Stair Society Bursary: Fourth-Year Ph.D. students

Readers of this Blog may be interested to note that the Stair Society has started a bursary for fourth-year PhD students writing a doctoral thesis on Scottish legal history at a University in the British Isles. See

Posted in Legal History, Opportunities | Leave a comment

Stair Society Annual Lecture 2014

The Stair Society’s 2014 Annual Lecture and Annual General Meeting will be held in the Faculty of Advocates’ MacKenzie Building in Edinburgh on Saturday 15 November 2014.

The Speaker will be Professor Alain Wijffels and his title will be ‘England and the German Hanse: The Long Endgame (1474-1604)’.

Professor Wijffels, Dr. jur. (Amsterdam), PhD (Cantab.), DLitt (Cantab.), graduated in philosophy, law, criminology, canon law, Roman law and medieval history. After several years of academic research, mainly in Italy, Germany and England, he is now working and teaching at universities in Belgium (Leuven/Kortrijk/Louvain-la-Neuve), France (Lille-2/CNRS) and Holland (Leiden). He teaches legal history, comparative law and legal English. He has published some two hundred studies, mostly contributions to legal history. His main area of interest is comparative legal history, particularly in the area of public governance and the courts’ practice in several Western European legal systems, with an emphasis on the structure and workings of complex jurisdictions.

The meeting and address will be followed by lunch for members and their guests.

Membership of the Society is open to all with an interest in the history of Scots law. Find out about Stair Society Membership and its benefits here: Membership of the Stair Society.

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment

303 Years of Civil Law in Edinburgh: A Celebration

To mark the filling of the chair of Civil Law (founded 1710) in December 2012, after a vacancy of quarter of a century, the Edinburgh Centre for Legal History, generously supported by the School of Law, devoted a “long” academic year in 2013-2014 to a celebration of Roman Law and legal history, on the theme of “303 years of Civil Law”.
On 23 March, 2013, Dr Gérard Minaud, Fellow of the Nantes Institute for Advanced Study and Associated Researcher in the Centre Camille Jullian (CNRS, Aix-Marseille University), presented a paper to the Roman Law Group entitled “The Legal Status of Tradespeople in Ancient Rome”. This topic linked with the theme of commerce in Roman law, a field of research interest in the Centre.

One of the major events was, over 7-8 June 2013, a specialist conference by invitation entitled: “Ad fontes: Reassessing Legal Humanism and its Claims”. Speakers were Dr Douglas Osler, Professor Eva Jakab, Professor Bernard Stolte, Professor Ian Maclean, Dr Karen Baston, Professor Alain Wijffels, Professor David Ibbetson, Dr Guido Rossi, Dr Wim Decock, Dr Martine van Ittersum and Professor Susan L. Karr. With an introduction by Professor John W. Cairns and Dr Paul J. du Plessis, and additional chapters by Dr Xavier Prévost and Ms Jasmin Hepburn, the papers will be published by Edinburgh UniversityPress in its series, Edinburgh Studies in Law.AF1 AF8

This conference and the associated volume continue the Centre’s project of examining contested topics in European legal history that challenge the prevailing orthodoxy and grand narrative that have their roots in the nineteenth century.

On 22 November, 2013, Professor John W. Cairns delivered his inaugural lecture as recently appointed holder of the Chair of Civil Law.IMG_1329

It was entitled “An Uncommon Law?”. In it he explored the background to the foundation of the chair, its intellectual heritage, and its scope. The lecture may be viewed here:

In the course of the year, the Edinburgh Legal History Discussion Group was renamed the Alan Watson Seminar in honour of one of the most distinguished holders of the Chair of Civil Law.


It will now operate in a way comparable to the Roman Law Group, under the organization of Dr Guido Rossi. The first paper was given by Dr Xavier Prévost of (Sorbonne Law School (Université Paris I – Ecole nationale des chartes, Paris) “The Use of the Glossators and Commentators by Jacques Cujas (1522-1590): A Humanist Criticism of the Medieval Jurisprudence”. This paper will be the basis of Dr Prévost’s chapter in Ad fontes. Later this year he takes up the post of Professor of Legal History in Bordeaux.

