Honorary awards

Professor Lawrence Ogalthorpe Gostin

The honorary degree of Doctor of Laws was conferred upon Professor Lawrence Ogalthorpe Gostin, BA HonLLD State University of New York, Brockport JD Duke, FRIPH, by the Deputy Chancellor Alan Cameron AO at the Faculty of Law graduation ceremony at 9.30am on 25 May 2012.

Professor Gostin is Associate Dean (Research and Academic Programs) and the Linda D and Timothy J O'Neill Professor of Global Health Law at the Georgetown University Law Center, where he directs the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law. In 2006, Professor Gostin was awarded the American Public Health Association’s Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award “in recognition of a career devoted to using law to improve the public’s health”.

Professor Gostin gave the occasional address at the ceremony.

The Deputy Chancellor and Professor Gostin

The Deputy Chancellor and Professor Gostin, photo, copyright Memento Photography.


Deputy Chancellor, I present Professor Lawrence Gostin for admission to the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa).

Professor Gostin is an internationally recognised scholar and a global leader in the field of public health law. He is currently Professor of Global Health Law at Georgetown University Law Center, where he directs the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

Through his scholarship, service to governments and participation in public life, Professor Gostin has been a fearless advocate for human rights and for the right to health. He has been influential in shaping the academic field of public health law, and in promoting understanding of how the law can be a tool for a fairer and healthier society. His achievements in mental health law; in HIV/AIDS and human rights; in public health law reform; and in global health law deserve particular recognition.

Professor Gostin’s pioneering work in mental health law began as a law student at Duke University, when he engineered his own admission as a pseudo-patient at a hospital for the criminally insane. Three months later, he was still inside: neither staff nor fellow-patients believed him when he said he was a law student there to assess reports of inhumane living conditions. This personal experience of life in a mental health institution transformed his life and thinking about the vulnerable and disenfranchised in society.

Later, as the Director of the National Council of Civil Liberties in the UK, he brought landmark cases before the European Commission and Court of Human Rights, winning the right to natural justice for mental patients, as well as freedom from inhuman and degrading conditions. In what is now the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom he won for mental patients the right to vote, and access to the courts. A Ministerial memo leaked to the press around this time criticised him on the basis that he was “too innovative”.

Fortunately, that innovation continued. Professor Gostin’s scholarship had a significant influence on the content of the Mental Health Act of England and Wales, with the government adopting two-thirds of the proposals he advocated in his book, A Human Condition. The same book was heavily quoted by the governments of New Zealand and Poland in their reviews of domestic legislation.

Early in his career, Professor Gostin formed a close partnership with the great global AIDS leader, Jonathan Mann. With Mann he wrote the two founding articles on the interrelationships between public health and human rights, and the Human Rights Impact Assessment. Together, as Faculty members at Harvard University, they taught the first course on health and human rights. Since that time, Professor Gostin has served as adviser to the World Health Organisation, World Bank, and U.N. AIDS on a range of policies relating to AIDS. His scholarly writings on law and HIV/AIDS provide a foundation for understanding of this area.

More recently, Professor Gostin has led major public health law reform initiatives in the United States. Following September 11, 2001, and the SARS epidemic in 2003, Professor Gostin led the team drafting the Model Emergency Health Powers Act to combat bioterrorism and contagious disease threats. Many U.S. States have borrowed from this model legislation, which has also been influential in countries in Asia, Europe and Latin America.

In 2006 Professor Gostin was awarded the American Public Health Association's Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of a career devoted to using the law to improve the public's health.

Professor Gostin is currently leading the Joint Action Learning Initiative. This Initiative is a global coalition of civil societies and universities who are advocating for a Framework Convention for Global Health – an international treaty for global health justice. In 2011, the UN Secretary General called on all countries of the world to adopt his proposed global health treaty.

Underlying Professor Gostin’s advocacy and law reform efforts is a vast scholarship. He is the author or editor of 20 books, and many hundreds of articles in journals of law, medicine, science and public health. He is a long-standing friend of this University, particularly through his collaborations with colleagues in the Law School and the Medical School. These include, for example, the drafting of a Public Health Law Manual, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation and International Development Law Organisation. Today we recognise both his service to this University and his world-changing scholarship and achievements.

Deputy Chancellor, I have great pleasure in presenting for admission to the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) Professor Lawrence Gostin, and I invite you to confer the degree upon him.