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Charlotte O'Brien



Professor Charlotte O'Brien
BA (Cantab), LLM (Leeds), PhD (Liverpool), PGCAP (York)


I joined York Law School in 2009, having completed an AHRC funded PhD at the University of Liverpool and taken part in two research projects on retirement migration funded by the Spanish Ministry for Employment & Social Affairs and Age Concern. These looked at the access to welfare services for post-retirement EU migrants.

Prior to the PhD, I completed the LLM in Law at the University of Leeds, where I undertook research assistance work on the EU constitutional treaty. My first degree was Social & Political Sciences, at the University of Cambridge. As a graduate I have volunteered and been employed with different Citizens Advice offices, and have since integrated case work and supervision into both research and teaching.

For media coverage, news articles and blogs, see the external activity page



  • EU social law, UK public law and human rights law
  • EU policies on social security coordination, migration, citizenship, labour law and asylum
  • The implications of Brexit for women and children 
  • The implications of Brexit for EU nationals' rights 
  • Theories of equality and fundamental rights
  • Welfare law, policy and reform  
  • Feminist and sociolegal analyses of all the above

PhD supervision: I welcome applications from prospective research students in these and related areas; please get in touch if you would like to discuss a proposal.


  • The EU rights project

I was awarded an ESRC future research leaders grant for the EU Rights Project which ran until mid 2017. It was an innovative legal action research project, in which I worked with Craven & Harrogate Districts Citizens Advice to set up a specialist advice and advocacy service on EU welfare claims. While advising and representing clients, I conducted a parallel study of administrative obstacles we encountered. This 'advice led ethnography' is a new way to interrogate EU law. It combines socio-legal studies with theoretical, philosophical and historical work on EU social law. It yielded very rich data, revealing and challenging injustices that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.  

The major output from the project is the monograph, Unity in Adversity: EU Citizenship, Social Justice and the Cautionary Tale of the UK (Oxford: Hart, 2017). which draws upon the case studies to demonstrate political, legal and administrative obstacles to justice faced by EU nationals in the UK. 

'Doctrinal mastery. Intellectual rigour. Conceptual depth. Empirical enrichment. O'Brien's landmark text offers its readers all of these qualities. But she also writes with a clarity and honesty of purpose that is an inspiration to her readers. Particularly at a time when certain political actors seek to vilify “expertise”, Unity in Adversity is a testament to the value of independent and critical academic research.'Professor Michael Dougan, University of Liverpool

  • Brexit

Drawing upon the findings in the EU Rights Project I've been able to contribute to the debates and analysis of Brexit documents and processes. 

  • I was invited to give evidence on the EU Withdrawal Bill at an oral session of the house of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee. The video of the session is available here.
  • My evidence has been cited on the floor of the House of Commons, by Stephen Timms MP on the 12 October (column 521).
  • And at length by Joanna Cherry MP, Seema Malhotra MP and Stephen Timms MP during the European Union (Withdrawal Bill) debate, on 21 November 2017, columns911-921.
  • Stephen Timms MP has further referred to my evidence in an oral submission before the Committee for Exiting the European Union (para Q203):
  • My evidence was drawn upon heavily in the final report of the House of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee on the European Union (Withdrawal Bill), published 17 November 2017. 

I have submitted written evidence to the House of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee on the progress of the exit negotiations, specifically on the rights of EU citizens in the UK.

I have given presentations to the London Assembly, the Public Law Project conference, and the Hart Judicial Review conference on Brexit, free movement and EU nationals' rights. 

This is all very much ongoing research, not least since keeping up with negotiations and new documents is a job in itself. I am currently working on several publications on the implications of Brexit for EU nationals' rights, for free movement and EU citizenship, and for women's rights.


Selected publications

  • O'Brien, C. Done Because We Are Too Menny” The Two-Child Rule Promotes Poverty, Invokes a Narrative of Welfare Decadence, and Abandons Children’s Rights (2018) 26(4) IJCR 700-739 

  • New monograph - a socio-legal study of EU law in action: O'Brien, C., "Unity in Adversity: EU Citizenship, Social Justice and the Cautionary Tale of the UK (Oxford: Hart, 2017)

  • C. O'Brien 'Commentary on Zambrano' in H.. Stalford, K. Hollingsworth & S. Gilmore Rewriting Children's Rights Judgments: From Academic Vision to New Practice  (Oxford: Hart, 2017)

