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.



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Professor Emeritus Reuven Yaron, 1924-2014

On the morning of 8 April 2014, Reuven Yaron died in his sleep. He was five months short of his ninetieth birthday. I first met Professor Yaron in Vienna, the city of his birth, at the SIDHA Conference in 1994. I never knew him well; but that he was a warm, witty, and charming man with a sly sense of humour was immediately obvious. He was kind and interested in a young legal historian. As a pupil of Alan Watson, I of course knew who Professor Yaron was and had read some of his work. I subsequently met him at events in Aberdeen commemorating his teacher, David Daube. He also contributed to the Festschrift for Alan Watson I edited with Olivia Robinson.

Professor Yaron had emigrated to Palestine in 1937, and had studied law at the University of Jerusalem, before writing a D.Phil thesis at Oxford, under the supervision of Daube, on Gifts in Contemplation of Death in Jewish and Roman Law, published by OUP in 1960. He in fact had started his work with Daube at the University of Aberdeen, before his master moved to Oxford. After teaching at Aberdeen, Professor Yaron taught at the Hebrew University from 1957 until his retirement, serving as Dean from 1967-1971. He also held various public posts in Israel.

Professor Yaron’s main publications are listed in volume 29 of the Israel Law Review, which was dedicated to him on his 70th birthday. His scholarship ranged through the linked fields of Roman law, ancient near eastern law, Jewish law and Aramaic papyri.

While Professor Yaron was full of years, and the death of a man who has had a rich and full life in his ninetieth year can be no tragedy, it reminds us all of the passing of a generation of brilliant scholars who did much to develop legal education in Britain and elsewhere after the Second World War.

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Slavery Bill & Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines on the Legal Parameters of Slavery

This blog has a distinct and definite interest in slavery, particularly historical. Regular readers will be aware of this.

Today, 8th April 2014, the new draft Slavery Bill of a joint committee of the Houses of Commons and Lords was published. Its first clause criminalises slavery. It is good to note that the definition of slavery given here follows that developed in the Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines on the Legal Parameters of Slavery (see, in the development of which your blogger had the honour to play a part, in the course of the work of a Research Network on the Legal Parameters of Slavery. Under the capable leadership of Jean Allain, the Research Network’s exploration started from the UN’s definition of slavery, and the problems found in interpreting it, to create the Guidelines. It is good to see that they are starting to have real impact.

The proposed bill, if enacted, will apply only to England Wales. Co-operation is proposed through the UK. In Scotland, in September 2013, Ms Jenny Marra, MSP, introduced for consultation a proposal for a Human Trafficking (Scotland) Bill for consultation (no draft bill was provided); following a very favourable response, the proposal fell on 17 March 2014 when the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Mr K. McAskill indicated that the Scottish Government would, within the current session of Parliament, introduce a bill to cover human trafficking. We will wait to see what is produced. One hopes the drafters of the bill will also take into account the Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines.

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Professor A.B. (Basil) Edwards

It is with some sadness that we report the death, earlier this year, of Basil Edwards, Professor Emeritus at the University of South Africa and a well-known scholar on the history of South African law. Professor Edwards was  a firm friend of the Edinburgh Law School and spent a number of sabbaticals in Edinburgh conducting research on the historical links between the Law of Scotland and of South Africa.

With the permission of the Editors of Fundamina, The Journal of the Southern African Society of Legal Historians, we publish an extract from an obituary which will appear in print later this year. The obituary was written by Professor Elsabé Schoeman, University of Auckland, one of his former students:

‘He made a substantial contribution to South African law and legal literature. He was responsible for the chapters on “The Idea of Law”, “Legal Theory”, “The History of South African Law”, “Sources of South African Law” and “Public and Private International Law”, as well as, in conjunction with Prof Joan Church, the chapter on “Introduction to Indigenous Law and the Comparative Method”, in the 1500 page tour de force, Introduction to South African Law and Legal Theory (2nd edn, Butterworths, 1995 (reprint: 1997)). He also authored the monographic LAWSA title, Conflict of Laws (Butterworths, 1993). Apart from numerous articles (including his inaugural lecture, “Choice of Law in Delict: Rules or Approach?” (1979) 96 SALJ 48), notes and case comments, he participated in a number of Festschriften, which saw him unearth gems like Hughes v Wrankmore  ((1813-1814) Court of Appeals for Civil Cases at the Cape of Good Hope), an early international insolvency case. The Selective Paulus Voet (in collaboration with Dawie Kriel and with assistance from Paul du Plessis and Rena van den Berg), was his last academic publication and perhaps the greatest of them all. The final published work contains a translation of those sections of Paulus Voet’s De Statutis Eorumque Concursu Liber Singularis (Amstelodami, 1661) that are relevant to modern conflict of laws. These sections are placed in historical perspective within the context of the rise and fall of statutism in Western Europe, Great Britain, the United States of America and South Africa. The work concludes with a brief appraisal of Paulus Voet’s legacy in South African law.’

