I am a writer and a Fellow of Exeter College, University of Oxford.

My books stray into many fields, including law, philosophy, natural history, anthropology, archaeology, travel, evolutionary biology and theology. Ultimately they are all attempts to answer the questions ‘Who or what are we?’, and ‘what on earth are we doing here?

I do a good deal of writing that would be classified as non-academic (although I don’t acknowledge any significant distinction between academic and non-academic writing). A recent example is Being a Beast, which is a New York Times Bestseller, was long-listed for the Baillie Gifford Prize (the ‘non-fiction Booker’) and the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing, won the Deux Millions d’Amis literary prize (France), and the IgNobel prize for Biology in 2016.

That book, like most of my other non-academic writing, explores themes directly pertinent to my academic research (such as: Are humans special? How plastic is our identity? Can we know enough about the world to be able to make informed decisions?)

A sequel, Being a Human: Adventures in 40,000 years of consciousness (2021) examines three seismic epochs in the history of consciousness: the Upper Palaeolithic, the Neolithic and the Enlightenment.

My book The Screaming Sky (Little Toller, 2021) was shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize.

Recent and forthcoming books include a novel which seeks to recruit the voices of non-humans in telling a human story (Little Brown Sea, 2022), a book of short stories (The Cry of the Wild: Tales of sea, woods and hill: Doubleday/Penguin, 2023) which illustrates the challenges faced by various non-human species of living alongside us, an examination of contemporary apostasy (Faiths Lost and Found (with Martyn Percy): Darton Longman and Todd, 2023), and a study of the science and law of human/wildlife conflict (When animals and humans clash (with John Cooper): forthcoming: Taylor & Francis).

I contribute to many publications, including the Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, the Times, and the Literary Review.

There is a complete list of publications on this website.

My current academic interests relate mainly to the relevance of identity and personhood in decision-making, and to whether the notion of dignity can do any real work at the philosophical coal-face.

I read veterinary medicine and law at Cambridge, and am a qualified veterinary surgeon. I have a PhD in law/bioethics from the University of Cambridge.

I teach Medical Law and Ethics at the University of Oxford, and am a Visiting Professor and a member of the Oxford University Law Faculty. My Faculty page is here. I am a Senior Research Associate at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and a Research Associate at the Ethox Centre and the HeLEX Centre, all at the University of Oxford. I retain an active interest in veterinary medicine – particularly veterinary acupuncture and general wildlife and large animal medicine. I am a member of the Council of the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists.

I am a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a Fellow of the Linnean Society and a Fellow of the International Society for Science and Religion.

I am married, with six children, and live in Oxford and a remote part of the southern Peloponnese.

I am represented by Jessica Woollard at David Higham Associates, 7th Floor, Waverley House, 7-12 Noel Street, London W1F 8GQ.

Legal Cases

As a barrister I have been involved in many important medical law cases. I was the Chambers and Partners Professional Discipline Junior of the Year in 2011.

Recent and current cases include:

Dignitas v France: 2023-2024

European Court of Human Rights challenge to the assisted dying regime in France.

Karsai v Hungary: 2023-2024

European Court of Human Rights: challenge to the assisted dying regime in Hungary.

Mortier v Belgium: 2019-2022

European Court of Human Rights: challenge to the Belgian Euthanasia law.

Z v University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust and RS: 2020

Court of Protection:challenge to withdrawal of life-sustaining food and fluids from a patient in a prolonged disorder of consciousness

An NHS Trust v Y: 2018

Supreme Court: is the court’s approval needed for the withdrawal of life-sustaining clinically assisted nutrition and hydration in cases of PVS and MCS?

R v Dhanuson Dharmasena: 2015

The first ever prosecution under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003.

Dr. Dharmasena was a junior doctor who attended a Somali woman in labour. The woman had been infibulated as a child, and had subsequently been deinfibulated. The doctor made an incision through scar tissue in order to catheterise the urethra prior to effecting instrumental delivery. He then inserted a suture to stop bleeding from the wound. The prosecution said that this constituted FGM. The trial was contested for two and a half weeks before Sweeney J at Southwark Crown Court. The jury quickly acquitted.

CP v The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority

Acted for the Pro-Life Research Unit, intervening. The claimant, a child with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, seeks compensation from the Authority in respect of injuries said to be caused by the mother drinking during pregnancy. The claim raised fundamental questions as to whether a child in utero is a legal personality who can be the victim of a crime.

Kadir v Mistry [2014] EWCA (Civ)

Now a leading authority on the principles governing the recoverability of damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity in cases of delayed diagnosis.

The Nicklinson and ‘Martin’ litigation: 2012-2014

Supreme Court: Attempt in Nicklinson to introduce voluntary euthanasia by (a) making necessity a defence in some circumstances to murder, by common law evolution; and (b) to say that Article 8 of the ECHR compels this result.
Attempt in ‘Martin’ to extend Purdy: an assertion that Article 8 of the ECHR compels the DPP to promulgate for (eg) doctors, the criteria used in deciding whether or not to prosecute for assisting suicide, and compels the GMC and the SRA to indicate similarly what criteria would be used to decide whether or not to institute regulatory proceedings for assisting suicide. Supreme Court.

