A very British pursuit – Studies in the lex Aquilia

Readers of this blog may be interested to learn of a forthcoming workshop on the lex Aquilia, arguably one of the most important topics in the study of Roman law in the United Kingdom. The aim of the workshop is the following:

The lex Aquilia has had a significant impact on the study of Roman law in Britain during the last century. The relevant titles in Justinian’s compilation have been translated into English more than once and, judging by recent Festschriften for Alan Rodger and Boudewijn Sirks, the lex Aquilia continues to be studied in great depth by a number of British Romanists. The aim of this workshop is to assess the reasons for the peculiarly British fixation with wrongful damage to property in Roman law against the backdrop of the development of Roman law in Britain during the last century. Broader themes that will be addressed include the significance of the lex Aquilia for the Oxford and Cambridge curricula, the impact of F.H. Lawson’s work on tort liability and the contribution of German émigré lawyers on the study of Roman law during the course of the twentieth century.

The workshop is hosted by Dr. Paul J. du Plessis as part of the activities of the Edinburgh Roman law Group.


8 July 2016


Elder Room, Old College


8:30 – 9.00: Arrival and welcome

9.00 – 10.00: John W. Cairns “The historiography of the lex Aquilia in Britain”

10.00 – 11.00: Paul Mitchell “‘This pursuit of patterns’: F.H. Lawson on Negligence.”

11.00 – 11.30: Tea and coffee

11.30 – 12.30: Robin Evans-Jones/Helen Scott “The Roman-law origins of the foreseeability test for the duty of care adopted in Donoghue v Stevenson”

12:30 – 1:30: David Ibbetson “Buckland and the lex Aquilia”

1.30 – 2.30: Lunch

2:30 – 3.30: Joe Sampson “Revisiting Rodger on damages under the lex Aquilia”

3.30 – 4.30: David Johnston “Causation and remoteness: British steps on a Roman path”

4.30 – 5.00: Tea and coffee

5:00 – 6.00: Benjamin Spagnolo “Students’ Digest: IX.2 in Oxford, 1893-2004”

6.00 – 7.00: Giuseppe Valditara “Wrongful loss, interesse and the lex Aquilia”

7.00 – 7.30: Alberto Lorusso “The rediscovery of Daube’s legacy in Southern Europe”

7: 30: Dinner


This is a closed workshop.


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Sins of the Fathers: Reparations for Slavery

Regular readers of the this Blog are aware of its interest in slavery. One much debated issue is the question of reparations for the descendants of the enslaved. This raises what are really quite complex issues, which your blogger does not propose to debate here, involving liability for what one’s ancestors have done. How can I be personally liable for what my great-grandmother did? There is much more to it than this, of course. And your blogger is not to be understood as airily dismissing the issue.

The argument is rather easier, however, when it comes to institutions; they have continuity as legal persons. Very interesting questions arise out of the recent reporting in the New York Times about Georgetown University. In 1838, the Jesuit fathers who ran it sought to save it from ruin by the sale of 272 slaves. The University had acquired slaves and plantations in Maryland in a variety of ways, often by legacy; it now sold the slaves “down the river” (though not literally in this case, as they went by sea) to Louisiana to be sold in New Orleans. Louisiana was a great consumer of slaves in its sugar plantations. See Rachel L. Swarns, “272 Slaves were sold to Save Georgetown. What does it Owe their Descendants?” (16 April, 2016); Editorial, “Georgetown and the Sin of Slavery” New York Times, 23 April, 2016. Thanks to detailed records it has proved possible to start to trace these slaves and their descendants.

Slave-ownership in the West Indian plantations was widespread in the Scottish population, as the project on the compensation records carried out at University College London has confirmed. This raises a number of issues. But one Scottish institution that was a slave-owner in Jamaica was of course the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. It had received by way of legacy a plantation and slaves under the will of Dr Archibald Ker. The records relating to its slaves are to be found in the archives of the Lothian Health Board.

