Graham Turnbull human rights essay competition and lecture

The Graham Turnbull essay competition encourages law students and junior lawyers to examine current pressing human rights issues and to consider their impact on the wider system of human rights and law.

It was named in memory of Graham Turnbull, an English human rights solicitor killed in 1997.

The winner of the competition is awarded a £500 cash prize by the Graham Turnbull Memorial Fund at an annual lecture, joined by a prominent keynote speaker.

The competition was previously administered by the Law Society. From 2023, it will be solely organised by the Graham Turnbull Memorial Fund.

While we're sorry to no longer be hosting the competition and lecture, we are glad that its legacy – and that of Graham Turnbull – will continue.

2023 competition

This year's essay title is:

"What are the human rights implications of the failure of a state to take action to prevent global temperature rises which threaten the health or lives of their citizens?"

The deadline for entries is 5pm on Friday 20 October 2023.


The competition is open to all law students, trainee solicitors, pupil barristers, and solicitors and barristers within three years of admission or call at the closing date.

Essays must reach Tony Fisher, chair of trustees of the memorial fund, by email at by 6pm on Friday 20 October 2023.

Entries should be a maximum of 2,000 words, including footnotes.

Proof of eligibility must be included.

The winning essay will be chosen by a panel of distinguished judges. The judges' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Download the full rules and eligibility criteria (PDF 110 KB), which must be read before entering. 

About Graham Turnbull

Graham Turnbull was an English solicitor from Yorkshire.

He travelled to Rwanda in 1994 where he worked as a human rights monitor on the United Nations Human Rights Mission, investigating reprisal killings in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.

He was killed in 1997, aged 37, along with four others, in an apparent state-sanctioned ambush as they travelled in clearly marked UN vehicles.

The killings were condemned internationally and led to the UN temporarily suspending its operations in the region and withdrawing aid workers.

Previous winners

Discover previous essay questions and read the winning entries:

'What improvements, if any, should be made to the Human Rights Act 1998? Why are they needed?'

Read Robert's essay (PDF 171 KB)

Highly commended essays: Devni Mindula Kitulagoda, Katt Godfray


'Has the rule of law been replaced by the law of politics?'

'Is technology an opportunity or a threat for human rights lawyers? Does it increase or reduce risks for lawyers in carrying out their duties and in what circumstances might technology be used to mitigate such risks?'

'Should UK forces have immunity against civil claims brought against them claiming breach of rights protected under the ECHR in situations of conflict, peacekeeping, or policing?'

‘A most radical recommendation? Should interception warrants be judicially authorised or does there need to be democratic accountability?’

A discussion on the Human Rights Act 1998, the European Convention of Human Rights, and the Magna Carta.

‘The roots of many of our basic rights go back to Magna Carta, whose 800th anniversary is being celebrated in 2015.

Given this important legacy, to what extent would proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights impact on the protection of human rights in the UK and around the world?’

Read Ian’s essay (PDF 691 KB)

‘Applying human rights and humanitarian law, in what circumstances should forcible measures be permitted against a state that is subjecting its people to human rights abuses?’

‘In view of the scope and extent of the civil legal aid cuts, is the UK in breach of its obligations under the European Conventions on Human Rights?’

‘In the light of the growing prison population, should we look for alternatives to imprisonment?’

‘Does everyone in the UK have access to adequate housing, health care, social security and employment? If not, would a bill of rights help?’

‘Can human rights be universal and have respect for cultural relativism?’

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