Yvonne Mcdermott Rees, Professor of Law at the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law in Swansea University

For the latest in our series profiling Irish and Northern Irish lawyers working in countries around the world, we caught up with Yvonne Mcdermott Rees about her work as Professor of Law at the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law in Swansea University, which she joined in September 2017, having previously been a Senior Lecturer in Law at Bangor University.

 

Yvonne Mcdermott Rees, Professor in law at Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law at Swansea University
Yvonne Mcdermott Rees, Professor of Law at the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law in Swansea University

 

Professor Schabas has a quote from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion at the top of his CV –  "Happy is the man who can make a living by his hobby", and I couldn’t agree more.

 

Hi Yvonne, thanks for agreeing to speak with us today. To start, could you please give your full name and title?

Professor Yvonne McDermott Rees FRSA FLSW

Tell us about who you are and what you do?

I am a Professor of Law at the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law in Swansea University, UK. My expertise is in international criminal law, human rights law and the law of evidence, and I currently lead a large interdisciplinary research project, TRUE, which explores the impact of deepfakes on human rights fact-finding processes. I am a Master of the Bench of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales, and a Legal Advisor to GLAN (the Global Legal Action Network). I am from Manorhamilton in north Leitrim originally, but have been living in Wales since 2011. 

Can you describe your training background? 

I did my undergraduate studies (Bachelor of Corporate Law and LL.B.) at the University of Galway from 2003–2007. In my final year, I took various international and human rights law subjects from wonderful lecturers, particularly Dr Ciara Smyth, who ignited a lifelong fascination with this area of law. I then went to Leiden University in the Netherlands where I undertook an LL.M. in Public International Law. I had never countenanced doing a PhD before then, but I had the good fortune of sharing a flat in Leiden with some friends who were undertaking doctorates at Leiden University’s African Studies Centre, and it struck me that getting paid to read the things you are interested in seemed like quite a good way to spend a few years! So I returned to Ireland to undertake a PhD at the Irish Centre for Human Rights under the supervision of a great scholar and mentor, Professor William Schabas. 

Why did you become interested in legal work?

When I was in secondary school, my mother took me to see a lovely guidance counsellor in Sligo, Peadar O’Toole, who asked me various multiple choice questions (e.g., “How much do you like to talk?” – A: a lot!). He said in all his years administering that test, he had never come across anyone who had scored so highly for a single profession than I did for Law. Shortly afterwards, I was on my lunch break from my summer job in a factory, and I was flicking through a copy of U magazine. It featured an interview with Judge Catherine McGuinness, who had just been appointed to the Supreme Court. I remember one of the questions they asked her was about how she broke through the glass ceiling for women in the legal profession, and she replied something along the lines of, “I couldn’t be in this position and claim that there is a glass ceiling”. That made me think that perhaps some of the impressions I had held about class barriers, in particular, in Law might not be as insurmountable as they seemed, or at least that it was worth a try to find out.

Can you tell us some of your professional experiences that have left quite a mark on you personally?

I am so fortunate in my line of work to meet inspiring people on a regular basis. One recent experience that springs to mind was a judicial exchange for judges from Ukraine organised by IRLI in November 2023 that I had the honour to be a part of. I delivered some workshops on open source evidence and fair trial rights to the judges, Nataliya Antonyuk, a judge from the Supreme Court of Ukraine; Liliia Darahan, a judge of the Court of First Instance of General Jurisdiction; and Tatiana Bobko, a judge of the Kharkiv District Court of the Kharkiv Region, at Queens University Belfast. It was so inspiring to meet these talented judges and to learn of the challenges they face in conducting trials while an armed conflict is ongoing. 

 

My research over the last five or so years has aimed to empower legal professionals to effectively use open source information in the pursuit of justice for mass human rights violations.

 

Where are you working now, and why?

I have been working at Swansea University since 2017, where I am a Professor of Law. I love it here – I have great colleagues and students, and the Gower peninsula, where I live with my family, is stunning. 

Why did you decide to work abroad (bring your professional experience and knowledge elsewhere)?

I would have loved to have stayed in Ireland, but as I neared the end of my PhD studies, it was clear that there were very few Lecturer jobs going, so I started to explore opportunities abroad. I took the first job I was offered – as a Lecturer in Law at Bangor University in north Wales – and spent six happy years there before moving to Swansea. I have learned Welsh, have passed a few exams, and am now working towards an A-level qualification.

What drives you to do what you do?

Professor Schabas has a quote from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion at the top of his CV – “Happy is the man who can make a living by his hobby”, and I couldn’t agree more. I love this job, and am particularly honoured to have the opportunity to carry out cutting-edge research with a team of committed and talented scholars and project partners, from whom I have learned so much. 

What sort of an impact would you like to make?

My research over the last five or so years has aimed to empower legal professionals to effectively use open source information (information that anyone can access, by purchase, request, or observation) and user-generated evidence (open or closed source information generated by ordinary users through their personal digital devices) in the pursuit of justice for mass human rights violations. 

Together with colleagues from WITNESS, the Open Society Justice Initiative (Queen Mary University of London), Mnemonic, the Human Rights Center at (University of California, Berkeley), the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex (Hertie School) and the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights (University of Oxford). We have just finished work on a Guide for Judges and Fact-Finders on Evaluating Digital Open Source Imagery, which will be launched in London on 24 May 2024.

Your advice to young people entering the legal profession?

I would say don’t neglect the extracurricular side of things – some of the best and most memorable experiences I had as a student were through being involved in student societies and things like mooting competitions, and I made lifelong friends through those. Make time for yourself and the things that sustain you – you will be a better colleague, friend, and family member if you’re not burned out all the time. Don’t be afraid to say no to things, even though it’s tempting to say yes to everything, especially at the start of your career.

Read more about the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law in Swansea University

 


Resources

Irish Department of Foreign Affairs

Mnemonic, the Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley

The Hertie School

Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, University of Oxford 

The Open Society Justice Initiative, Queen Mary University of London

 




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