Equality and the Quest for Substance in the Jurisprudence of the European Courts

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Is equality an empty vessel or is it a sovereign virtue? Perhaps the only way to provide an objective answer to this question is to note that a right to equality and non-discrimination is widely seen as fundamental in democratic legal systems. But even if we agree on the importance of precluding unjustified distinctions based on prohibited grounds, there is still a long way to go before we can concur on why this should be the case. Failure to identify the human interest that equality aims to uphold reinforces the argument of those who attack it as morally empty or unsubstantiated and weakens its status as a fundamental human right. At a more practical level, the resulting ambiguity renders the development of correlative duties less predictable as well as harder to defend in the face of conflicting rights and interests.

This research will argue that a common understanding of the human interest that equality aims to uphold is feasible within the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice. A normative analysis will be undertaken in order to demonstrate the purpose that a right to equality should serve. A doctrinal study will follow in order to examine how the two Courts have approached that same question through their case-law. A comparison of the normative and doctrinal findings will show that conceptual convergence within the EU and the ECHR in this area is not as far as it might appear initially. The two bodies of equality law are extremely divergent as to the requirements they impose and yet their interpretation by the international judiciary might be properly analysed under a common light. Under that common light, equality emerges as a sovereign virtue in European law.
Date of Award1 Jul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorLorenzo Zucca (Supervisor), Cian Murphy (Supervisor) & Aileen Mccolgan (Supervisor)

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