R (on the application of Purdy) v DPP

House of Lords: Attempt to force the DPP to promulgate a policy indicating the criteria used in deciding whether or not to prosecute for assisting suicide.

Claire Louise Jones v Conwy and Denbighshire NHS Trust(2009) LS Law Medical 195

Liability of an NHS Trust for epilepsy caused by an intra-cranial accumulation of pus

NHS Trust A v MB (a child) and Mr and Mrs. B. [2006] 2 FLR 319; [2006] Lloyd’s Rep Med 323

Attempt by NHS Trust to withdraw life-sustaining artificial ventilation from a child.

Al Hamwi v Johnston and North West London Hospitals NHS Trust [2005] Lloyd’s Rep Med 309

Extent of clinician’s obligation to ensure that patient had understood warning about risks of amniocentesis.

Steel v Joy: Halsey v Milton Keynes NHS Trust: [2004] 1 WLR 3002; The Times, 27 May 2004: The Independent, 21 May 2004

Effect on costs of a refusal to mediate. Meaning of “concurrent tortfeasors.”

Kataria v Essex Strategic Health Authority, [2004] 3 All ER 522, [2004] Lloyd’s Rep. Med: 215; The Times, 16 April 2004

Meaning of “review”: jurisdiction of Family Health Services Appeal Authority.

R v Chief Constable of West Mercia ex p Jepson [2003] EWHC 3148

Judicial review of police decision not to prosecute for late abortion of a child with cleft lip/palate. Rights of the fetus under ECHR Articles 2, 3, 6 and 8. Compatibility of those Articles with UK law of abortion.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust v As, Bs and others, [2003] Lloyd’s Rep: Med. 151: The Times, 26 February 2003; [2003] 1 F.C.R. 599; (2003) 100(17) L.S.G. 28; (2003), 153 N.L.J. 351; (2003) 100(17) L.S.G. 28; Independent, 5 March 2003

Black twins born to white mother as a result of an IVF mix up. Issue of legal fatherhood. Construction of s. 28 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 and compatibility of that section with the ECHR: 2003.

Hanson v Airedale Hospital NHS Trust Clinical Risk (2003) 9, 169

Failure to institute cardiac monitoring in a patient presenting at an Accident and Emergency Department with central chest pain. Consequent hypoxic brain damage. Application of Bolitho principle: defendant’s position not logically sustainable. Causation: issue of lost chance.

Calver v Westwood Veterinary Group, [2001] Lloyd’s Rep. Med. 20; [2001] Lloyd’s Rep. PN 102; (2000) 58 BMLR 194; [2001] P.I.Q.R. P11

Failure to prescribe prophylactic antibiotics after abortion in a thoroughbred mare. Application of Bolam test.

Inquiry into the care and treatment of Christopher Edwards and Richard Linford

In re D (Mental patient: Habeas corpus), [2001] 1 FCR 218, [2000] Fam Law 805, [2000] 2 FLR 848, The Times, 19 May 2000

Definition of “nearest relative” in section 26 of the Mental Health Act 1983. Whether an approved social worker has a duty of reasonable enquiry in deciding who the “nearest relative” is when applying for a person to be compulsorily admitted to hospital.

Briggs v Pitt-Payne & Lias [1999] Lloyd’s LR: Medical 1: (1999) 46 BMLR 132

Definition of “significant injury” and “attributable” in issues of limitation where negligent misprescription of drugs is alleged.

Drake v Pontefract HA [1998] Lloyd’s LR: Medical 425

Psychiatric team’s liability for failure to control depression and prevent suicide attempt.

Reed v Sunderland HA, The Times, 16 October 1998

Discounting for future contingencies. The status of the Judicial Studies Board Guidelines.

Fallows v Randle [1997] 8 Med LR 160

Laparoscopic sterilisation. Fallope ring found later to be in incorrect position. Application of maxim res ipsa loquitur.

Bancroft v Harrogate Health Authority [1997] 8 Med LR 398

Whether failure to perform a total (cp sub-total) hysterectomy after finding of certain histological changes in cervix was negligent.

Hind v York Health Authority [1997] 8 Med LR 377, [1998] PIQR P235

Damage to anal sphincter. Immediate knowledge of faecal incontinence. When the Claimant acquired date of knowledge for purposes of limitation.

Ogden v Airedale Health Authority [1996] 7 Med LR 153

Liability of health authority to radiographer for occupational asthma caused by inhalation of x-ray developing chemicals.

Kahl v Freistaat Bayern [1995] PIQR P401

Abuse of process. Two actions arising from the same cause of action. Recoverability by a foreign state of sums paid under its own domestic legislation in respect of the financial consequences of a tort in England.

Reed v Doncaster MBC [1995] 11 CL 560

Liability of local authorities for the acts of third parties.

Giles v Pontefract Health Authority (1993) Kemp H2-014

Assessment of future loss of earnings when the Claimant is a young child. Smith v Manchester or multiplier-multiplicand basis?

Hillsborough Disaster Inquest