Iniuria and the Common Law – International Seminar, All Souls, Oxford: 8 – 10 September 2011

The author of this blog attended an excellent seminar over the weekend in the splendour of All Souls College, Oxford. The seminar was co-organised by our colleague, Dr. Eric Descheemaeker together with Professor Helen Scott of the University of Cape Town. 

A group of speakers (most of whom are pictured above) assembled to discuss iniuria in its historic and contemporary contexts. From left to right: Prof. Kenneth Norrie (University of Strathclyde); Prof. Robert Stevens (University College London); Prof. Francois Du Bois (University of Nottingham); Prof. John Blackie (University of Strathclyde); Prof. Reinhard Zimmermann (Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law, Hamburg); Prof. Helen Scott (University of Cape Town); Prof. Jonathan Burchell (University of Cape Town); Prof. Tony Honoré (University of Oxford); Prof. David Ibbetson (University of Cambridge); Prof. Anton Fagan (University of Cape Town); Dr Paul Du Plessis (University of Edinburgh); Dr Simon Douglas (University of Oxford); Dr Eric Descheemaeker (University of Edinburgh); Dr Joshua Getzler (University of Oxford); Prof. Paul Mitchell (University College London); Prof. Yasunori Kasai (Otsuma University, Tokyo); Mr James Lee (University of Birmingham); Prof. Geoffrey Samuel (University of Kent). Not on the photo: Prof. Boudewijn Sirks (University of Oxford); Prof. Stefan Vogenauer (University of Oxford)

The blurb of the seminar reads as follows:

"An international seminar on the modern analysis of the ancient Roman delict of iniuria, co-organised by Dr. Eric Descheemaeker (University of Edinburgh) and Prof. Helen Scott (University of Cape Town), under the auspices of the Institute of European and Comparative Law, University of Oxford.

The delict of iniuria is one of the most sophisticated aspects of the Roman legal tradition, distinguished in particular by the high level of abstraction and generalisation achieved by the classical jurists. The original, Republican focus of the delict was assault, although the literal meaning of iniuria – simply a ‘wrong’ or ‘unlawful act’ – indicated perhaps a very wide potential scope. However, it quickly grew to include sexual harassment and defamation, and by the classical period (i.e. from the first century AD) it had been entirely re-oriented around the concept of contumelia, insult. Under the influence of this productive generalisation, the delict was extended to cover a range of new wrongs, including the invasion of privacy. In truth, its scope now comprised all attacks on dignity.

It is the Roman delict of iniuria which forms the foundation of both the South African and – more controversially – Scots laws of injuries to personality. It has also exerted considerable influence on English law. Nevertheless, the history of the modern law is not the proposed focus of our seminar. Nor is our primary intention to invite comparison between these three jurisdictions. Rather, our purpose is to stimulate doctrinal scholarship around the Roman delict. In our view contemporary doctrinal questions surrounding assault, defamation and breach of privacy come into much sharper focus when the modern regime is lined up with its ancient counterpart. Thus we have invited participants to consider in what respects the delict of iniuria overlaps with, fall short of or exceeds its modern counterparts in England, Scotland and South Africa; the differences and similarities between the analytical frameworks employed in the ancient and modern law; and, finally, the degree to which the Roman proto-delict points the way to future development or rationalisation in each of these three legal systems."

The seminar was expertly organised and turned into an excellent occasion which produced many fine papers and lively discussion about iniuria both in its ancient and modern contexts. Our congratulations to Dr. Descheemaeker and Professor Scott.