  • C.O'Brien, 'Union citizenship and disability: restricted access to equality rights and the attitudinal model of disability' in D. Kochenov (ed)EU Citizenship and Federalism: The Role of Rights (Cambridge University Press, 2017) p. 509-539

  • C. O'Brien., The ECJ sacrifices EU citizenship in vain: Commission v UK, 54(1) CML Rev (2017) 209-244

  • C. O'Brien "Civis capitalist sum: class as the new guiding principle of free free movement rights" (2016) 53(4) Common Market Law Review 937-977

  • C. O'Brien '"Hand-to-mouth” citizenship: decision time for the UK Supreme Court on the substance of Zambrano rights, EU citizenship and equal treatment' (2016) 38(2) Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, 228-245

  • C. O'Brien 'The pillory, the precipice and the slippery slope: the profound effects of the UK’s legal reform programme targeting EU migrants' (2015) 37(1) Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 111-136

  • C.O'Brien 'The EU Rights Project' (2015) 167, Adviser, 8-11

  • C.O'Brien 'Driving Down Disability Equality?' (2014) 21(4) Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law 724-738

  • C.O'Brien 'Politically acceptable poverty', (2014) 149, Poverty: Journal of the Child Poverty Action Group, 15-17

  • C. O'Brien 'Article 26 - Integration of Persons with Disabilities' in S. Peers, T. Hervey, J. Kenner & A. Ward (eds) The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights: a Commentary (Hart, 2014)

  • C.O'Brien ‘I trade, therefore I am: legal personhood in the European Union’ (2013) 50(6) Common Market Law Review 1643-1684

  • C. O'Brien 'From Safety Nets and Carrots to Trampolines and Sticks: National Uses of the EU as Both Menace and Model to Help Neoliberalize Welfare Policy' in D. Sciek (ed) The EU Economic and Social Model in Crisis: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Ashgate, 2013)

  • C.O'Brien 'A Stage, a Spotlight and an Unwritten Script: Frontier Zones and Intersectional Citizens' in N. Nic Shuibhne, M. Dougan & E. Spaventa (eds) Empowerment and Disempowerment of the European Citizen (Hart Publishing, 2012) 73-98

  • C.O'Brien ‘Confronting the care penalty: the case for extending reasonable adjustment rights along the disability/care continuum’ (2012) 34(1) Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 5-30

  • C.O'Brien ‘European Union Law’ in Integrating Socio-Legal Studies into the law curriculum C. Hunter (ed) (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)

  • C. O'Brien 'Drudges, dupes and do-gooders? Competing notions of 'value' in the Union's approach to volunteers' (2011) 1(1) European Journal of Social Law 49-75

  • C. O'Brien ‘Equality's false summits: new varieties of disability discrimination, "excessive" equal treatment and economically constricted horizons’ (2011) 36(1) European Law Review 26-50

  • C. O'Brien ‘Case C-310/08 Ibrahim, Case C-480/08 Teixiera’ (2011) 48(1) Common Market Law Review 203-225

  • C. O'Brien ‘Social blind spots and monocular policy making: the ECJ’s migrant worker model’ (2009) 46(4) Common Market Law Review 1107-1141

  • C. O'Brien ‘Real links, abstract rights and false alarms: the relationship between the ECJ’s ‘real link’ case law and national solidarity’ (2008) 33(5) European Law Review  643-665

  • C. O'Brien ‘Case C-212/05 Hartmann, Case C-213/05 Geven, Case C-287/05 Hendrix’, (2008) 45(2) Common Market Law Review 499-514



  • subject lead for the EU components of the Foundations in law modules

  • director of the YLS law clinic

  • clinic supervisor on cases

External activities


  • Analytical expert, European Commission's Free Movement and Social Security network of experts.
  • Fressco reports: 

O’Brien, Spaventa and De Coninck, “The concept of worker under Article 45 TFEU and certain non-standard forms of employment”, FreSsco Comparative Report, European Commission (2015) available at <>.

Overmeiren, O'Brien, Spaventa, Jorens & Schulte "The notions of obstacle and discrimination under EU law on free movement of workers" Fressco Analytical report, European Commission (2014) available at <>

  • Cases Editor, Journal of Social Security Law
  • Trustee, Welfare Benefit Unit
  • Peer reviewer for the ESRC
  • Peer reviews, e.g.: European Law Review; European Journal of Social Security Law; Routledge; Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Media coverage

Blogs and news articles

Contact details

Professor Charlotte O'Brien
York Law School

Tel: +44 (0)1904 32 5808