Second Annual T.M.C. Asser Lecture: Accountable Institutions, Trustworthy Cultures

08 - 08 December 2016
  • Starts at: 15:30h
  • Fee: Free
  • Venue: Gotische Zaal
  • Organiser: T.M.C. Asser Instituut
  • Address: Paleisstraat 1
    2514 JA The Hague
  • Email:

Across the last fifty years there have been huge efforts to construct more accountable institutions at every level from international organisations to state bureaucracies, from giant corporations and NGOs to small businesses and local charities. A principal instrument in seeking greater accountability has been an extension of law and regulation: more enforceable rules constraining more institutions and their office holders in more of their activities. Yet accountability by regulation has often disappointed. Onora O'Neill shall argue that the principal problem is not that rules do not matter: they are evidently needed for the rule of law, and hence also for the protection of human rights, for democracy, and for commercial life.

However rules are always and unavoidably incomplete and indeterminate. Their use is always a matter of judgement, and it is an illusion to imagine the rules can go ‘all the way down’. Yet contemporary regulation often appears to ignore this well established point. Small wonder that those working in the institutions are so often reduced either to putting excessive efforts into mere compliance—or to cynicism and gaming the system. A more adequate approach to institutional life would  recognise the importance of institutional cultures that acknowledge the importance of institutional life being guided by purposes, standards and cultures that require  and foster the exercise judgement in the use of rules.

Onora O’Neill (University of Cambridge/House of Lords, UK)

Onora O’Neill combines writing on political philosophy and ethics with a range of public activities.  She comes from Northern Ireland and has worked mainly in Britain and the US.  She was Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge from 1992-2006 and Hon Professor of Philosophy in the University of Cambridge. She was President of the British Academy from 2005-9, chaired the Nuffield Foundation from 1998-2010, and has been a crossbench member of the House of Lords since 2000 (Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve). She chaired the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission from 2012-16, and is currently on the boards of the Medical Research Council and the Banking Standards Review. She lectures and writes on justice and ethics, and in particular on the work of Immanuel Kant. Recent publications also address questions about accountability and trust, justice and borders, the future of universities, the quality of legislation and the ethics of communication.

15.30– 17.30hrs, followed by a reception

Registration is closed.

Annual T.M.C. Asser Lecture
The Annual T.M.C. Asser Lecture has been established in honour of the Dutch jurist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Tobias Michael Carel Asser (1838 –1913), and his significant contributions to the development of public and private international law. The Annual Lecture builds on his vision and mission, it invites distinguished international scholars to take inspiration from Asser’s idea of cultivating trust and respect through law and legal institutions, and to examine what it could mean in their area of expertise today.