Professor Sir Ian Brownlie

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Professor Sir Ian Brownlie

Sir Ian Brownlie, CBE, QC, international lawyer, was born on September 19, 1932. He died in a car accident on January 3, 2010, aged 77

Ian Brownlie

















Sir Ian Brownlie: authority on international law


Sir Ian Brownlie was unarguably the British doyen of international law, both in practice and as an academic. A meticulous, determined courtroom presence, he taught and wrote with equal rigour, inspiring numerous students to devote themselves to a career in the law and continuing to care for them long after they had left his charge. The list of well-known cases in which Brownlie acted is long. He represented Nicaragua against the US over the latter’s backing of the Contra rebels, defended Yugoslavia when it challenged the legality of Nato’s intervention and, for Amnesty International, challenged the claim to immunity from extradition by the Chilean general and former dictator Augusto Pinochet. There were, of course, many more cases, all of which were attacked with enthusiasm and professionalism. Ian Brownlie was born in Liverpool in 1932, never losing the northern burr in his accent. Too young to serve in the Second World War, the experience of growing up in a city bombed almost nightly was a strong influence on him, underpinning his general opposition to the use of military force. Liverpool’s cosmopolitan environment was similarly formative.

Appointed CBE in 1993, Brownlie’s skills received further recognition in 1996 when he was elected to the United Nations International Law Commission; he later became its chairman.

His membership was a particular success, recognised when he was re-elected for the third time, receiving the highest ever number of votes. During this period, he took specific responsibility for investigating the effects of armed conflicts on treaties, writing four reports on the subject. In 1999 he represented Amnesty International in its intervention in the House of Lords in the application by Spain for the extradition of Pinochet. Important issues in the case concerned the potential criminal liability of individuals for the crime of

torture, and whether states, on the basis of the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, might prosecute alleged offenders, irrespective of their nationality and where the offence was committed, as well as the extent to which former heads of state benefited from the principle of immunity, if at all. In an important judgment, the Lords held in favour of extradition, although the Home Secretary Jack Straw permitted Pinochet to escape, on account of his ill health.

The year 1999 was also the one in which Brownlie retired from the Chichele professorship and from All Souls. A collection of essays, The Reality of International Law, was compiled in his honour, in which each chapter was written by a former student, leaving many would-be contributors disappointed. Perhaps the most controversial case in which Brownlie acted came later that year, when he represented Yugoslavia against

Nato, after the bombing of Kosovo. Although like many youthful socialists, he had moved towards the right as he got older, he remained a committed leftwinger, and representing Yugoslavia upset some on that side of the political spectrum. However, Brownlie was an independent-minded man who ran his practice according to the cab-rank principle: if he was free, he was available to anyone requiring his services, and would work as hard as he could and to the best of his ability.

That was not the only Balkan matter on which Brownlie took instruction. In 2006 he acted on behalf of Serbia, accused by Bosnia of genocide during the Yugoslavian civil war. This case, as with many in which he appeared, was heard at the International Court of Justice, the highest judicial authority of the United Nations, and again, he obtained a judgment that satisfied his client. It was held that Serbia, through its leader Slobodan Milosevic, had failed to prevent genocide at Srebrenica but was not liable for the acts of the Bosnian Serb militia, which was responsible for the atrocity itself. No damages were awarded.

Despite the time-consuming nature of his professional activity, Brownlie remained a prolific writer. His most famous work was Principles of Public International Law, first published in 1966 and now in its seventh edition. Last June Brownlie was knighted for services to public international law; just recognition for a man who, in the nicest possible way, lived to work. Known for his love of lunch, he was admired for his ability to return to chambers afterwards and continue where he had left off, even when he had enjoyed a few

glasses of wine with his meal. Indeed, even his hobbies pertained to the law; he had a passion for maps and boundaries and owned an extensive collection of atlases.

On holiday in Egypt with his family, Brownlie and his daughter Rebecca were killed in a car accident.

Brownlie was married to Jocelyn Gale in 1957, and they had two daughters and a son. That marriage was dissolved in 1975. Three years later he was married to Christine Appleby, whom he had met when she came to England from New Zealand to study for a postgraduate degree in constitutional law. The two were

inseparable; whenever and wherever he appeared in court, she would be there too, offering criticism and advice. She was in the car with him when he died, but escaped with minor injuries and survives him, along with his son and other daughter.


Times Online Obituary

January 18, 2010


Contenuti correlati: Convegno IX Giornata Gentiliana 2000


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