Oxford Putney Debates
16:00 to 17:00
End date
18 November 2020
Zoom Webinar: http://bit.ly/OxPutney
Wednesday, 21 October 2020 - 4:00pm to Wednesday, 18 November 2020 - 5:00pm


The Oxford Putney Debates 2020: The Sovereignty of Parliament

Parliamentary sovereignty is a fundamental principle shared by democracies around the world, based on the belief that political power should be subject to scrutiny by elected representatives accountable to the people they serve. 

Yet in recent years, this reciprocal democratic settlement between politicians and citizens has been under attack from nationalist authoritarian regimes, anti-liberal populist movements, and disinformation wars – so-called ‘fake news’ – designed to divide and mislead electorates. 

The UK Parliament, widely seen as the model for parliamentary systems worldwide, has been the centre of competing claims around national sovereignty generated by both the Brexit debate and the devolution of power to the constituent nations of the United Kingdom. 

The longue durée of the COVID-19 lockdown and the contested prorogation of Parliament prior to that have called into question just how sovereign parliament really is.

Join us for this year’s Oxford Putney Debates, as we examine The Sovereignty of Parliament to determine who really wields ultimate power – and expose the shifting power dynamics at work under the fault lines of post-Brexit Britain. 


For the first time ever, we will be staging the Putney Debates as a free, interactive, online-only series of debates, open to all and accessible from the comfort of your own home.

The 2020 Oxford Putney Debates will be chaired by the renowned legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg and the founder of the Oxford Putney Debates Professor Denis Galligan.

Our expert panellists include Court of Appeal judges, legal and political commentators, philosophers and campaigners, and constitutional experts, who will set out their vision over a unique series of video commentaries and live webinar debates, staged online throughout October and November.

The Debates will be launched on 21 October with a livestreamed Keynote Lecture on The Future of Parliamentary Sovereignty and the video release of the opening presentations for the first debate. Each week thereafter, we will release a new video package of expert commentaries from our panellists, culminating in a final debate on 18 November. In the week prior to each debate, our online audience can watch the video to prime themselves on the issues at hand, before joining the debate and putting your question to the panel. 

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Programme Details

The Oxford Putney Debates  The Sovereignty of Parliament


4.005.00pm, Wednesday 21st October

Lecture: The Future of Parliamentary Sovereignty in a Democratic Constitution

Michael Gordon, University of Liverpool


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4.005.00pm, Wednesday 28th October

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

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4.005.00pm, Wednesday 4th November

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

Nicholas Barber, University of Oxford

After parliamentary sovereignty


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4.005.00pm, Wednesday 11th November

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, Queen Mary University of London  

Parliamentary sovereignty: The artificial constraint on combatting poverty and providing social justice


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4.005.00pm, Wednesday 18th November

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


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