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The Putney Debates

About the project

The original Putney Debates, took place in 1647 at St Mary’s Church (Putney, Southwest London) after the first English civil war (1642-1647) between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians, focused on matters of constitution at a historical moment.

The new Putney Debates, revived in 2017, constitute an annual forum for discussion of a constitutional matter in a form accessible to the people. The new Debates have so far concentrated on matters of constitution within the United Kingdom. Our intention is that the Debates will be more international and extend to constitutional themes of broad interest and importance.  Learn more about our past events in the history section.

Advisory group

The planning and conduct of the Putney Debates benefit from the counsel and wisdom of an Advisory Group of the following:  

Nick Barber Oxford University
Catherine Barnard Cambridge University
Richard W. Clary  Harvard Law School
John Howell  Oxford University
Sionaidh Douglas-Scott Queen Mary University of London
Geraldine van Bueren Institute of International and Comparative Law University of London
Denis Galligan Oxford University (Chair)

Putney Debates 2021: The unity of a nation

Relevant publications

The Courts and The People: Friend OR Foe?
(The Putney Debates 2019)

Edited by Denis Galligan

Constitution in Crisis
(The New Putney Debates)

Edited by Denis Galligan

History & past events

Brief history of the original Putney Debates: On 28 October 1647, the weekly meeting of the General Council of the New Model Army (the army of the Parliamentarians of England) held in St Mary’s Church, Putney (a district in Southwest London), turned into a debate about matters of constitution. Stretching over several days, the meeting ranged across critical matters of a great moment. The first English Civil War (1642-1647) had been won, the king (Charles I)  was in captivity, parliament in disarray, and the New Model Army in charge. Competing ideas of constitution were expressed and the Levellers’ proposed Agreement of the People was, after animated debate, consigned to committee from which it never re-emerged.

The new Putney Debates: The 2016 EU membership referendum and events that followed sparked off a wide interest in constitutional issues. Against this backdrop, the Putney Debates were revived in 2017, sponsored mainly by the Foundation for Law Justice & Society (FLJS) with some support from the Faculty of Law Oxford University. The FLJS, an independent institute, has now ceased activities.

Debates so far have covered the constitutional crisis of 2016 following the referendum, the role of the courts whether the allies or enemies of the people, the sovereignty of parliament. The debates are recorded and available on the website: www.fljs.org. Two volumes have resulted, one from 2017, another from 2019. A volume based on the 2023 debates, Democracy in Crisis, is planned.

The Putney Debates are now sponsored by Oxford Global Society, an independent think tank directed by Denis Galligan, Emeritus Professor of Socio-Legal Studies at Oxford University, who chaired the Putney Debates since 2017.