Professor Kevin Boyle Archive
Material from the archive of Professor Kevin Boyle, human rights academic and activist and lawyer.
Kevin Boyle was born in Newry, Co. Down in 1943. Boyle attended primary school at St. Colman's Abbey primary school, Newry, before continuing his education at the Christian Brothers Grammar School, also in Newry. Boyle earned a Degree in Law at Queens University Belfast in 1965 and a Diploma in Criminology from Cambridge University in 1966. At this time, Boyle returned to Belfast where he became a member of faculty at the Department of Law at Queen's University. At this time in Belfast of the late 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum and Boyle would find himself at the centre of the movement and its energy. These times were formative to Boyle developing a keen understanding of peaceful and democratic means of attaining equality and justice for those discriminated against in the North and internationally. Boyle would be named as Public Relations Officer of the 'Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association' and so also a key member of the group's leaders. Boyle would also be a member of the group 'People's Democracy, along with others such as Bernadette Devlin, Eamon McCann and Michael Farrell. Boyle was one of the marchers on the Civil Rights March from Belfast to Derry on 1 January 1969 which came under abuse and attack at various points along the March until tensions escalated on 4 January at Burntullot Bridge where the marchers came under further attack from Loyalists. Key documents in the series of records relating to the Civil Rights period in Northern Ireland includes minutes of meeting of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and of the group 'People's Democracy' as well as regional civil rights groups across Northern Ireland.
Letters between Boyle and various others involved in the movement offer a new and engaging insight into emotions, tensions and experiences in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s and onwards through the 1970s. "Co-Ordination of Civil Disobedience - New Proposals", a manuscript copy of which, in Boyle's hand, within the archive is a powerful account of new projections to which the Civil Rights Movement, under Boyle's opinion, could take in Northern Ireland. (A44/1/1/5/5)
In September 1972, Boyle took up a position as a post-doctoral student and visiting fellow at the Law School, Yale University, Connecticut. In an account of his time in America, Boyle would write of his experiences of racism and discrimination of Black communities in the United States as well as the role of policing. Boyle would describe a visit to Detroit as "These very streets remind me of the ghettos of Belfast." (A445/4/4) Security and policing would remain one of Boyle areas of expertise throughout his life and career. Following Boyle's return to Ireland from the United States of America in 1974, Boyle would leave Queen's University Belfast, where he would take up the positions of Chair of Law and Dean of Law, in 1978, at University College Galway. While at U.C.G. (NUI Galway) Boyle would be instrumental in developing and expanding the Law Department and also the Law Library collection of the Hardiman Library. Boyle would also work on establishing the Irish Centre for the Study of Human Rights at University College Galway in 1980, which would become the first such institution on the island of Ireland. Today, the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway stands to the early work of Kevin Boyle and others.
In 1984 Boyle and fellow academic Tom Hadden would work in an advisory role to the 'New Ireland Forum', chaired by Colm O'hEocha, who himself was President of University College Galway. Boyle would write much on the constitutional and political fallout from ongoing debate on Northern Ireland at the time. As well as contributing to the New Ireland Forum, publications by Boyle, co-authored with Tom Hadden and others regarding Northern Ireland include "Ten years on in Northern Ireland: the legal control of political violence" (1980) and "Northern Ireland: The Choice" (1994).
In the early 1980's Boyle was involved with Amnesty International, Ireland, which saw him compile research and observations trips to areas such as the Gambia and Somalia in Africa and also to South Africa where Boyle compiled key reports on the effect on the 'pass law' system and of the wider apartheid regime. Boyle's legal work over the previous decade and more would ensure he was one of the pioneering legal minds in Ireland and the U.K. at this time. He took and challenged many cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, with many focusing on alleged assaults and killings by security forces in Northern Ireland. Boyle was also deeply interested in the Diplock (non-jury) court system in operation in Northern Ireland for much of the period of the conflict. Other cases include Boyle representing Jeffrey Dudgeon, whose case Dudgeon Vs the U.K. was central to homosexuality being decriminalised in the U.K, Northern Ireland and also later as a reference point in the Republic of Ireland.
A move to London would come in 1986 where Boyle would become the founding director of the international NGO 'Article 19' - a body concerned with international defence of freedom of expression, press and media standards, anti-censorship, freedom of religious belief and related causes. Boyle would head this body and establish it as an organisation of global importance. Boyle was expert in press, media and broadcast law and the papers around Boyle's work with 'Article 19' and also in an Irish context regarding press and media standards, cases such as the 'Section 31' of the Broadcasting Act which prohibited media coverage that might entice support of organisations who advocate violent means, including Republicans in Northern Ireland, the I.R.A. and Sinn Féin, form one of the indispensable sources on understanding the role of and place of media in Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s.
Boyle would also serve as Chairman of the International Committee for the Defence of Salman Rushdie, who was under threat of Fatwa owing to his writings. Boyle would return full-time to academia in 1990 when we took up the position of Director of the Human Rights at University of Essex, Colchester, where he would act as Director of the Centre for Human Rights until 2001 and again from 2002 - 2006. While at Essex, Boyle worked tirelessly as academic and international advocate for a huge range of areas and disciplines of human rights. Boyle would also continue his legal work and contribute to major cases. One such case was 'Jersild Vs. Denmark, where a documentary film-maker was accused of inciting hatred owing to a film work he had made focusing on a group of right-wing racists known as 'The Green Jackets', in Denmark.
One of Boyle's highest regards is as a teacher and educator. From Belfast to the United States to Galway and finally Essex, among others, Boyle was immensely passionate about a firm understanding and teaching of law and human rights. Boyle was president of the Irish Association of Law Teachers in Ireland and was made an honorary member shortly before his death. In 1998, Boyle was jointly awarded, along with his colleague in Essex, Professor Françoise Hampson, as United Kingdom Human Rights Lawyer of the year.
September 11th, 2001, Boyle took up position of Special Advisor and speechwriter to Mary Robinson, in her capacity as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, based at Palais Wilson in Geneva, a position he held for the following year. One of Boyle's first acts in office, was, along with Mary Robinson, on behalf of the United Nations, was to declare the attacks on the World Trade Centre, New York, as a war crime.
Kevin Boyle passed away on Christmas Day, 2010, following a battle with illness. The Boyle archive represents a wealth of material and unique insights into the field of human rights and law research and scholarship. Its breadth of subject matter, from the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland, later conflict throughout 'the Troubles', international freedom of expression and freedom of religious belief defence, legal analysis and representation, academia and teaching as well as vast amounts of personal correspondence allow for new insights and understandings of Boyle's contributions to the discipline of human rights but also the far reaching effect his work had on individual people's lives.