New DPhil scholarship established in memory of Mertonian James Upcher (2006)

Graduate student Tsvetelina van Benthem is the first recipient of a new DPhil scholarship established in memory of Mertonian James Upcher (2006).

Offered by the Faculty of Law, the James Upcher Memorial Scholarship is intended to facilitate postgraduate study at Oxford by those who, like James, have a passion for public international law and its practical application as a force for good in today's fast-changing world. Tsvetelina will be working on the subject of the legal status of artificial intelligence in armed conflict. She explained what the scholarship has meant to her:

"It is a great privilege to be the first holder of the James Upcher Memorial Scholarship. This award means a lot to me. Firstly, it allowed me to continue my studies at Oxford, which would have been impossible without it. I am grateful for this opportunity to research and write on a topic that I am genuinely (and increasingly) interested in – the regulation of artificial intelligence in armed conflict – and I hope to contribute in a meaningful way to the legal and policy discussion on the subject. Secondly, it is both an honour and an immense motivation to try to follow in the footsteps of Dr Upcher, whose passion was also in the field of international humanitarian law. I hope that I will manage to spark the interest of young lawyers in this important and challenging area."

The scholarship has been established thanks to the generosity of Fietta LLP, a London-based public international law firm, where James was a consultant from its foundation in 2015.

James Upcher was a graduate student at Merton, gaining his doctorate in 2011.  His thesis examined the rights and duties in international law of neutral or non-belligerent states (those that do not participate in an armed conflict).

Before coming to Merton, James read Law as an undergraduate at the University of Tasmania; whilst there he was awarded the Tim Hawkins Memorial Scholarship, which gave him the opportunity to intern at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. James explained where his interest in international humanitarian law stemmed from:

“I have always had an academic interest in international law and was particularly drawn to international humanitarian law from the beginning of my studies. The legal regulation of armed conflict presents issues of moral philosophy in an acutely practical context; these very difficult issues have to be translated into a legal framework that is clear and effective.  The events of 11 September 2001 and subsequent acts of global terrorism—one of which tragically took Tim Hawkins' life—have given rise to new and urgent questions of international humanitarian law.”

James was one of the leading public international lawyers of his generation, as both an academic—he lectured in law at Newcastle University—and a practitioner. Most importantly, he was also a close friend, mentor, humourist, and an inspiration to all who worked with him and knew him well.

James passed away in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on Thursday 18 May 2017, aged 37.