‘Over the last century, humans have radically transformed airspace: chemically, territorially, militarily and psychologically. Technological developments mean that this transformation is accelerating and growing in complexity. There is widening disparity in the global landscape of power, with civilians increasingly subject to expanding commercial and military exploitation of technology in airspace and outer space and to the consequences of environmental change. The associated threats are not adequately addressed by the contemporary legal framework. There is an urgent need for new thinking. One aspect of airspace requiring development is the human rights dimension.’[1]

Conceived by Nick Grief and Shona Illingworth the Airspace Tribunal considers the case for and against the recognition of a new human right to protect the freedom to live without physical or psychological threat from above. Drawing on wide expertise and experience, it engages the public in discussion and seeks to challenge the narrow terms by which airspace is represented and defined in law.

The hearings consider the changing environmental, cultural, social, psychological, political, military and historical definition, perception and composition of airspace. Its members (‘judges’) are an invited cross-section of the general public who are involved as participants in this initiative, challenging the traditional state-centric view of how international law is created.

The inaugural hearing of this people’s tribunal was held in London in September 2018. Since then, public hearings have been hosted in Sydney, Toronto and Berlin. The hearings have included representations covering a wide range of expertise and lived experience. Kirsty Brimelow QC is Counsel to the Airspace Tribunal. Her role is to question each witness and then facilitate questions from members of the audience, the Airspace Tribunal’s judges. Andrew Byrnes was Counsel to the Tribunal in Sydney. The hearings have been recorded and transcribed in order to document the drafting history of this proposed human right and support a compelling people-focused proposal which will be presented to the UN and other international bodies by December 2022.

A special issue of the Journal of Digital War will be devoted to the Airspace Tribunal hearings and their outcomes. This will be edited by Andrew Hoskins, Shona Illingworth, Anthony Downey, and Renata Salecl, and published in Autumn 2022.

The Airspace Tribunal is part of and informs the development of Topologies of Air, a major new body of artwork by Illingworth, commissioned by The Wapping Project, that was exhibited at The Power Plant, Toronto, from 5 February – 1 May 2022.

[1]Nick Grief, Shona Illingworth, Andrew Hoskins and Martin A. Conway, Opinion, ‘The Airspace Tribunal: Towards a New Human Right to Protect the Freedom to Exist Without Physical or Psychological Threat from Above’ [2018] European Human Rights Law Review, Issue 3, 201.