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Prof. Dr. Niels Petersen
Lehrstuhl für öffentliches Recht, Völker- und
Europarecht sowie empirische Rechtsforschung
Universitätsstr. 14-16
48143 Münster

Tel.: +49-251-83-22021

E-mail: niels.petersen [at]

Webpage of the professorship | Webseite des Lehrstuhls


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ERC Consolidator Grant project: Correcting Inequality through Law

Picture equality.png

Equality is one of the main political concerns of our time. Rising economic inequality is often cited as a major reason for the recent rise of political populism. But economic inequality is not the only problem. Inequalities based on gender, race or nationality are also major issues in the contemporary discussion. While most commentators discuss political solutions, the proposed research project analyses the contributions that courts can make to correct inequalities. Norms protecting equality form part of all major national and international human rights instruments. However, the meaning of equality is fundamentally contested. There is no agreement on what equality exactly means or entails. The question, therefore, is not whether legal equality guarantees can tolerate inequality, but to what extent they can do. Because of these conceptual difficulties, the application of equality and non-discrimination clauses is not a straightforward exercise, in which courts simply apply legal norms to a given set of facts. Instead, courts need to develop doctrinal instruments to give meaning to the concept of equality.

The research project “Correcting Inequality through Law”, which is funded by a Consolidator Grant of the European Research Council and runs from June 2019 to May 2024, analyses how apex courts conceptualize equality in constitutional and international human rights law. It will be based on a comparative study of the equality jurisprudence of 16 courts and jurisdictions (Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, India, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States, UN Human Rights Committee, ECtHR, IACtHR, AfrCHPR). It has three aims. Firstly, it intends to create a comparative map of equality jurisprudence, i.e. to describe and categorize the constitutional jurisprudence on equality: Which doctrinal choices do courts make and how do these choices inform the conception of equality? Secondly, it seeks to explain the doctrinal choices of the analyzed courts: Which factors influence courts to arrive at particular conceptions of equality? Thirdly, it has a normative goal and examines whether courts are better suited to correct certain kinds of inequalities than other kinds of inequalities.