Hear from a previous winner of the Graham Turnbull essay competition

Alexander McColl
Alexander McCollCitizens Advice

Alexander McColl, winner of the Graham Turnbull essay competition 2017, shares his experience.

I found out about the Graham Turnbull essay competition while I was working full time as a compliance analyst at a law firm.

I was a few months away from starting the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and had been out of university for a couple of years, so it had been a while since I had written an essay.

There's a big difference in the written output that's expected of you in the workplace compared to when you're studying. I saw the competition as a brilliant opportunity to rediscover the creative freedom of researching and writing about an issue from scratch.

The essay question was: ‘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?'

I've always been very interested in human rights and their enforcement. I have an MA in Global Politics and Law, which primarily focused on international human rights systems and international law, so I was familiar with most of the concepts and legal foundations involved in this question.

I started by researching the government’s proposals and reading the debates that had taken place on this issue in Parliament. The debate is quite polarised and I found an overview of the key arguments provided useful context when starting the legal research.

Despite my familiarity with the issues, the topic was extremely complex, involving the law of the ECHR, international law and international humanitarian law. It was a real challenge to form an argument of so few words in such a short space of time. But it was absorbing and rewarding work.

Attending the Graham Turnbull lecture was truly inspiring.

Members of Graham’s family and his colleagues spoke about his life and work, the circumstances surrounding his death, and about the importance of human rights defenders. The event brought together a lot of people who are interested in human rights.

The keynote was given by Clive Stafford Smith, founder of Reprieve, who delivered a lively talk about their work and the importance of human rights activism.

It was very exciting to be announced as the winner and asked to deliver a 10 minute speech, although it was slightly daunting to be following such powerful speakers.

Ultimately, though, it was an unrivalled opportunity to practise my public speaking and to talk on an issue I care about. I found the audience was very receptive and really put me at ease so that I could enjoy myself.

I'm grateful to the Law Society for running this competition. I would encourage anyone who is looking to practice their skills of written argument, legal research, or who has an interest in human rights to take part.

Winning the prize was a real boost: for my CV, my confidence and my bank balance! It gave me the chance to meet a lot of very interesting and inspiring people, and it reminded me why I want to practise law.