Past Debates: Watch the Videos
The first Putney Debates, which took place at St Mary’s Church, Putney in 1647, was one of the few constitutional conventions in modern British history. In the wake of the EU Referendum in 2017, the Oxford Foundation for Law, Justice and Society revived the Putney Debates to assess the constitutional questions raised and the respective actions of parliament, the executive, and the courts.
Over 500 people attended the debates, thousands more watched online, and a collection of essays was published and sent to every MP and High Court judge in the land, to provide a grounding in the issues confronting the nation’s decision-makers at this critical juncture in our history.
The Oxford Putney Debates have since become established as the pre-eminent annual forum to examine constitutional issues of contemporary importance, aimed at informing members of the public and helping them to understand better the constitution in all its dimensions.
The Oxford Putney Debates — The Sovereignty of Parliament
16.00–17.00 BST, Wednesday 21 October 2020
Keynote Lecture: The Future of Parliamentary Sovereignty in a Democratic Constitution
Michael Gordon, University of Liverpool
16.00–17.00 GMT, Wednesday 28 October 2020
Debate 1: Parliamentary Sovereignty: History and People
Chair: Joshua Rozenberg, the UK's pre-eminent legal commentator
Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Queen Mary University of London
Questioning sovereignty again: Why the history of Parliament’s relations with the British Empire, Scotland, and Ireland reveals an unsettled sovereignty
Denis Galligan, University of Oxford
Constitutional origins of parliamentary sovereignty
Vernon Bogdanor, Kings College, London
Parliamentary sovereignty and the people
Richard Clary, Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, New York
An alternative to parliamentary sovereignty: The checks and balances of the US constitution, and why that path was chosen
16.00–17.00 GMT, Wednesday 4 November 2020
Debate 2: Parliamentary Sovereignty: Executive, Civil Service, Special Advisers, Political Parties, and the Future
Chair: Joshua Rozenberg
Robert Hazell CBE, Constitution Unit, University College London
Parliamentary sovereignty, the civil service, and special advisers
Alison Young, University of Cambridge
Does parliamentary sovereignty belong to the legislature or the executive?
Robert Saunders, Queen Mary University of London
Parliamentary sovereignty or party sovereignty
Nick Barber, University of Oxford
After parliamentary sovereignty
16.00–17.00 GMT, Wednesday 11 November 2020
Debate 3: Parliamentary Sovereignty: Courts, Rights, and the International Order
Chair: Joshua Rozenberg
Sir Stephen Sedley, University of Oxford
Parliamentary sovereignty and the courts
Richard Bellamy, University College London
The court of democracy: Parliamentary sovereignty and the political constitution
Helen Mountfield, University of Oxford
Taking back control: what does the sovereignty of parliament mean now?
Geraldine van Bueren, British Institute of International and Comparative Law
Parliamentary sovereignty: The artificial constraint on combatting poverty and providing social justice
16.00–17.00 GMT, Wednesday 18 November 2020
Final Debate: Parliamentary Sovereignty in Perspective
Chair: Denis Galligan, University of Oxford
Sir Adam Roberts, University of Oxford
Meg Russell, The Constitution Unit, University College London
A.C. Grayling, New College of the Humanities
Catherine Barnard, University of Cambridge
David Vines, University of Oxford
The Putney Debates 2019: The Courts: Friend or Foe?
13–14 March 2019
St Mary's Church, Putney
Session I: What Is Judicial Independence and Why Is It Important?
Session II: Is Judicial Independence Under Attack? If So, How - and Why?
Session III: How Can We Defend Judicial Independence?
The Putney Debates 2018: Powers to the Peoples: Electoral Reform & a Federal UK?
2 February 2018
St Mary's Church, Putney
Session I: A Federal UK? The Pros and Cons
Session II: The Electoral System: Is it Time for Reform?
