“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 http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/the_independence_referendum/guide_to_voting.aspx 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