Freedom and Proportionality: A Workshop

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We are delighted to announce the details of a fascinating workshop taking place on 29-30 August 2022 in Molyvos, Greece. This international workshop aims to explore the relationship between freedom and proportionality, bringing together human rights law doctrine and philosophical theorising.

It will do so by pursuing two main themes:

  1. Is there a morally valuable – albeit overridable – freedom to engage in potentially harmful behaviour or should the concept of freedom be inherently limited by the reasonable interests of others?
  2. Is the proportionality test, as applied in human rights law, committed to a particular philosophical conception of freedom? If so, is that conception morally justified?

Underlying these abstract questions are urgent issues of practice about the balance between the individual and society, the correct interpretation and application of rights, and the role of courts and other state institutions in their protection. For example, the relationship between freedom and proportionality is at the heart of controversies over the lawfulness of government measures aiming to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic such as restrictions of movement and economic activity and compulsory vaccinations.

The issue is typically framed in terms of the proportionality between the public benefit of these measures and the intensity of the interference with human rights. However, for many scholars, this framing is deeply problematic. It assumes that such restrictions amount to losses of valuable rights, which must be offset by an overriding public benefit. But, so the argument goes, we do not have even a prima facie right to be a public threat e.g. by carrying a contagious virus. To think otherwise is to assume a highly individualistic and antisocial notion of personal freedom. And yet arguably this assumption underpins the proportionality doctrine, inasmuch as claimants must clear a relatively easy hurdle to establish that a restriction amounts to a prima facie interference with their human rights. As a result, almost any activity or personal preference, however harmful, triggers a proportionality assessment.

By ensuring that proportionality best reflects moral notions of freedom, we vindicate it and guide its use towards the optimal results. The workshop has this dual aim, to elucidate legal doctrine through sustained theoretical scrutiny and improve it, so that it can successfully address contemporary challenges in human rights law.

The workshop is hybrid. Most of the speakers will meet in Molyvos (Greece), the hometown of Stavros Tsakyrakis, who spearheaded the aforementioned line of attack against proportionality. But the proceedings will also be accessible via a Zoom webinar that is open to everyone. The workshop’s programme and registration details can be found below:

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