The Edinburgh Roman law Group has held two events during the course of the academic year 2013/14. The first of these, a paper by Dr Philipp Scheibelreiter from the University of Vienna, was on the early history of the contract of commodatum. Dr Scheibelreiter, who specialises in the interface between Greek and Roman law, recently won one of the main prizes in the context of the 2013/14 Premio Boulvert, the main prize for first monographs in the field of Roman law in Europe, for his monograph on the obligational nature of the Delian-Attic sea league. The second meeting of the group took the form of a one-day workshop on “Accounting Principles and Accounting Practices in Roman law”. This workshop, organized in collaboration with Professor Dr Eva Jakab from the University of Szeged, came about through an existing collaboration between Professor Jakab and D. du Plessis in the context of the Legal Documents in Ancient Societies Network of which they are both members. It was felt that the current state of research on Roman “commercial law” and on “law and economics” in the Roman world did not adequately address the extent to which Roman law was supported by certain techniques arising from the world of Roman accounting. To that end, this seminar, the first of two, was organized to lay the foundation for further discussions surrounding accounting practices in Roman law and the extent to which such practices should be taken into account when investigating Roman law. Scholars from Leiden, London, Nantes and Trier were invited to present papers on specific topics. The second meeting will be held in a year’s time in Budapest. Discussions with Professor Wolfgang Ernst from the University of Zurich have also taken place concerning the relationship between this project and his project on the ascent of money in the medieval world. It has been suggest that the Roman accounting project should be broadened to deal more generally with the legal aspects of money in the Roman world.

Further marking the filling of the chair, the School’s prestigious MacCormick Lectures were delivered by Professor Wolfgang Ernst of Zurich on a theme of legal history. Founded to honour the memory of our late colleague, Sir Neil MacCormick, this was only the second set of lectures ever given.



Given the events of 2014 in Scotland, Professor Ernst chose to deliver a set of lectures on the topic of “‘The Ayes have it’: The Legal History of Public Choice”. A brilliant historical exploration of voting and its issues from Roman to modern times, it is hoped the lectures will form a short book opening up a new area of research.

Dr Paul du Plessis organized a major international conference in the context of the work on the Oxford Handbook of Roman Law and Society. This volume, of which he is the editor-in-chief together with Professor Clifford Ando from Chicago and Dr. Kaius Tuori from Helsinki, is designed to be a major reference work for the study of “law and society in the Roman world” in years to come. It is a major work of scholarship comprising nearly 50 chapters and over 1300 pages [400,000 words]. The conference, organized in Edinburgh, brought together most of the chapter authors to discuss their draft chapters and to collaborate regarding coverage and areas of overlap. The papers were extensively commented upon and the editors continue to work with the chapter authors until the final deadline for the submission of papers in September 2014. The Oxford Handbook is due for publication in the latter part of 2015.

Together with Dr Hiromi Sasamoto-Collins from Asian Studies, Dr Paul du Plessis organised an international workshop on the reception of law in Japan. The workshop was designed to be an exploration of Alan Watson’s idea of ‘Legal Transplants’ with specific reference to Japan and its colonial experiences in East Asia. It brought together scholars from Germany, Korea, Japan and the United Kingdom, with papers from Professor John W. Cairns, Dr Hiromi Sasamoto-Collins, Professor Marie Seong-Hak Kim, Professor Matthias Zachmann, and Dr Daniel Hedinger. It was designed to act as a pump-primer for further discussion in the field.

Dr Paul du Plessis introduced the Henry Goudy Seminar in Roman law. This seminar, open to students and staff from across the university, functions as a reading group which meets once a month to discuss a work from Classical Antiquity that has been read (in translation). The main thrust of the discussion revolves around the extent to which the work in question casts light on Roman law. During 2013/14, the group read works by Livy, Plutarch and Plautus, all focusing on the early period of Roman law. Henry Goudy was a former holder of the Chair.

