Charlotte O'Brien



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

Senior Lecturer

I joined York Law School in 2009.

From 2006-9, I completed a PhD at the University of Liverpool through an individual AHRC studentship and took 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. Following my Social & Political Sciences degree I trained as a volunteer Citizens Advice Bureau adviser, and have since continued case work and supervision. 

Blogs and news articles

The Conversation "Brexit Britain: sovereignty is not a licence to disregard international law" 3 August 2016

The Equality TrustThe ‘E’ word must go back on the legislative agenda” 2 August 2016

The Independent “European migrants are not just paying their way, they're paying our way too”  24 July 2016

EU Referendum Analysis 2016: Media, Voters and the Campaign “Bonfires and Brexteritywhat’s next for women?” 6 July 2016

European Financial Review “It’s our economy too: gender equality is not a luxury to be abandoned in times of crisis” 20 June 2016

EU Law Analysis “Don’t think of the children! CJEU approves automatic exclusions from family benefits in Case C-308/14 Commission v UK” 16 June 2016

The UK in a Changing Europe “Brexterity, eusterity and child welfare: whoever wins, women and children are at risk” 15 June 2016

The Conversation “Leaving EU would be bad for women – but staying in doesn’t look too great either” 1 June 2016

Full Fact “Is Turkey likely to join the EU?”27 May 2016 (last updated 23 June 2016).

Positive News “EU: In or Out?” 6 May 2016

The Guardian “Would Brexit make it harder to hire EU workers ?” Small business network referendum panel 29 March 2016

Lexis Nexis “Immigration aspects of Cameron’s EU settlement” in Continental shift: Brexit and the Law 27 March 2016

The Conversation “The EU talks the talk on gender equality – but in a male voice” 8 March 2016

Full Fact “Explaining the EU deal: child benefit”27 February 2016 (last updated 23 June 2016)

The IndependentWhy the EU emergency brake on migrant benefits is sexist” 5 February 2016

The UK in a Changing EuropeCameron’s renegotiation and the burying of the balance of competencies review” 2 February 2016 

EU Law AnalysisAn insubstantial pageant fading: a vision of EU citizenship under the AG’s Opinion in C-308/14 Commission v UK” 7 October 2015

EU Law AnalysisMore back-slapping than soul-searching: The European Commission’s reflections on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” 11 June 2014

Durham European Law InstituteThe CJEU’s chance to stop punishing pregnancy – the St Prix case” 1 November 2013



  • EU social law, UK public law and human rights law
  • EU policies on social security coordination, migration, citizenship, labour law and asylum
  • The implementation of these policies into UK law
  • Theories of equality and fundamental rights
  • Welfare law, policy and reform  


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 have been awarded an ESRC future research leaders grant to design and manage a project over 2.5 years to ask how easy it is to use the rights granted by EU law in the UK, to better develop a theory of EU citizenship and social and administrative justice in EU law. In collaboration with Ripon Citizens Advice Bureau, am setting up a specialist advice and advocacy service on EU welfare claims. While advising and representing clients, I will conduct in parallel a study of administrative obstacles their claims face. This 'advice led ethnography' is an innovative new methodology and a new approach to EU law. It combines socio-legal studies with theoretical, philosophical and historical work on EU social law. 

Please see for more information and to follow the progress of the project.


The integration of persons with disabilities: Charter of Fundamental Rights commentary  

I have been invited to contribute to a new, key reference text on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, published by Hart Publishing and edited by Steve Peers, Tamara Hervey, Jeff Kenner and Angela Ward. The text devotes a chapter to each article in the Charter, offering a critical analysis by a relevant expert. I have contributed the chapter on Article 26 on the integration of persons with disabilities.   See


The relationship between UK and EU welfare paradigms

I have been invited to contribute a chapter to a forthcoming edited collection entitled ‘The European Union’s economic and social model in the global crisis: interdisciplinary perspectives’, published by Ashgate and edited by  Professor Dagmar Schiek (University of Leeds). My chapter, 'From safety nets and carrots to trampolines and sticks: the national uses of the EU as both menace and model to help neoliberalise welfare policy', examines ideological convergence around neo-liberal approaches to welfare, and the part played by invocations of the EU in on-going UK welfare reform debates. The collection has been reviewed as a 'must read': see


Selected publications

  • 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

Full publications list

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.



I am the EU module coordinator and with responsibility for aspects of both the Clinic module and the Immigration Law module.

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
  • Volunteer, Ripon Citizens Advice Bureau - training advisers, supervising advice sessions and doing specialist casework, advocacy and representation
  • Trustee, York Citizens Advice Bureau & Citizens Advice North Yorkshire & York
  • 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

Contact details

Dr Charlotte O'Brien
York Law School

Tel: +44 (0)1904 32 5808