The Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, 1944-2011, distinguished scholar of Roman law and legal history


(Photo courtesy of University of Oxford) 

With the death of Alan Rodger (the Lord Rodger of Earlsferry) on 26th June 2011, the study of Roman law has lost one of its most important advocates in the United Kingdom. Though a Glasgow arts and law graduate who took his doctorate at Oxford, he had strong links with the University of Edinburgh, tutoring for a number of years in first-year Civil (Roman) Law in the 1970s and acting as External Examiner both in it and the Honours Course in Civil Law the 1980s, continuing as such even after appointed Solicitor-General for Scotland in 1989. He was awarded the degree of LLD honoris causa by the University in 2001; this was just one of a number of such honours he acquired.

The son of a Glasgow professor, Lord Rodger might have seemed ideally suited for an academic career. After studies at Glasgow, he moved to Oxford to pursue his doctorate under the supervision of that charismatic and brilliant scholar, David Daube, whose character and life he later shrewdly analysed. After holding a junior research fellowship at Balliol College, he moved to a Fellowship at New College. His doctoral thesis was published as Owners and Neighbours in Roman Law in 1972. But he soon returned to Scotland to take up a career as a member of the Faculty of Advocates. He once told this blogger that having been brought up in the Professors' Court in Glasgow, he had seen enough of academic life to know he wanted to have another type of career. But he nonetheless remained very close to his alma mater of Oxford, and was much involved in its affairs, very recently being chosen as Visitor of Balliol College, while having served as High Steward of the University since 2008. It also gave him pleasure to be a Visiting Professor at his other alma mater, Glasgow, which he continued to hold in affection. One suspects he was right to avoid an academic career and to act more as an eminence grise; one wonders how much patience he would have had for much of the trivia that troubles the contemporary British academic.

Alan Rodger was above all an enthusiastic scholar. He wrote much on Roman law, latterly focusing particularly on the praetor's edict, carefully assessing and criticising the pioneering work of Otto Lenel. He also had a very strong interest in Victorian legal history, recently publishing a monograph on the 1843 Disruption in the Church of Scotland. When his duties permitted, he would attend the Roman Law Group in Edinburgh founded by his good friend, the late and much-missed Peter Birks, whose early death affected Alan deeply. He would give academic papers; and he was greatly amused, when, at the last presentation he gave to the Edinburgh Group, it was questioned which was his true day-job – Lord of Appeal in Ordinary or scholar of Roman law.

Others who knew him much better than this blogger did can speak more about the man. He could sometimes seem stern and austere, but he was also very warm and sociable and indeed jovial in company. He will be very much missed.