A painting of Eleanor Rathbone with white text reading 'Eleanor Rathbone Public Lecture Series'.

Eleanor Rathbone Social Justice Public Lecture Series

Our Eleanor Rathbone Social Justice Public Lectures are a long-standing annual public lecture series hosted by the Department.


In 1905, Eleanor Rathbone played a key role in establishing the School of Social Science at the University of Liverpool. She was the first woman to be elected to Liverpool City Council in 1909 and, in 1929, she was elected as an independent MP.

A pioneering feminist who was also deeply concerned with the corrosive impacts of poverty, Eleanor Rathbone was instrumental in the establishment of Family Allowances (introduced in 1945 and later called Child Benefit). She was also a passionate advocate of human rights and served as the Founding Chair of the Parliamentary Committee for Refugees.

In fact, throughout her adult life Eleanor Rathbone was committed to progressive social reform and, in recognition of her contribution to the University and, more broadly, to the advancement of social justice, the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology convenes an annual series of public lectures in her name.

The Eleanor Rathbone Social Justice Public Lectures were established in 2008 and they are coordinated by Professor Barry Goldson.

The lectures are free to attend and audiences typically comprise a range of ‘publics’ from within the University and the wider city of Liverpool and beyond.


Current Programme (2023-24)


Wally Brown

'Race' and Social Justice in Liverpool: Reflections and Prospects

13 December 2023 | School of Law and Social Justice Building

Wally Brown CBE DL

By reflecting upon a range of personal and professional experiences, extending over eight decades, this lecture will map key milestones in the post-war history of ‘race’ relations in Liverpool. The lecture will also assess progress and prospects for ‘race’ relations in, and beyond Liverpool, and locate them within the context of wider struggles for social justice.

Wally Brown was born in Liverpool and for most of his adult life he has been, and remains, a prominent champion of social justice. He was a founder member of the Liverpool Black Organisation (LBO) in the 1970s and was active within the Merseyside Anti-Racist Alliance (MARA). Later he was Chair of the Merseyside Community Relations Council (MCRC), a member of Lord Gifford’s inquiry team into race relations in Liverpool - after the 1981 uprisings - and a co-author of the major report deriving from the Inquiry, ‘Loosen the Shackles’, that published in 1989. Following, appointments as a Senior Youth Worker in the Toxteth area of Liverpool, an Adult Education Manager in Manchester and Head of Community Education in the London Borough of Lambeth, Wally returned to Liverpool in 1991 to take up the post of Principal of Liverpool City College, during which time he was also actively engaged with a range of community-based organisations including the Liverpool 8 Law Centre and the Charles Wootton Centre. Wally was awarded a CBE in 2001 and, in 2012, he was made a Freeman of the City of Liverpool in recognition of his services to education. In 2015 he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Merseyside and his autobiography, Wally Brown: A Life Born and Raised in Liverpool 8, was published in 2023.




Ann Skelton

Advancing Social Justice: Children as Agents of Social Change through Protest and Litigation

13 March 2024 | School of Law and Social Justice Building

Professor Ann Skelton

The lecture will trace children's activism from school strikes in the UK in 1911 (in protest against school caning), to children's actions against climate change in recent years and it will engage with examples of children's activism around the world. It will explore how the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and other UN entities view children as human rights defenders, and how children's rights to peaceful assembly and to protest should be operationalised, while providing sufficient safeguards. The lecture will consider the appropriate means of managing protests involving children, including guidance recently provided by UNICEF. The final part of the lecture will reflect on children as litigants in strategic litigation before the courts and it will assess the appropriateness of this as an avenue for children to bring about social change and social justice.

Professor Ann Skelton is currently the Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. She is Professor of Law and holds the UNESCO Chair in Education Law at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. She is also a Professor of Law and holds the Chair on Children’s Rights in a Sustainable World at the University of Leiden, Netherlands, where she is the Programme Director of the Master of Laws Advanced Studies in International Children’s Rights. She has been a human rights lawyer in South Africa for over 25 years, specialising in children’s rights and her work is extensively published. She established the strategic litigation work at the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria and has appeared as counsel in numerous landmark cases in the South African Constitutional Court.




