US college launches fellowships in honour of late human rights barrister Lord Lester

Lester resigned from the House of Lords in 2018 after being accused of sexual harassment

A US college has launched two fellowships in honour of the late British human rights barrister, Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, whose final years were dogged by an allegation of sexual harassment.

The Anthony Lester Fellowships offered by Bard College will help early career lawyers or law students undertake practical fieldwork in human rights and the rule of law in recognition of Lester’s legacy as one of the foremost human rights and public law barristers of his generation.

The Blackstone Chambers tenant, who became a Liberal Democrat peer, campaigned for 30 years for the introduction of the Human Rights Act, which was introduced in 1998 and incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law.

He was also one of the inspirations behind the Sex Discrimination and Race Relations Acts, introduced by the late Lord Jenkins as Home Secretary in the 1960s.

However, he became mired in controversy in 2018 after author and charity worker Jasvinder Sanghera claimed he had sexually harassed her in 2006. He strongly denied the allegation but resigned from the Lords and retired from public life after its committee for privileges and conduct recommended his suspension. 

Lester, who died in 2020, has a family connection to the liberal arts and sciences college in upstate New York as his son, Gideon, is chief executive and artistic director of the Fisher Center, a performing arts centre attached to the college.

The two fellowships, which are backed by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, Open Society Foundation, and the Lester family, include a $25,000 stipend for a minimum three-month project. This initiative recognises Lester’s experience in the American South during the civil rights movement, detailed in his memoir, in which he realised the practice of law could be used to promote political and social change.

Maya Lester KC, his daughter and a barrister at Brick Court, said: “We are delighted to be able to offer these fellowships in memory of our father, who was inspired by his early international experience and an enthusiastic mentor to lawyers early in their careers wanting to do something useful for the world.”

As a tenant at Blackstone, Lester worked alongside prominent colleagues including crossbencher Lord Pannick KC and Dinah Rose KC, now president of Magdalen College, Oxford.

In an address at his memorial service in 2022, which was delayed by the pandemic, Rose said his work was “notable not just as landmarks in the development of public law and fundamental rights in the UK… but also as crucial stepping stones in the careers of the junior lawyers that he took with him”, reported legal journalist Joshua Rozenberg KC.

Tom Weisselberg KC and Jane Mulcahy KC, joint heads of Blackstone Chambers, said: “Anthony was a hugely valued member of chambers, instrumental in its development, and who played a fundamental role in shaping both discrimination and human rights laws. We welcome the launch of these fellowships, particularly given the major role Anthony played in inspiring and developing the careers of so many of the barristers at Blackstone Chambers.”

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