This blogger worked closely with Basil on the Paulus Voet project. It was a monumental work which on more than one occasion nearly drove us both to distraction. I will never forget his kindness and unfailing good humour in the final stages of the project. These are the marks of a world-class scholar and a true gentleman.

Basil Edwards was a remarkable scholar with a keen interest in Roman, Roman-Dutch and modern South African law. Through his scholarship, he continued a long and important tradition of historical scholarship in South African law. He will be missed.

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H.J. Scheltema Symposium on Byzantine Law

Our colleagues at the University of Groningen, Faculty of Law, have alerted us to the following seminar:

H.J. Scheltema – Symposium on Byzantine Law

Theme:       Byzantine Law
Date:           Mon 23-06-2014 – Tue 24-06-2014
Time:          11.00 – 16.00 hrs. (both days)
Location:    Senaatskamer (Academy Building, University of Groningen), Broerstraat 5 in Groningen

The Faculty of Law of the University of Groningen is pleased to invite you to attend a two-day symposium on June 23-24 to celebrate the cooperation between Groningen and Palermo. The symposium will take place in the Senaatskamer of the University, Broerstraat 5. On June 24 at 16.15 hrs, Professor Giuseppe Falcone, who has held the H.J. Scheltema Chair for two years, will bring the symposium to a conclusion with a solemn address, entitled The ‘mysterious’ beauty of Laws.

For more information and a full programme, please contact Professor Bernard Stolte.

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Felix B.J. Wubbe (31.1.1923 – 30.3.2014)


Dear Colleagues and Friends,

 I have just been informed that prof. em. Felix B.J. Wubbe passed away yesterday Sunday 30 March 2014, after a short illness.

The burial ceremony will take place at the Fribourg Cathedral Friday 4th April 2014 at 10.00.

 You can contact the family at:

Clara Wubbe
rue Jean-Grimoux 8
CH-1700 Fribourg

Clara Wubbe (

With emotion and grief, I send you my best regards

Pascal Pichonnaz

Ci-dessous quelques éléments biographiques :

Le Prof. Felix B.J. Wubbe est né le 31 janvier 1923 à La Haye (Pays-Bas). Il a entrepris des études de philologie classique aux Universités de Leiden et Utrecht de 1940 à 1943. De 1943 à 1944, déportation et travail forcé à Berlin, puis “disparu” aux Pays-Bas jusqu’à la fin de l’occupation 1944-1945. Employé dans l’industrie de l’habillement 1946-1952, il a entrepris des études de droit de 1952-1955. Assistant du Prof. R. Feenstra de 1955 à 1961, il fut chargé de cours à l’Université de Münster au semestre d’été 1958 et d’été 1959, remplaçant le prof. Max Kaser. Il a obtenu son doctorat en avril 1960 sous la direction du Prof. Robert Feenstra.

Il a débuté son activité comme professeur ordinaire de droit romain (en français et en allemand) à la Faculté de droit de Fribourg à l’automne 1961. Professeur émérite depuis l’été 1993, il a poursuivi son enseignement pendant une année supplémentaire à la demande de la Faculté.

Doyen de la Faculté de droit et des sciences économiques et sociales de l’Université de Fribourg de 1969 à 1971, il fut aussi président de la section juridique de 1969 à 1973.  Sénateur de l’Université de 1971 à 1974, il fut également président de l’Assemblée plénière de l’Université de 1979 à 1987.

Editeur de la Collection AISUF de 1967 à 1980, membre du comité de rédaction de la Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis (Pays-Bas) de 1965 à 1993, Felix Wubbe fut également vice-président de l’Accademia Romanistica Costantiniana (Perugia) de 1991 à 2010. Il fut en outre un membre assidu de la Société internationale ‘Fernand de Vischer’ pour l’Histoire des Droits de l’Antiquité pendant plus cinquante ans et en a assuré la chronique annuelle pendant de très nombreuses années.

