Human rights

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, where we're joined by a prominent keynote speaker.

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.

2021 competition and lecture

The title of the 2021 essay was:

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

The 2021 essay competition took place between January and March. The winner was announced at the Graham Turnbull Memorial Lecture held on 27 April.


You can enter the competition if you’re a current or prospective:

  • law student
  • trainee solicitor
  • pupil barrister
  • junior lawyer (within three years of admission or call in England and Wales at the closing date)

You’re still eligible if you’re currently between stages and intend to pursue a career in law.

Read the full eligibility guidelines (PDF 103 KB)


All entries must address the competition topic and must not exceed 2,000 words (including footnotes).

This is an international human rights competition, so the judges will expect to read arguments based on international and human rights law.

You should include a cover page giving:

  • your full name
  • postal address, email and preferred contact number
  • your eligibility to enter the contest
  • the word count for your entry (including footnotes)

Do not number the pages or include your name in the text of your essay.

Previous winners

Find out what essay questions we’ve asked before and read previous 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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