It is interesting to note that internet searches reveal that every few years the Scottish newspapers discover this “shame”, as they like to call it, yet anew as if never known before! But this says more about newspapers and the desire of thrusting academics for “impact” than anything else. See, e.g., “Shame of City’s Slavery Profits”, The Scotsman, 2 Dec. 2006; “Scotland’s Slaving History Revealed”, Edinburgh Evening News, 22 Oct. 2013.

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Relaunched American Journal of Legal History

Readers of this blog will already be are of the relaunch of the American Journal of Legal History now published by Oxford University Press and edited from Europe by Stefan Vogenauer, sometime Professor of Comparative Law at Oxford, and now one of the Directors of the Max-Planck Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt-am Main and from the USA by Alfred L. Brophy of the University of North Carolina School of Law. See http://ajlh.oxfordjournals.org

Founded in 1957, the Journal has the distinction of being the oldest English-language journal specialising in legal history. For many years it was published by Temple University School of Law in Philadelphia, and served as the Journal of the American Society of Legal History until 1982.

There was recently a small reception in Frankfurt, which your blogger attended, to mark this new lease of life. A photograph records the occasion:


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Fort Pitt and the Scots: Sir Peter Halkett of Pitfirrane

Your blogger recently visited Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania to attend an academic conference. As the spelling would suggest, the name was given to the British settlement by a Scotsman, General John Forbes, from Fife, in honour of the elder Pitt. That other Fifer, Andrew Carnegie, is probably the Scot most associated nowadays with the city.

One just needs to visit Pittsburgh to understand the area’s strategic significance.  The Monongahela and Allegheny rivers join to form the Ohio river, which, eventually linking with the Mississippi, provides access through much of the continent to the Gulf of Mexico.

The point where the rivers converge is surrounded by bluffs. On this point, the French built Fort Duquesne in 1754, one of a series of forts facing the British colonies, at the start of what British Historians call the Seven Years War (known in North America as the French and Indian War), an essentially global war important in the development of the British Empire in North America and India, as well as having a major impact in continental Europe. From the Ohio, the way was open by river through the huge territory claimed by the French as Louisiana. The story is complicated; to explain it in detail would require a lot of time. Suffice it to say that the British saw the Fort as a threat to their colonies, particularly Virginia. There were various adventures against it, leading finally to the British occupation of the area under Forbes in 1758. One such adventure was led by George Washington; another, which failed, was led by James Grant of Ballindalloch, later Governor of British East Florida.

The presence of Grant and Forbes reminds us of the fact that the proportion of Scots in the officer class of the British army was disproportionately large. Further north in the same war, one can note General James Murray, who, with the Fraser Highlanders, played a significant role in the capture of Canada, and became first civil Governor of the British Province of Quebec. Indeed, any casual observation of colonial America in this era turns up numerous Scots officers and colonial governors, such as Robert Dinwiddie, who played a part in the story of Pittsburgh, Gabriel Johnston, James Glen, the Earl of Loudoun, and the Earl of Dunmore.

There is an excellent and informative museum at Fort Pitt. It gave this blogger a proper understanding of the warfare in this part of the Ohio river for the first time. One of the unsuccessful adventures against Fort Duquesne before Forbes finally captured it was led by General James Braddock who died in his failed attack on the French. The commander of the 44th Foot under Braddock was Sir Peter Halkett of Pitfirrane who, with his son, Lieutenant James Halkett, also died in this attempt on the Fort. Both Halketts rate a mention in the exhibition in the museum. But the comment on Sir Peter is rather odd: “A veteran of the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans, near Edinburgh; although born in Scotland, he fought with British troops against Charles Stuart, Scottish pretender to the British throne.” This gives a rather misleading twist to Scottish history  and seems to suppose that Scotland is not part of Britain. As most readers of this Blog will know “Britain” is not something other than “Scotland” but includes Scotland – no Scotland no Britain. “Scottish” troops are “British” troops. Furthermore, to describe Prince Charles as “Scottish pretender to the British throne” is perfectly absurd. The grandson of James VII and II and his Italian wife, Mary of Modena, and the son of a Polish mother, Maria Clementina Sobieska, Charles was not any more “Scottish” than George I, great grandson of James VI and I. The description in the Museum suggests surprise that Halkett fought against Charles; but in fact only a minority of Scots supported Charles. Most rejoiced at his defeat at Culloden. They saw this as providing security for the Scottish protestant church and protection for limited government in the face of potential royal absolutism. In reality, Charles had just been a pawn of the French, and the Rebellion a minor sideshow to annoy the British in the war of the Austrian Succession.