 Deborah Coles.

Women's Deaths in Prisons: Struggles for Truth, Social Justice, and Accountability 

5 June 2024 | 17:00 - 19:00 | School of Law and Social Justice Building

Deborah Coles

INQUEST is the only charity in the UK that focusses exclusively on state-related deaths. The lecture will focus upon the charity’s thematic work on deaths of women in prison. It will explore the commonalties between cases and across different prisons and the questions that this raises regarding failings in the state’s duty of care, the striking lack of learning from numerous investigations and inquests and further failures to implement official recommendations. The final part of the lecture will look at what is to be done in terms of progressing social justice, challenging systemic cultures of complacency, immunity and impunity and INQUEST’s goal to obtain democratic accountability and systemic and transformative social change.

Deborah Coles is the Director of INQUEST and leads on its strategic policy, legal and parliamentary work. She has considerable expertise in working to prevent death and ill-treatment in all forms of detention and for more effective accountable learning after state-related deaths. Deborah has served as an independent expert advisor to numerous committees and inquiries. She was the special advisor to Dame Elish Angiolini, the chair of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody, and she was a member of both the Advisory Group to the Harris Review of deaths of children and young people and the Corston Review of women in prison. Deborah also represents INQUEST as a member of the Government’s Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody and was a longstanding member of the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody. She is also an advisor to Clean Break Theatre Company and, in 2023, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Essex for her work on human rights and equality issues.

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Previous Presenters

The Eleanor Rathbone Social Justice Public Lectures are presented by leading figures who have made/are making distinctive contributions to the advancement of social justice.

Previous presenters (in alphabetical order) include: Louise Amoore, Professor of Political Geography, Durham University; Alice Bloch, Professor of Sociology, University of Manchester; Aditya Chakrabortty, Columnist, The Guardian; Mary Daly, Professor of Sociology, University of Oxford; Lesley Dixon, CEO of PSS; Danny Dorling, Professor of Human Geography, University of Oxford; Claire Dove CBE DL, Crown Representative for the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector; Lisa Doyle, Executive Director of Advocacy and Engagement, Refugee Council; Conor Gearty, Professor of Human Rights Law, London School of Economics and Political Science; Nick Hardwick, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons; Gordon Hughes, Professor of Criminology, Cardiff University; Omar Khan, Director of the Runnymede Trust; Ruth Levitas, Professor of Sociology, University of Bristol; Baroness Ruth Lister, Professor Emerita, Loughborough University and Member of the House of Lords; Jimmy McGovern, Dramatist and Screenwriter; Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales; Pat O’Malley, Honorary Distinguished Professor of Criminology, Australian National University; Sophia Parker, Director of Emerging Futures, Joseph Rowntree Foundation; Susan Pedersen, Professor of History, Columbia University; Kate Pickett, Professor of Epidemiology, University of York; Nicole Rafter, Professor of Criminology, Northeastern University; Phil Scraton, Professor of Criminology, Queens University Belfast; Andrew Sayer, Professor of Social Theory and Political Economy, Lancaster University; Baroness Vivien Stern CBE, Member of the House of Lords; David Stuckler, Professor of Political Economy and Sociology, University of Oxford; Sylvia Walby, Professor of Sociology, Lancaster University; Sandra Walklate, Professor of Sociology, University of Liverpool; Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission; Tony Wright MP, Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee and the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons; Gary Younge, Professor of Sociology, University of Manchester, and Lucia Zedner, Professor of Criminal Justice, University of Oxford.

Please note that the designations and affiliations of the selected previous presenters were accurate at the time of their respective lectures.


Further Information

If you would like to receive regular information/updates on the Eleanor Rathbone Social Justice Public Lecture Series, please send an email – with ‘Eleanor Rathbone Lectures Email-List’ as the subject line - to: slsjmret@liverpool.ac.uk.




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