303 Years of Civil Law

Posted in 303 Years of Civil Law, Legal History, Roman Law | Leave a comment

Fellowship – European Administrative History at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History

Our colleagues at the Max Planck Institute have alerted us to a fellowship call that has just been released.

Details may be found here

Posted in Legal History | Leave a comment

Modern Law Review Scholarship awarded to Miss Christina James

The Centre for Legal History warmly congratulates Christina James for the prestigious scholarship she was awarded by the Modern Law Review. The award is a recognition of the excellent research Christina is pursuing on a very important fifteenth century statute of Bologna on appeals.

Posted in Legal History | Leave a comment

“The Ayes Have it”: The Legal History of Public Choice – The MacCormick Lectures 2014, by Wolfgang Ernst, Zurich

The MacCormick Lectures were established in memory of our late colleague Sir Neil MacCormick, with the first series given by Professor Joseph Weiler in 2011. The second set is being given this year, focused on legal history to mark the filling in 2012 of the Chair of Civil Law, vacant since the resignation of the late Professor Peter Birks in December 1987. The MacCormick Lecturer of 2014 is Professor Wolfgang Ernst of the University of Zurich.

Professor Ernst has chosen to devote his lectures to the legal history of voting, which is both fascinating and complex. Thus, whenever members of an association, shareholders of a corporation, or councillors convene, they follow procedures which culminate in the casting of votes. Voting procedures, which have attracted the interest of game theorists, have to be followed because (and as far as) they are law. Lying behind them, however, there is a distinct legal history. In these lectures, Professor Ernst will address issues such as: What constitutes a majority? When is unanimity necessary? Is there a right to abstain? How is a tied vote overcome? How are amendments and bundles of motions dealt with? Do judges vote? He will explore these issues from a legal historian’s perspective, drawing on material from the Roman Senate, the Roman municipal curia, Church Councils, modern Parliaments and collegiate courts.

This is of course a controversial and current topic in Scotland, since this is the year in which there is to be a referendum in Scotland on “Independence”, for which the Scottish Government has chosen specially to change the franchise by extending the vote to all those of 16 years or over, relying on a residency test. Thus, if you are 16 or over on 18 September, are registered to vote by 2 September, and are a British citizen living in Scotland, or a European Union citizen living in Scotland, or a qualifying Commonwealth citizen living in Scotland, you can vote to break up the United Kingdom. Arrangements are also made for members of the Armed forces outside Scotland but who are registered to vote in Scotland. (“Qualifying Commonwealth citizens are people who have leave (permission) to enter or remain in the UK, do not need to have such leave or are treated as having such leave.”)  For further information, see from which the above description of the test for qualification to vote have been drawn.

After studies at Frankfurt am Main and Bonn, Professor Ernst took his doctorate at the latter University in 1981. In 1982, he gained the degree of LLM from Yale. After taking his State Exams, Professor Ernst was an assistant at the University of Bonn from 1986-1990, acquiring his Habilitation in 1989. From 1990 to 2000, he was Professor Ordinarius für Römisches und Bürgerliches Recht at the University of Tubingen, also serving there as Dean and Associate Dean. From 2000-2004, he was Professor ordinarius für Zivilrecht and Director of the Institute for Roman Law, Bonn. Since 2004, he has been Professor Ordinarius für Römisches Recht und Privatrecht at the University of Zürich. In 2002-3, he was Arthur Goodhart Professor in Legal Science, Cambridge University, and Fellow of Magdalene College. He has also been a Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Herbert Smith Visitor at Cambridge University. His publications are many and varied, ranging over Roman law, legal history, property, and obligations.

This promises to be an important and exciting set of lectures.

Event poster MacCormick Lectures303 Years of Civil Law



Posted in 303 Years of Civil Law, Legal History, Roman Law | 2 Comments

Japanese Law: History, Reception and Adaptation

Conference: Centre for Legal History/Asian Studies

20 June 2014
Lee and Elder Rooms, Old College, 9 am – 5 pm

Attendance is free, but spaces are limited, please email Hiromi Sasamoto-Collins to secure a place.

