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Introduced by the Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chair of the Committee investigating Commonwealth Studies at the University of London.

In 2009-11, the Hon Michael Kirby served as a member of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) of the Commonwealth of Nations. The group was chaired by Tun Abdullah Badawi (former Prime Minister of Malaysia) and included 10 noted luminaries of the Commonwealth, including Sir Malcolm Rifkind (former British Foreign Secretary).
At a meeting of the EPG, Kirby proposed the drafting of a Charter of the Commonwealth as an urgent priority. Everyone agreed in principle. But they considered that there was insufficient time to settle the draft and to get it approved by the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth. Travelling back to Australia on the long plane journey, Michael Kirby prepared a draft of possible text of the Charter , using airline paper napkins to record his thoughts. When these were typed up and distributed, there was consensus in the EPG that his text should be included in the report, so as to give an impetus to gaining approval. Eventually the EPG report was released (not without resistance) at the CHOGM in Perth in 2011. The final shape of the Charter was approved by officials who used the Kirby draft. In the result, on Commonwealth Day 2013, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II signed the Charter and it came into effect with the approval of all Commonwealth countries.
This lecture will describe the unpromising origins of the Commonwealth Charter, its contents and prospects. Strengths and weaknesses of a soft power document of this kind will be explored. It is Kirby's belief that, if the future of the Commonwealth is to be assured, it must rest on universally endorsed values that can be enforced and influential, rather than on purely historical considerations that are bound to be even more controversial.

Hon Michael Kirby is Former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996-2009) (the nation’s Federal Supreme Court); President of the Court of Appeal of NSW (1984 – 96) and of Solomon Islands (1995-6); Editorial Advisor of LexisNexis Law Reports of the Commonwealth (1985- current); member of the Eminent Persons Group on the Future of the Commonwealth (2010-11); and Chairman of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights Violations in DPRK (North Korea (2013-14).

This keynote lecture is part of the Soft Power in the Contemporary Commonwealth: Approaches, Opportunities and Challenges Conference which is being held online.

To register for the full conference please visit the event page.

All welcome

This event is free to attend, but booking is required. 

This keynote event will be delivered in person in the Wolfson Suite, Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London. It will also be livestreamed and recorded.