Past Debates: Watch the Videos

Watch Videos of past Putney Debates 2017-20

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


16.0017.00 BST, Wednesday 21 October 2020

Keynote Lecture: The Future of Parliamentary Sovereignty in a Democratic Constitution

Michael Gordon, University of Liverpool


16.0017.00 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


16.0017.00 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


16.0017.00 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



16.0017.00 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

Buy the Book

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 BogdanorProfessor 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