School of Law and Politics

Dr Phil Bielby


Phil Bielby


Admissions Team
Tel: +44 (0) 1482 46 6235
Office: 428 Wilberforce
Qualifications LLB (Hull), PCHE (Sheffield), PhD (Sheffield), FHEA


Phil joined the Law School in 2003 from The University of Sheffield, where he was a Graduate Teaching Assistant. His first degree was in law and his postgraduate research was primarily concerned with bioethics. The University of Sheffield awarded him a PhD for this research in 2006, which developed a normative framework for making judgments about decisional competence to consent to biomedical (particularly psychiatric) research with ‘cognitively vulnerable' participants whose decisional competence is questionable but not necessarily absent. He has published a monograph with Springer, Competence and Vulnerability in Biomedical Research (2008), based on his doctoral work.

Phil was the Director of the Biomedical Ethics and Law Programme of the Institute of Applied Ethics (IAE) between 2009-12 and remains a Research Associate and Management Committee member of the IAE. He and Dr Mary Neal of The University of Strathclyde were Jurisprudence Subject Section Convenors for The Society of Legal Scholars between 2005-08.

In 2015, Phil became a Fellow of The Higher Education Academy, a UK organisation that enhances learning and teaching in higher education, in recognition of his experience and success in university teaching and learning support.

Selected Publications


Chapters in edited books

  • Bielby P, ‘Justifying mental health rights from a Gewirthian perspective’ in Bauhn P (ed), Gewirthian Perspectives on Human Rights (Routledge Studies in American Philosophy) (Routledge 2016)
  • Bielby P, ‘Research on Patients with Dementia’ in Foster C, Herring J and Doron I (eds), The Law and Ethics of Dementia (Hart Publishing 2014) 363
  • Bielby P, ‘Towards supported decision-making in biomedical research with cognitively vulnerable adults’ in Corrigan O and others (eds), The Limits of Consent: a socio-ethical approach to human subject research in medicine (Oxford University Press 2009) 151

Articles in refereed journals

  • Bielby P, ‘Ulysses Arrangements in Psychiatric Treatment: Towards Proposals for Their Use Based on ‘Sharing’ Legal Capacity’ (2014) 22 Health Care Analysis: An International Journal of Health Care Philosophy and Policy 114
  • Bielby P and Ward T, ‘Experts, Rights and Precaution’ (2012) 5 Web Journal of Current Legal Issues. Available at

Papers and lectures

  • Bielby P, ‘Heightened vulnerable agency and the justification of mental health rights’ (Brown Bag Research Seminar, University of Hull Law School, May 6 2015)
  • Bielby P, ‘Towards a legal theory of cognitive vulnerability’ (SLS Annual Conference, The University of Nottingham, 9 September 2014)


The common theme of Phil’s research is a normative approach toward ethico-legal questions in bioethics and medical law, especially in mental health and capacity law and ethics. The questions he has pursued in his published research include theorizing the ethical grounds for making judgments about the decisional competence of cognitively vulnerable people to consent to biomedical research (the subject of his PhD thesis and monograph), a philosophical analysis of competence and capacity in English medical law and of equality and vulnerability in biomedical research ethics, supported decision-making for cognitively vulnerable adults in biomedical research and, most recently, justifying and conceptualising Ulysses arrangements in psychiatric treatment. Phil has also written on the legal and professional ethics regulation of biomedical research involving people with dementia. In collaboration with Dr Tony Ward (Reader in Law, The University of Hull), he has developed a normative principle of public justification to inform decisions which involve prima facie rights violations (such as those surrounding compulsory detention and treatment for mental disorder). Phil has published previously on legal education as well, particularly the challenges of teaching morally contentious issues.

Phil’s current research projects encompass two topics: first, the idea of vulnerability, in particular ‘cognitive vulnerability’, in mental health/capacity law and ethics and legal theory; and second, the relationship between rights theory and care ethics in conceptualising responses to vulnerability in mental health/capacity law and ethics. Both explore his long-standing research interest in normative questions surrounding autonomy, decisional competence, legal capacity and the integrity of the self, especially when these are challenged in various ways through the experience of mental disorder.

PhD Supervision

Phil would be interested in supervising research students on ethico-legal questions in healthcare law aspects of mental capacity and mental health law. In particular, he would be keen to supervise research that approaches these questions by drawing upon normative ethics and bioethics. Areas in which Phil would be willing to supervise research include: ·

  • Ethical and legal issues surrounding decisional competence to consent to / refuse medical treatment and research by adults.
  • Ethical and legal issues surrounding medical treatment for mental disorder.
  • Concepts of vulnerability, care, autonomy and rights and their relationship to healthcare issues in mental capacity and mental health law.
  • The interface between normative legal philosophy and the above areas, especially the application of Gewirth and Beyleveld and Brownsword’s ethical and legal thought.

Phil has previously supervised doctoral research on philosophical and legal issues in the use of advance directives by people with dementia.



  • Medicine, Ethics and the Law (Convenor)
  • Values and Law (Convenor)
  • A Rough Guide to Legal Rights
  • Law and Literature
  • Skills for Law 


  • Literature and Law (with the Department of English)
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