John M. Kelly Lecture 2018 Delivered by Prof Gerry Whyte

Pictured above: Prof Herry Whyte delivers the 2018 John M. Kelly Lecture

The Kelly Lecture 2018 was delivered by Prof. Gerry Whyte of Trinity Law School,  this year titled “On Lord Ellenborough’s Law of Humanity”. The author or co-author of books on public interest law, constitutional law and trade union law, Prof Whyte has published extensively in the areas of public interest law, constitutional law, social welfare law and labour law. He has also collaborated for many years with a variety of social justice and legal aid organisations, was a former member of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction and of the Steering Group of the Irish Council of People with Disabilities and is a current member of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority. Together with Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan, he has edited the third and fourth editions of J.M. Kelly: The Irish Constitution. We were pleased to have been joined by The Hon. Mr Gerard Hogan who delivered the introduction this year.  Both Prof Whyte and Mr. Justice Hogan are UCD Alumni.

Prof Whyte posed challenging questions relating to the protection of socio-economic rights in the Irish legal system. Taking its cure from R v Inhabitants of Eastbourne (1803) 4 East 103, Prof Whyte questioned whether there is a ‘law of humanity’ which the Irish legal system, whereby socio-economic rights are respected, protected and/or fulfilled. In an engaging address, Prof Whyte noted the re-birth of the law of humanity throughout the 1990s in the United Kingdom. Several judgments sought to use this principle as one of the basis for preventing the absolute destitution of asylum seekers within the UK. Moving onto Irish law, Prof Whyte noted the conservatism of Irish judges overall on recognition of socio-economic rights. Prof. Whyte argued that the constitutional objective of the dignity of the individual could provide a more fruitful arena for judicial dialogue that hitherto has been the case. The freedom to work for asylum seekers and access to criminal legal aid had seen a more restrained (and indirect) invocation of the law of humanity. Prof Whyte noted how the German courts have used their constitutional concept of dignity to further enhance and protect persons at the margins of society. Prof Whyte argued that the concept of dignity within the Irish constitution can only be understood by reference to Catholic Social Thought and the religious references that are still present in the Irish constitution. Acknowledging that this argument may not be popular, Prof Whyte insisted that the Christian and democratic nature of the State can be used by judges in enhancing and respecting the law of humanity in the arena of socio-economic rights.


This lecture series is named for John M. Kelly (1931-1991), Professor of Roman Law and Jurisprudence in UCD 1965-1991. Author of several books including the definitive The Irish Constitution and editor of the Irish Jurist, Professor Kelly also served as Senator,TD, Chief Whip, Attorney General, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Trade and Tourism. His last book, A Short History of Western Legal Theory was published by Oxford University Press in 1992.

Pictured below: The Hon. Mr Justice Gerard Hogan introduces the Kelly Lecture 2018