Japanese law is said to have undergone drastic change through the adaptation of Western law in the second half of the nineteenth century. Many scholars now believe that this ‘westernised’ Japanese law significantly influenced the legal systems of other Asian countries, including Korea, China, and Thailand. This one-day seminar will assess the nature of this transformation of Japanese law that took place amid intense globalisation of the nineteenth century. Among the questions to be considered are the aspects of Japanese law that changed as the result of the reception; the processes of this adaptation and its main consequences, domestic and international.

The seminar will bring together four specialists in Japanese law and legal history to address these questions. Hiroshi Oda, Sir Ernest Satow Professor of Japanese Law at University College London and the author of Japanese Law (now a standard textbook), will provide a general overview of Japanese law, its history and evolution, emphasising its comparative and commercial aspects. Marie Seong-Hak Kim, in her recent book Law and Custom in Korea, claims that the idea of custom as a source of law barely existed in East Asia prior to the nineteenth century and it was the Japanese jurists who absorbed the idea from Western jurisprudence and disseminated it throughout East Asia as colonial agents. Kim will elaborate on this claim. Hiromi Sasamoto-Collins, who has examined the difficult birth of modern constitutionalism in Japan in her book, Power and Dissent in Imperial Japan, will focus on Japan’s first western-style Criminal Code of 1880, and assess exactly how the Japanese codifiers adopted legal principles that appeared to be so radically dissimilar to traditional Japanese legal thought. Matthias Zachmann, the author of China and Japan in the Late Meiji Period and an expert on East Asian relations and international law, will discuss how the Japanese understood and misunderstood the notion of international law in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and what were the consequences of such (mis)conceptions.

In short, the seminar will investigate the question of reception and adaptation in three major areas, international law, and the civil and criminal codes, in the Japanese context. Such perspectives remain essential for the understanding of contemporary Japanese law, as the Japanese legal system remains more or less grounded in the legal reforms of the Meiji period (1868–1912) despite significant later modifications. Such reforms, in turn, then went on to influence the legal systems of other countries in Asia.

Accordingly the theme of Japanese adaptation has large implications for studies of legal and cultural transmission and transmutation. The nineteenth century saw the large-scale dissemination of Western ideas and institutional arrangements across the globe. Legal transplantation was part of this global convergence. And yet extra-legal cultural factors specific to each region or country also intervened in this process. Thus, if some principles and practices survive cultural barriers and take root in a different cultural setting, why and how does this happen? The question may help us to better understand the phenomena of legal convergence and differentiation that continue to this day. The seminar will focus on the Japanese experience, but we hope it will open up debate on the general phenomenon of legal transmission.

Foreigners Steamship

Gaikokujin sen no uchi: jōkisen [Foreigners' ship: steamship]
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment

Accounting Techiniques and Accounting Practices in Roman Law, 30 May 2014

The Edinburgh Centre for Legal History and the Edinburgh Roman Law Group will host a workshop on ‘Accounting Techniques and Accounting Practices in Roman Law’, on 30 May 2014, from 9 am to 6 pm in Old College, Edinburgh Law School.

The extent to which economic considerations played a role in the development of Roman law has become an important question within the broader theme of ‘law and society’ research in relation to the Roman world. While exciting work has been done on the extent to which modern economic theories may be used to explain Roman law (eg. Kehoe) and on the extent to which trade was facilitated by Roman money-lending practices (eg. Andreau, Gröschler), the notion of a ‘Roman commercial law’ (eg. Melillo, Lo Cascio, Erdkamp, Cerami, Di Porto et al.) that was supported by certain accounting techniques and practices remains unstudied. The aim of this workshop is to explore these techniques and practices with a view to establishing whether these may enhance modern understanding of ‘Roman commercial law’. This will be done by focusing both on ‘dogmatic’ legal texts contained in Roman legal sources as well as on examples of legal practice preserved in negotia. The focus will be on the ‘long classical period’ – 1st century BCE – end of third century CE.