There is one interesting thing about Halkett, a professional army officer, and the Jacobite Rebellion worth mentioning here. He was in fact captured at Prestonpans; but he was released on parole on promising not to take up arms for eighteen months. He honoured this undertaking by refusing to answer a summons issued by the Duke of Cumberland in February 1746 to rejoin his regiment, under threat of losing his commission. He commented that the Duke “was master of their commissions but not of their probity and honour”. (See http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1715-1754/member/halkett-peter-1695-1755.) As his subsequent career showed, the British army continued to value his honour as an officer and a gentleman.

The large, rambling family home of Pitfirrane, again in Fife, is now the club house of Dunfermline Golf Club, rather defaced by modern additions. See https://canmore.org.uk/site/49343/pitfirrane-castle.

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Legal Literature in Sixteenth Century Scotland Conference. Aberdeen, 2-3 June

This Blog is please to notice that our colleagues in Aberdeen are organising the above conference on 2-3 June. It will be hosted by the Civil Law Centre with the support of the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies. Contributors provisionally include: Dr Athol Murray; Professor Gero Dolezalek; Dr Adelyn Wilson; Dr Julian Goodare, Dr Andrew Simpson; Professor John Ford; Dr Leslie Dodd. It looks an interesting and important event. It will be held in the Humanity Manse in Old Aberdeen. See http://www.abdn.ac.uk/law/events/8864/

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The relaunched American Journal of legal History

Readers of this blog will be interested in the blog entry by Alfred L. Brophy on the importance of legal history and the future of the field. It can be read here:

How legal history shapes the present

This blogger would also recommend that readers access the online version of the latest volume of the AJLH and read the stimulating articles on the future of the subject, especially Ulrike Babusiaux on Roman law.

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When Roman law makes you smile …

Ever so often one comes across something in the field of Roman law that makes you smile.

It is a little known fact that the well-known children’s author, Claudia Rueda, author of one of my favourite books – “here comes the tooth fairy cat” – has a degree in Roman law.

And not only does she have a degree in Roman law, but she also completed her final dissertation on a history of Roman law in graphic novel format. While the book focuses on the South-American experience of Roman law, it has universal appeal.

The full work can be viewed here:

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Roman law in the Guardian

This blogger was interested to see the following comment piece in The Guardian.


While interesting, the writer does seem to be somewhat misinformed about the Scottish position. This is to be regretted.

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Conference notification – Legal Method

On 23rd and 24th June 2016, a conference entitled ‘A Discourse on the Legal Method: Historical and Philosophical Influences on Legal Thinking’ will take place at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. This event is part of the series of conferences organised by the Groningen Circle (Milan 2013, Groningen 2014). The Circle comprises European scholars who have joined together in a project which aims to open a new pathway into the area of legal history, particularly Roman law, and legal philosophy in order to reveal the historical and philosophical foundations of the Western legal tradition. In so doing, the members of the Circle aim to create a strong link between the history and philosophy of private law on the one hand and the modern private law and lawyers on the other hand.

For more information and registration, go to http://laos.msses.ru/. Attendants might need a Russian visa, which requires an invitation and can take some time to obtain. For visa and general queries, please contact astjufljaeva@universitas.ru

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“New” ancient legal history

Those with an interest in the field may be well advised to look at this new edition of an online journal. It contains many valuable insights about the above.


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