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.
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.
The Oxford Putney Debates — The Sovereignty of Parliament
4.00–5.00pm, Wednesday 21st October
Lecture: The Future of Parliamentary Sovereignty in a Democratic Constitution
Michael Gordon, University of Liverpool
4.00–5.00pm, 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
4.00–5.00pm, 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
4.00–5.00pm, 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
4.00–5.00pm, 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