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Tribute to Jonathan Cooper

Bingham Centre tribute

Jonathan Cooper, who died suddenly on a walk with his husband and a friend in the Scottish Highlands last week, made an enormous contribution to the furtherance of human rights and human dignity in the UK and around the world.

After reading history at Kent, he began his legal career as a researcher with Liberty and then Justice on the shape of what became the Human Rights Act 1998. Later a member of Doughty Street Chambers, outside of his own practice he worked tirelessly and effectively on different aspects of human rights, and especially on the rights of, and discrimination against, LGBT+. He was the long-serving editor of the European Human Rights Law Review, a role he fulfilled with passion, commitment and extraordinary patience. With Tim Otty QC, he formed the Human Dignity Trust. In 2007 he received an OBE for services to human rights.

The Bingham Centre was fortunate to have him as our Director of Education and Training in the very early days of the Centre, from 2011 to 2012, during which time he conceptualised the Centre's training function and developed its training programme in the Rule of Law both in the UK and internationally. On one occasion, in St Petersburg, one of his courses to the police had sufficient impact to provoke Vladimir Putin's office to order that the course be cancelled. Colleagues who worked with him fondly remember his humour, his kindness, his mischievous irreverence, his professionalism and above all his passionate commitment to human rights and equality.

Jonathan was also renowned for his courses through the Foreign Office, where he helped train lawyers and others across the world in human rights. The FCDO regarded him as a highly respected and expert adviser and consultant on human rights issues, with a deep understanding of how human rights fitted into constitutional arrangements, not least in relation to the UK's overseas territories.

In 1997, during the passage of the Human Rights Bill, Jonathan instructed two future Directors of the Bingham Centre, our current Director Murray Hunt and our founding Director Professor Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, to advise as to whether there would be any judicial recourse if a minister failed to sign a s. 19 ECHR compatibility statement or failed to provide a reasoned explanation for such a statement. It was a characteristically prescient question to ask, anticipating the importance of reasoned explanations to Parliament of the ECHR compatibility of legislation in a democratic system for human rights protection, at least a decade before Parliament persuaded the Government to routinely provide such explanations in the form of an ECHR memorandum accompanying every Bill.

The rule of law and human rights community, not just in the UK but across the world, is mourning the loss of Jonathan - a remarkable and passionate lawyer, ahead of his time, whose time with us, alas, has ended too soon.

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