The Corner House awarded 2008 Human Rights Award

On 8 December 2008, The Corner House was awarded a Human Rights Award "for the knowledge, skill and energy shown in their dedicated work to help the disempowered of the world" by Liberty, JUSTICE and the Law Society. The Awards are held every year to commemorate International Human Rights Day on 10 December and aim "to recognise and encourage individuals and organisations whose work is dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of others."

Since 2000, two UK organisations, Liberty and JUSTICE, have presented annual Human Rights Awards, sponsored by the Law Society. The Awards are held every year in December to commemorate International Human Rights Day on 10 December and aim "to recognise and encourage individuals and organisations whose work is dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of others."

On 8 December 2008, The Corner House was awarded the Human Rights Award (for an organisation or non-legal individual) "for the knowledge, skill and energy shown in their dedicated work to help the disempowered of the world".

Others short listed for this award were:

Rachel Head "for her exceptional voluntary work with Dudley Citizens Advice Bureau, and in particular her tireless contribution to securing justice for a client who had been subjected to racial and religious abuse"; and

Fulham Legal Advice Centre "for outstanding contributions to innumerable lives in the local community, despite an incredibly difficult year, especially to those without other forms of assistance".

In accepting the award, Sarah Sexton of The Corner House thanked those who had nominated The Corner House and the judges:

"It is actually rather strange for me to be standing here alone as none of what I do or indeed The Corner House does would be possible without the work of others: of my immediate Corner House colleagues, Larry Lohmann, Susan Hawley and Nicholas Hildyard, who unfortunately cannot be here this evening. What we have done in the legal world this year, such as bringing a judicial review [of the Serious Fraud Office decision to stop its BAE-Saudi Arabia investigation], would not have happened without the work of Campaign Against Arms Trade, of all those members of the public, civil service and journalists who strive tirelessly in their own areas, nor without the work of those whom we've somewhat possessively come to call our legal team, particularly Jamie Beagent, Richard Stein, Ben Jaffey, Dinah Rose, Philippe Sands and David Pannick. I know that we have all acquired much knowledge from them and have been inspired by their dedicated skill, energy and imagination.
"But, more importantly, none of what we do would be possible without the countless individuals and groups in this country and around the world, some of whom I could name, but many of whom I cannot, who are the real heroes when they risk, and sometimes lose, their livelihoods, their health or their lives in their dedicated work to ensure that justice is done and that human rights are respected.
"Over the years, we've learnt that the struggle for human rights and justice rests on solidarity. So my colleagues and I feel that this award is as much in recognition of all those who cannot come forward today or any other day, and of all those nominated for it and those who nominated them. Their collective work certainly empowers us in what we do. Thank you."

The Peter Duffy Award (aimed at individuals aged 35 or under, such as campaigners, lawyers, activists or academics) went to Ajanta Kaza "for her remarkable efforts to promote and protect human rights on a pro bono basis and in particular her exceptional work in support of freedom of expression."

Also shortlisted for this award were Anya Serota "for her innovative work in bringing together 42 high profile writers to create which was part of the successful campaign opposing Government plans to hold terror suspects for 42 days without charge" and Jan Doerfel "for his tireless and tenacious work in the field of human rights, in particular on behalf of vulnerable minorities."

The Human Rights Lawyer of the Year Award (for solicitors, barristers, legal executives, trainees, pupils, legal academics and judges) went to Timothy Otty QC "for his remarkable work, often conducted on a pro bono basis, and in particular his work in support of those subject to the worst excesses of the 'war on terror', such as control orders and the detention of UK residents at Guantanamo Bay."

The two others shortlisted were John Cooper "for his committed pro bono work representing bereaved families of military personnel who have died in service or at home, including his work on the Deepcut barracks cases" and Martin Howe "for fearlessly representing and campaigning on behalf of retired British Army Gurkhas in their battle for settlement rights, which generated enormous public support and culminated in legal victory."

The judges gave a Special Judges Award to Member of Parliament Diane Abbott "for her passionate campaigning and brilliant advocacy on behalf of a range of human rights issues, most recently in opposition to proposals for 42 days pre-charge detention and in defence of women's right to abortion."

The judges were Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty; Roger Smith, Director of JUSTICE; and Paul Marsh, President of the Law Society. Paul Marsh, President of the Law Society, said:

"Judging these awards was a real privilege and all the shortlisted entries should be proud of their achievements. Without the efforts of all those devoted to the promotion and protection of human rights the principles of justice and fairness would not be upheld . . .
"Never easy, frequently controversial, and all too often in the face of the great pressure an power of the popularist press, there can be no more important dimension to the work of lawyers than protecting and promoting human rights. . . .

Roger Smith, director of JUSTICE, said:

"The winners of these awards indicate what we know more generally: the [1998] Human Rights Act has galvanised many to the defence of those who would otherwise be marginalised in the legal system of this country . . .
"Many have played a major role in the integration of human rights into the domestic law of the United Kingdom . . . But there are also many who have not had such recognition. For some, this is because their work has taken place within organisations like police forces or local authorities; in negotiation with such organisations; or in litigation and court cases that did not reach the national stage. It is at this level that much of the real work of integrating a human rights culture necessarily takes place . . .
"Times remain uneasy. The government's retreat on its proposed 42 days of detention was a hard won victory. But the threat of terrorism has provided the basis for a sustained attack on the value of human rights . . ."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said:

"In these dark times, where almost every day there is another mauling of the Human Rights Act, the dedication and hard work of these organisations and individuals is truly uplifting. It is a heartening experience to judge these awards and rightly recognise the important contributions made by all those short-listed."

JUSTICE is an independent legal human rights organisation founded in 1957. It aims to promote access to justice, human rights and the rule of law, working through research, education, lobbying and interventions in the courts. Its particular current concerns are: counter-terrorism and human rights; criminal justice; the EU; legal aid; and the rule of law and the constitution.

Liberty is an independent membership human rights and civil liberties organisation that campaigns through the media, undertakes pioneering legal casework, lobbies Parliament, and provides advice and assistance to members of the public and voluntary groups.

The Law Society regulates and represents solicitors in England and Wales. It believes that the legal profession in general and solicitors specifically have a clear role to play in championing the values and concepts of justice, fairness, equity and legitimacy. It aims to promote the values and principles that underpin the legal profession by supporting the legal profession in upholding the rule of law, advocating access to justice and promoting and protecting human rights.

For more information on the human rights awards, click here.

See also a list of individuals and organisations who have been nominated for or given these awards.