Journal Article

There is no such thing as a right to dignity

Conor O’Mahony

in International Journal of Constitutional Law

Published on behalf of The New York University School of Law

Volume 10, issue 2, pages 551-574
Published in print March 2012 | ISSN: 1474-2640
Published online March 2012 | e-ISSN: 1474-2659 | DOI:
There is no such thing as a right to dignity

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  • Constitutional and Administrative Law
  • UK Politics


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Human dignity has been the foundational principle of choice of both international human rights law and domestic constitutional rights provisions since the end of the Second World War. However, in spite of widespread international agreement on the importance of the principle, there is a significant degree of confusion regarding what it demands of law makers and adjudicators, and considerable inconsistency in its formulation and application in domestic constitutional law. This paper will argue that much of this confusion stems from loose usage of the term by judges and commentators. The discussion will focus on two characterizations of human dignity frequently seen in domestic constitutional law which cannot be logically reconciled with its role in international human rights law: the idea of a right to dignity, and the related confusion between the concept of dignity and the right to personal autonomy. It will be argued that a move away from these characterizations of dignity would render the principle a more workable and useful tool as a foundational principle of constitutional rights.

Journal Article.  13306 words. 

Subjects: Constitutional and Administrative Law ; UK Politics

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