancellor, and the establishment of the Ministry of Justice.
    • Smith and Grady v UK (2000) 29 EHRR 493. Ben appeared in the ECHR for two gay service personnel challenging the exclusion of homosexual servicemen and women from the armed forces, and the adequacy of judicial review on established Wednesbury principles. This successful challenge led the MOD to abandon its policy of excluding homosexuals from all three armed forces.
    • Osman v UK (2000) 30 EHRR 245. The seminal ECHR decision stablishing for the first time the state’s positive operational obligation to protect the right to life under Article 2 ECHR.
    • P v S and Cornwall County Council, Case C-13/94 [1996] IRLR 347. The leading case in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg holding that Council Directive 76/207/EEC on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women as regards access to employment (“the Equal Treatment Directive”) prohibited dismissal of a person with gender identity disorder who, whilst employed, underwent male to female gender re-assignment treatment.
    • Benham v UK (1996) 22 EHRR 293. Liability of the State to pay compensation in cases of wrongful imprisonment for non-payment of local authority taxation.
    • Welch v UK (1995) 20 EHRR 247. Retrospectivity of drug trafficking confiscation order. The first successful case in the ECHR under Article 7.
  • What the directories say

    Administrative & Public Law: “Ben is well recognised for his major role in civil liberties and human rights matters.” “He’s very well known and highly regarded in terms of his ability.” – Chambers UK, 2020

    Crime: International Criminal Law: “He is one of the outstanding people in this area and is truly a go-to person for international criminal law.” “He is very experienced, has a top-drawer intellect and is effective as an advocate.” – Chambers UK, 2020

    Civil Liberties and Human Rights: “Ben is well recognised for his major role in civil liberties and human rights matters.” “He’s very well known and highly regarded in terms of his ability.” – Chambers UK, 2020

    Administrative & Public Law: “Well-known for international issues.” – Legal 500, 2020

    International Crime and Extradition: “Highly experienced in representing foreign governments in inter-state litigation.” – Legal 500, 2020

    Civil Liberties and Human Rights: “A seasoned silk who is at the forefront of human rights law.” – Legal 500, 2020

    Administrative & Public Law: “As well as providing invaluable strategic oversight, his direct and on the ball representation is consistently impressive and reliable” – Chambers UK, 2019

    Civil Liberties and Human Rights: “He is truly outstanding and a real champion for human rights. He’s hard-working, determined and always goes the extra mile.” – Chambers UK, 2019

    Crime: International Criminal Law: “His direct and to-the-point advice is consistently impressive and reliable. He offers those that instruct him invaluable strategic oversight.” – Chambers UK, 2019

    Crime: “Always goes the extra mile, which takes hard work, determination and courage.” – Chambers UK, 2019

    Administrative & Public Law: “I have been consistently impressed with his quality.” – Legal 500, 2018

    International Crime and Extradition: “Clever, robust and willing to commit to an opinion.” – Legal 500, 2018

    Civil Liberties and Human Rights: “A highly skilled, knowledgeable and much respected counsel.” – Legal 500, 2018

    Inquest and Inquires: “He sees the bigger picture and his advice is always strategic, nuanced and practical.” – Legal 500, 2018

    Administrative & Public Law: “His advocacy has been stellar. And his ability to highlight winning points at an early stage of a case is also exceptional.  “ – Chambers UK, 2018

    Civil Liberties and Human Rights: “He is really impressive on his feet, and he can turn an argument into something elegant and critical. He is amazing to watch.” “Ben is very bright. He has intellectual vigour and he goes in and takes no prisoners.”– Chambers UK, 2018

    Crime: “Ben is extraordinary advocate and a real lawyer’s lawyer. He can also really articulate matters to a client.” – Chambers UK, 2018

    Inquest and Public Inquires:“He is an astonishingly good advocate.” – Chambers UK, 2018

    Administrative & Public Law: “An excellent public lawyer and a strong advocate.” – Legal 500, 2017

    Civil Liberties and Human Rights: “A powerful advocate.” – Legal 500, 2017

    Inquest and Inquires: “A fine legal mind.” – Legal 500, 2017

    International Crime and Extradition: “He has an enviable instant recall of the law and he ability to communicate it succinctly.” – Legal 500, 2017

