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Professor Michael Bohlander

Chair in Global Law and SETI Policy

AffiliationRoom numberTelephone
Chair in Global Law and SETI Policy in Durham Law SchoolPCL185+44 (0) 191 33 40476
Member of the Human Rights Centre  



Professor Bohlander holds high judicial office as the International Co-Investigating Judge in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), having been on leave from Durham and serving as a full-time judge at the Court in Phnom Penh from 2015 - 2019, during which period he oversaw - together with his Cambodian colleague - the completion of all remaining investigations into members of the Khmer Rouge Regime. In April 2020 he was re-instated in the post by the United Nations Secretary-General to deal with unexpected residual litigation in those cases. He was also on the roster of international judges at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) in The Hague, from 2017 until his resignation in 2022.

Prior to joining Durham University in 2004, he had been a judge for 13 years on civil and criminal pre-trial, trial and appellate dockets in the courts of the East German Free State of Thuringia, including the State Supreme Court at Jena. From 1999 until 2001, he was on leave from the Thuringian judiciary and served as the senior legal officer of a Trial Chamber at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

He gained first-hand experience in the law and practice of other national jurisdictions: From 1989 to 1990 as a barrister’s pupil in Exeter, and in 1996 a judicial visitor at a Juzgado de Primera Instancia e Instrucción in Spain, both mainly in criminal matters.

He has broad practical experience in matters of transitional justice and institution building in several legal systems. As a criminal and civil judge from the early days of post-unification East Germany, he dealt with regime crime, the cassation of politically motivated convictions by the courts of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), the rehabilitation of persons convicted for political reasons, and the restitution of property confiscated by the GDR regime to the rightful owners. He helped train the judges of the Iraqi High Tribunal which tried Saddam Hussein, as well as other Iraqi judges and prosecutors. He has been active in judicial training and advising governments since 2001 (Cambodia, Egypt, Georgia, Kosovo, Kurdistan/Iraq, Tunisia), among others at the request of the International Bar Association, the OSCE, the United Nations, the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Cambodian Court of Appeal and the German Foundation for International Legal Cooperation. As a member of that Foundation he initiated the establishment of training and institutional support links with the Court of Appeal and the Ministry of Justice of the Kingdom of Cambodia.


Professor Bohlander's research has spanned German law, English and Welsh criminal law, comparative and international criminal law, the judiciary and the legal profession, Islamic law, and SETI.

His current main focus is on the relationship between the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and human law in the wider sense, including legal and response protocol issues following signal detection. He focusses especially on the implications of the possibility of hostile first contact for the laws of armed conflict and the ensuing re-conceptualisation of the planetary defence framework, as well as the question of which global values humanity would be willing to trade for access to advanced technology from an ETI or interstellar civilisation network ("Galactic Club"). In February 2022, he was appointed to the scientific advisory council of the Interdisciplinary Research Center for Extraterrestrial Studies in the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science of Würzburg University (Germany). He is a member of the UK SETI Research Network, and of the International Institute of Space Law. 

His work on German criminal law in particular has made a significant contribution to providing access to this field of law for non-native speakers. His modern translation of the German Criminal Code was translated into Farsi and published in Iran in 2010, followed by the translation of his monograph "Principles of German Criminal Law" in 2011. 

He was instructed to act as an expert in German criminal law by the UK General Medical Council (2013) and by the Criminal Court of Appeal at Leeuwarden in the Netherlands (2011).

He has spoken at numerous conferences, seminars and training events in the UK and abroad, including in Armenia, Cambodia, Canada, China, Croatia, Egypt, Georgia, Germany, Iraq/Kurdistan, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United States (including the Military Academy at West Point), Tanzania (at the former International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha) and Tunisia.

He is the founding editor-in chief and since 2015 general editor of the International Criminal Law Review (Brill|Nijhoff), the general editor of Studies in International and Comparative Criminal Law (Hart|Bloomsbury), a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Criminal Law (SAGE) and the book series Studies in International Criminal Law (Brill|Nijhoff), as well as of a number of editorial advisory boards. Together with Alan Reed he edits the book series Substantive Issues in Criminal Law (Taylor & Francis).

From 2010 until 2014, he held the Visiting Chair in Criminal Law at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the Netherlands.

In 2012, he was the first non-Muslim visiting scholar ever to teach at the Faculty of Law of Al-Azhar University in Cairo. He has been an external assessor for professorial promotions at the University of Malaya’s Department of Syariah and Law since 2015.


Professor Bohlander welcomes enquiries about postgraduate research supervision in his research areas.

Applicants should familiarise themselves closely with the relevant programme requirements before contacting him for potential supervision requests with a detailed exposé addressing all criteria described on the Law School's postgraduate research degree webpage.


Due to his judicial status at the ECCC, Professor Bohlander is not available for media comments related to cases and developments in or related to international criminal justice.

Research interests

  • Legal aspects of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)
  • International and comparative criminal law - Theory, practice, political and socio-legal implications


Authored book

Book review

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Other (Print)


Scholarly Edition

Supervision students