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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Professor George Williams

“This has been not only an excellent professional experience for me, but also of great value for my family. I will certainly be extolling the virtues of this program, and Durham University more generally, when I return to Australia.”

Professor George Williams AO, University of New South Wales

IAS Fellow at Ustinov College, Durham University (October - December 2015)

George Williams AO is the Anthony Mason Professor, a Scientia Professor and the Foundation Director of the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law at the Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. As an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, he has been engaged in a five year international project on anti-terror laws and democracy. He has held visiting positions at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Columbia University Law School in New York and University College London.

Professor Williams has written and edited 34 books, including Australian Constitutional Law and Theory, The Oxford Companion to the High Court of Australia, Human Rights under the Australian Constitution and Global Anti-Terrorism Law and Policy. He has appeared as a barrister in the High Court of Australia in a number of cases over the past two decades, including in matters on freedom of speech, freedom from racial discrimination and the rule of law. He has also appeared in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal of Fiji, including on the legality of the 2000 coup.

He has served on a number of public inquiries. As chair of the Victorian Human Rights Consultation Committee in 2005, Professor Williams helped bring about Australia’s first State bill of rights, the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. In 2007 he chaired a NSW Government inquiry into Options for a New National Industrial Relations System that produced the historic referral of State industrial power over the private sector to the Commonwealth. He also served on a High Level Advisory Group on Federal-State Relations to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd MP. More recently, he was a member of the NSW Government’s Panel to Examine Recall Elections and assisted the Northern Territory in its attempt to become Australia’s seventh State as a member of its Constitutional Convention Committee.

Professor Williams has been a columnist for The Australian and the Canberra Times and an on-air analyst for ABC Television, and is now a columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald. He also reviews science fiction and fantasy books for The Weekend Australian and Books and Arts Daily on ABC Radio National.

He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2011: ‘For distinguished service to the law in the fields of anti-terrorism, human rights and constitutional law as an academic, author, adviser and public commentator.’

While at the IAS at Durham, Professor Williams will be working the following issues:

  1. What does the Australian experience suggest by way of improvements that could be applied to the UK Human Rights Act, or to any British Bill of Rights?
  2. What insights can be drawn from the Australian experience of parliamentary scrutiny on human rights grounds, and in particular from a model that vests exclusive power in parliament in this regard?
  3. What can be learnt from the Australian experience about the appropriate way of consulting with the community about human rights protection? How can such processes contribute to public confidence in human rights instruments?

Public Lecture - Human Rights in an Age of Terror

A central question facing democratic nations is how to combat the threat of terrorism while safeguarding human rights such as freedom of speech and the right to a fair trial. Unless nations achieve an appropriate resolution, they risk undermining the very freedoms they are seeking to protect from terrorism. These questions have been at the forefront of legal and public policy debate since the September 11 attacks, and have assumed a renewed urgency as nations seek to respond to the increased threat of terrorism brought about by fighters returning from conflicts in Syria and Iraq. This talk will examine these debates, and how these problems are being addressed, with a particular focus in Australia, which has enacted a new array of anti-terrorism laws that are stunning both in their number and scope.

Listen to the lecture in full

Professor George Williams Publications

Hardy, K., & Williams, G. (2016). 'Australian Legal Responses to Foreign Fighters', Criminal Law Journal, 40(4), pp. 96–212.

Williams, A. & Williams, G. (2016) ‘The British Bill of Rights Debate: lessons from Australia’, Public Law 2016, pp.471-490.

Williams, George, & Reynolds, Daniel (2016) 'The Operation and Impact of Australia’s Parliamentary Scrutiny Regime for Human Rights' Monash University Law Review, 41 (2), pp. 469 -506.

Williams, George (2016) 'Should the Australian Constitution Establish an Indigenous Advisory Body?' Australian Indigenous Law Review (2015), 18, pp. 111-121

Williams, G. (2015)
‘An Australian Perspective on the UK Human Rights Debate’, AUSPUBLAW.

Williams, G. (2015) 'A
n Australian Perspective on the UK Human Rights Act Debate’ UK Constitutional Law Blog.

IAS Insights Paper


The UK Human Rights Act has played an important role in protecting human rights in the UK, but has also come under sustained attack, particularly from members of the Conservative Party. The Cameron government proposed to repeal the Act, and to replace it with a British Bill of Rights. The object of this paper is to provide an Australian perspective on this debate. This experience is pertinent because Australia has twice enacted modified versions of the Human Rights Act that respond to some of the concerns that have arisen around the UK instrument.

Insights Paper