Participants will include Professor Dr Eva Jakab, Professor Dr Thomas Rufner, Professor Egbert Koops, Dr Serafina Cuomo, Dr Gerard Minaud, and Dr Paul J. du Plessis.

Attendance is free, but spaces are limited. Please email Paul J. du Plessis to secure a place.

Posted in News and Events, Roman Law | Leave a comment

Rare Books of Scottish Provenance: Los Angeles County Law Library Sale

On 5 March 2014, Bonham’s in London auctioned some rare books, the property of the Los Angeles Law Library. A number of these had a Scottish association or provenance that illuminates aspects of Scottish Legal History.

The first worth noting, no. 111 in the Catalogue, is a copy of Barnabé Brisson, De verborum quae ad jus pertinent significatione libri XIX apparently once owned by Sir Robert Spottiswoode, and with marginal notes in his hand. Spottiswoode is remembered by Scots lawyers for his own Practicks, published in a printed version by his grandson in 1706; your blogger is lucky enough to own the grandson’s own copy: The Brissonius is an important humanistic work, perhaps reflecting Spottiswoode’s education in France, but certainly indicating the interest of Scots lawyers of his generation.

Next one may notice no. 147, a very early edition of Grotius’ De jure belli ac pacis libri III, that of Amsterdam 1631. There is no need to emphasise the importance of Grotius’ work. But we know that Scots lawyers when studying in the Netherlands, which they often did between around 1680-1740, often took a Collegium Grotianum, that is a class on the law of nature and nations based on Grotius’s book. The volume has an ex libris inscription of 1702 on its title page, marking its purchase in Leiden by William Mure in 1702. He obviously purchased it when a student at the University there, before admission to the Faculty of Advocates in 1707.  It long remained in the library of the Mure of Caldwell family, who produced many lawyers in the eighteenth century. On Grotius, see also

Finally one may note Acts of Assembly. Passed in the Island of Jamaica; from 1770, to 1783, Inclusive (Kingston 1786). It has a Grant family book plate, and an inscription “J. Grant’s May 6 1789”. Further work would be required, but it is tempting to identify this “J. Grant” as the Scotsman John Grant, Chief Justice of Jamaica (1783-1790), but one would need to be able to make a comparison to be sure. But if so, it connects with Scottish colonialism and slave-owning: see

There are other tempting connections: one book has a provenance: Craigie Hall Library, presumably Craigie Hall on the outskirts of Edinburgh. It is a copy of M. Salamoni, Responsa prudentum, paradoxa, Basel 1530 – a plausible work for a Scottish library. There are other suggestively Scottish names.

Posted in Legal History, Libraries, Old Books, Roman Law, Slavery, Spottiswoode | 1 Comment

Alan Watson Seminar

Since the mid-1980s there has been a Legal History Discussion Group in the University of Edinburgh. Originally founded by Professor Peter Birks, it was very many years organised by Professor Hector MacQueen and then later by your blogger. It initially took the form of an hors d’oeuvre and then a main paper, and was accompanied by wine. A minute book preserved in Edinburgh University Archives records meetings from the foundation until around 2000, and makes very interesting reading, indicating how much important research started off in discussion before it.

Recently, the format changed into that of a single paper, resembling that of the School’s Roman Law Group, but instead focusing on legal history from the Middle Ages onwards. The Centre for Legal History is proud to announce that the Legal History Discussion group will now be known as the Alan Watson Seminar after Professor Alan Watson, who held the Chair of Civil Law in Edinburgh from 1968 to 1980. Professor Watson has very kindly agreed to this. The first paper to be given under this new title will be on 2 May 2014 by Dr Xavier Prévost (Université Paris I – Ecole nationale des chartes, Paris), who will speak on ‘The Use of the Glossators and Commentators by Jacques Cujas (1522-1590): A Humanist Criticism of the Medieval Jurisprudence’. A subsequent Blog Entry will discuss Professor Watson and his time at Edinburgh.



Posted in 303 Years of Civil Law, Legal History | 1 Comment