Trials of the State
18:00 to 19:00
End date
05 February 2020
Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College, Linton Rd, Oxford OX2 6UD
Wednesday, 5 February 2020 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm


Trials of the State: Law and the Decline of Politics

Book Colloquium

***Please note: Due to popular demand, this event will now be held in the Auditorium at the new time of 6pm***

In this book colloquium, a panel discussion will assess British judge and historian Lord Sumption's provocative bestseller Trials of the State: Law and the Decline of Politics, which expands on arguments first laid out in his 2019 Reith Lectures.

In the past few decades, legislatures throughout the world have suffered from gridlock. In democracies, laws and policies are just as soon unpicked as made. It seems that Congress and Parliaments cannot forge progress or consensus. Moreover, courts often overturn decisions made by elected representatives.

In the absence of effective politicians, many turn to the courts to solve political and moral questions. Rulings from the Supreme Courts in the United States and United Kingdom, or the European court in Strasbourg may seem to end the debate but the division and debate does not subside. In fact, the absence of democratic accountability leads to radicalisation.

Judicial overreach cannot make up for the shortcomings of politicians. This is especially acute in the field of human rights. For instance, who should decide on abortion or prisoners' rights to vote, elected politicians or appointed judges? Jonathan Sumption argues that the time has come to return some problems to the politicians.

The panellists will assess the issues raised and present their views on the book, before opening up the discussion for an audience Q&A.


Denis Galligan, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, Oxford

Ezequiel Gonzalez Ocantos, Associate Professor in Politics & International Relations, Oxford

Paul Yowell, Associate Professor of Law, Oxford



brisk, entertaining, brilliant ... one of the great lawyers of our time

Bryan Appleyard, the Sunday Times


Edward Fennell, the Times