The Putney Debates 2017: Constitutional Crisis in the United Kingdom
Session I: Parliament and the People
2.00-4.00pm, Thursday 2nd February 2017
Denis Galligan (CHAIR), Oxford Socio-Legal Professor and Putney Debates convenor: Parliament and the People
Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Law Professor, Queen Mary University: Parliamentary Sovereignty v Popular Sovereignty
David Runciman, Cambridge political theorist and London Review of Books columnist: The electoral system and the constitution
Michael Mansfield QC, human rights barrister: Valuing the Vote
John Rees, author and spokesperson for The People's Assembly: The Levellers and the Sovereignty of the People
Sir Richard Sorabji, Oxford philosopher and historian: Athens, 17th century England and the Contrast with 18th-19th century America
Akeel Bilgrami, Philosophy Professor, Columbia University: Contemporary Populism and What it Signifies
Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government, KCL: Popular Sovereignty
Anna Coote, Social Policy Analyst, New Economics Foundation: Building a New Social Commons: People and Parliament Working Together
Alexandra Runswick, Director, Unlock Democracy: Brexit and the Case for a Peoples Constitution
Session II: Changing and Strengthening the Role of the People
5.30-7.30pm, Thursday 2nd February 2017
Paul Craig (CHAIR), Oxford Law Professor & Member of Venice Commission: Changing and Strengthening the Role of the People
Philip Kay, Businessman and author of Rome's Economic Revolution: Is Representative Democracy Ripe for Review and Modification in Favour of More Direct Democracy?
Will Hutton, Writer and Political economist: Empowering the Local
John Howell, Governance, finance & development advisor: Unfinished Revolution
Philip Schofield, Professor of Legal & Political Thought, UCL: ‘The People is my Caesar’ Jeremy Bentham’s Radical Democratic State
Robert Hazell CBE, Founder of the Constitution Unit, UCL: We Need Fewer Referendums, with Higher Thresholds
Anne Deighton, Oxford Professor of European Politics: Referendums for EU Politics?
Talha Ahmad, Solicitor and Muslim Council of Britain Committee Member: Muscular liberalism vs inclusive pluralism in post Brexit Britain
Linda Risso, Senior Fellow, Institute of Historical Research, London: Social media and democracy
Mark Knights, History Professor, University of Warwick: Pre-Modern Petitioning and its Implications Today
Session III: Parliament, the Executive, the Courts and the Rule of Law
2.00-4.00pm, Friday 3rd February 2017
Joshua Rozenberg (CHAIR), legal commentator: Parliament, the Executive, the Courts and the Rule of Law
Sir Stephen Sedley, former Lord Justice of Appeal & ad hoc ECtHR judge: Does the Separation of Powers Still Work?
Alison Young, Oxford Professor of Public Law: Prerogative Powers: Are they still needed in the 21st Century?
Adam Wagner, Barrister & Founder of UK Human Rights Blog: The Case for Judicial Review and Human Rights Law
Rob Murray, lead partner at Mishcon de Reya LLP, representing Gina Miller in Article 50 case: The Key Findings of the Supreme Court in the Miller/Article 50 Case
Jonathan Lis, Deputy Director, British Influence: Enemies of Democracy: Taking Back Control through the Courts
Catherine Barnard, Cambridge EU Law Professor: The Legal Constraints on Moving Forward
David Vines, Director of Oxford Programme on Political Economy of Financial Markets: The Role of Experts in Parliamentary Democracy
Michael Dougan, Professor of European Law, Liverpool University: The UK’s Institutional Balance of Power After Leaving the EU
Session IV: Preserving the Liberal Constitution
5.30-7.30pm, Friday 3rd February 2017
Baroness Onora O’Neill (CHAIR), Cross-Bench Peer and Cambridge philosopher: Preserving the Liberal Constitution
Timothy Garton Ash, Oxford Professor of European Studies and Guardian columnist: Voice, Free Speech and Democracy
Frank Vibert, Senior Visiting Fellow, LSE: Rights in the Liberal Constitution
Michael Keating, Professor & Director of Centre on Constitutional Change: Plurinational Democracy
Ailsa Newby, Rector of St Mary's Church, Putney: The Judeo-Christian Principles Underlying the Constitution
Anthony Barnett, Founder of openDemocracy: Democracy Started Here and is Still Just Beginning
AC Grayling, Philosopher and prominent Brexit critic: Constitutionalism: Why it has to be written
Richard Clary, Partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP: Thoughts from Across the Pond: The US Constitution and Representative Democracy (1787, 2017)
Denis Galligan, Oxford Socio-Legal Professor and Putney Debates convenor: The Putney Debates 2017: Concluding comments