    Administrative & Public Law: “He is a heavyweight and his reputation is first-rate.” “He is terrific, he has strong public profile and makes great choices in cases.” – Chambers UK, 2016

    Civil Liberties and Human Rights: “His work in Litvinenko is no mean feat – forcing a public inquiry is down to the sheer force of his personality.” – Chambers UK, 2016

    Crime: “He is a fantastic advocate who brings theatricality to the dry cases, particularly where being in the public eye is wanted. He is not fussed by unpopular causes or having the media breathing down his neck.” – Chambers UK, 2016

    Crime: International Law: “He is universally regarded as being phenomenal because he is very bright, very hard-working and very effective.” “His preparation and presentation are second to none.” – Chambers UK, 2016

    Inquest and Public Inquires: “Always formidable.” “He is terrific, he has strong public profile and makes great choices in cases.” – Chambers UK, 2016

    Administrative & Public Law: “An excellent public lawyer and strong advocate; a real star.” – Legal 500, 2016

    Civil Liberties and Human Rights: “One of he best in the area of civil liberties and human rights.” – Legal 500, 2016

    Inquest and Inquires: “He is a real driving force.” – Legal 500, 2016

    Civil Liberties and Human Rights: “An advocate of the highest calibre.” – Legal 500, 2015

    Crime: “A fine barrister.”  – Legal 500, 2015

    Inquest and Inquires: “His name speaks for itself.” – Legal 500, 2015

    United Nations special rapporteur Ben Emmerson QC is a “superb lawyer, who is extremely intelligent”. He has “market-leading tactical expertise” and is “massively in demand” for human rights cases. Commentators note that he has “the ability to put together fantastic packages of ideas” and “is able to work minor miracles” with the cases before him. Many of his matters are international in nature and he has vast experience of handling cases in the European Court of Human Rights. – Chambers & Partners, 2012

    In the field of human rights, he is “one of the best in terms of courtroom performance. Extremely lucid, clear and forceful, he sweeps the judges along with him”. He is “one of the ten best silks in the country”. – Chambers & Partners, 2011

    When it comes to international human rights law, his vast knowledge and experience place him at the top of the tree. He is the man to plump for if you have a criminal law case with a strong human rights angle to it”. – Chambers & Partners, 2011

    Ben Emmerson QC is a “formidable opponent due to his mastery of the issues”, and is “pre-eminent in his field and impossible not to look up to”. As a criminal lawyer he is “exceptionally gifted, with a wonderfully analytical, first-class brain”. – Chambers & Partners, 2009

    “Absolutely at the top of his game,” Ben Emmerson QC elicits rave reviews from all corners. Sources marvel at his “ability to read the court and harness his leviathan intellect to tackle the facts of a case.” Ben Emmerson QC enjoys a stupendous reputation. Brilliant on civil liberties and public law issues, he possesses a “first-rate knowledge of the law and prepares arguments well.” – Chambers & Partners, 2008

    Recommended in Human Rights and Civil Liberties, Ben Emmerson QC is “beyond praise” and takes “an intellectual approach to cases”. – Legal 500, 2008

    Ben Emmerson QC is “the first person to call on” and “a beneficiary of enormous respect” in public and administrative law. He is “a leading presence in the field of human rights”. – Chambers and Partners, 2007

    Ben Emmerson QC is “outstanding”. He is “clearly a real leader” in the human rights field and has a “massive reputation”. – Chambers & Partners, 2006

    Ben Emmerson QC has “a reputation founded on an astonishing series of cases” before the ECHR. He can “turn his hand to anything, deploying beautifully constructed arguments”. In the field of human rights law, he has “a pedigree that doesn’t need endorsement”. A combination of “incredible determination” and “encyclopaedic knowledge” makes him a force in European human rights law. – Chambers & Partners, 2005

    Ben Emmerson QC is “head, shoulders and everything else” above the rest for European human rights law. – Chambers & Partners, 2003

  • Education

    Bristol University