Pascal Pichonnaz

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Louisiana Civil Code: Compiled Edition

All those who research in the legal history of Louisiana are aware of the enduring value of the Compiled Edition of the Civil Codes of Louisiana, produced by the Louisiana State Law Institute pursuant to a 1938 Act of the State Legislature. Louisiana State University’s Law Centre has now digitized the pages of volume III of the Compiled Edition:

This means there is accessible, following the text of the Civil Code of 1870, the articles of the Digest of 1808 and the Civil Code of 1825, along with the relevant texts of the Code Napoleon and its Projet of 1800. The original volumes also included the Projets of the Civil Code of 1825 and of the Code of Practice. Perhaps the success of this endeavour will encourage the further digitization of this material.

This is an excellent resource for legal historians, and those who produce L.S.U. Digital Commons are to be congratulated and thanked.

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Book Launch – History of International Law

This blogger is delighted to report that our colleague, Stephen Neff, will hold a book launch of his newest work – Justice Among Nations- A History of International Law – at Blackwell’s Book store on South Bridge, Edinburgh on 17 April 2014 14 May 2014 at 6.30 pm.

Dr. Neff is well known for his wide-ranging scholarship on the history of International Law. We hope to see many of you there.

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Legal Eagles of Louisiana

Legal Eagle is what the OED describes as a rhyming collocation. The term goes back to the 1940s, and is first found in the U.S.A.

This Blog has a long-standing interest in Louisiana and its law. Louisiana is of course known as the Pelican State because of the adoption of the native brown pelican as the state bird. On the State Flag, a hen Pelican feeds her young with her own blood. Formalised in 1912 (and again in 2006) a pelican flag has in fact been used since the 1860s.

The bald-headed eagle has been the symbol used on the seal of the U.S.A. since 1782. It is a powerful symbol, the bird of Zeus, whose form he would sometimes take, and it is much used in heraldry, its wings outstretched generally symbolising protection.

The Law Library of Louisiana has just produced a poster as an exhibit, featuring symbolic eagles used by New Orleans printers in the early days of statehood (which came in 1812). Interestingly enough, one image depicts the eagle in the pose later used for the pelican, feeding her young with blood from her breast. It occurs on a French-language title page for acts passed by the first legislature of the new State. Over it is a ribbon bearing the words “Union” and “Confidence”. Also on the poster, but without a corresponding title page, is a medallion of another eagle, standing on a palm branch bearing in its beak a crown of laurel or olive, with the words Territory of Orleans surrounding the top half of the medallion with other devices – an intriguing symbol.

All of this points in an imaginative way to a fertile field for research. The Law library of Louisiana is to be congratulated for this stimulating display of symbols potent with meaning.

legal eagles

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Henry Goudy & Corroboration

As Members of the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament suggest ditching the SNP Government’s controversial plans to get rid of the traditional rule on corroboration, it is worth recalling an earlier Scots lawyer’s reaction to the lack of a requirement of corroboration.

On Wednesday 12 May 1897, the Prince of Wales had visited Oxford. A number of undergraduates and one Fellow of a College – no less an individual than the brilliant F.E. Smith of Merton, later Lord Birkenhead – were arrested for various public order offences, including being drunk and disorderly, assault on a police officer, and obstruction. The City Magistrates spent several hours dealing with the prosecutions on 14 May. Among the spectators at the court was Henry Goudy, a Scots advocate, son of an Ulster Presbyterian minister, then Regius Professor of Civil Law in Oxford.

Goudy is best known for his classic treatise on bankruptcy. He had served in Scotland as an advocate depute, and also acted as defence counsel on occasion. On 15 May he wrote to The Times. He explained that he thought the police largely to blame for the major disturbance through aggressive policing. He noted that “[i]n one case a conviction was obtained upon the wholly uncorroborated testimony of a single constable, which though technically warranted by the English law of evidence, struck me, as one accustomed to procedure in another jurisdiction as very unsatisfactory.” He added that “[e]very one trained in the practice of criminal Courts knows how dangerous it is to accept as conclusive the unsupported testimony of police constables”.

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