Edinburgh Postgraduate Legal History Conference
Guest blog by Peter Candy
Alongside the legal history session chaired by Ross Macdonald at this year’s Edinburgh Postgraduate Law Conference (for which see here), I also had the pleasure of chairing a second session dedicated to the same discipline. The theme of the conference – ‘Law and its Boundaries’ – was reflected across the four papers which were presented.
Graeme Cunningham (Glasgow), in his paper entitled ‘Law, Rhetoric and Science: Historical Narratives in Roman Law’, demonstrated that in the development of the law surrounding bonorum possessio the praetor was heavily influenced by equitable considerations. By showing the praetor’s susceptibility to rhetorical arguments, Graeme successfully showed the value of a contextual analysis when investigating the development of Roman legal thought.
Jumping forward 1700 years, Franziska Arnold-Dwyer (Queen Mary University of London) delivered a fascinating paper entitled ‘Fraudulent Captains, Gambling Aristocrats and a Transgender Diplomat: A History of the Doctrine of Insurable Interest’. Following Graeme’s lead, Franziska also demonstrated that the doctrine cannot be fully understood without an appreciation of the social and economic context from which it arose. Of particular interest to your blogger was the exploitation of policies requiring no insurable interest on the part of the insured, which were exploited by fraudsters who overvalued cargoes, only to arrange for them to be captured or sunk on the high seas. The practice will remind the classically minded of an episode in Livy (25.3.8-14), in which the Roman state assumed the risk of shipwreck for transports sailing with supplies to Spain during the Second Punic War. Groups of tax-farmers, never missing an opportunity to make a quick buck, repeatedly defrauded the treasury by overvaluing their cargoes and then reporting them lost at sea.
Two final papers were delivered by Ciarán Crowley and Aengus Fallon (University College Dublin). Ciarán, in ‘Censorship of Literature in Ireland lives on, though only just: Thoughts following the Censorship of Publications Bill 2013’, explored the historical origins and continuing impact of the Committee of Evil Literature. The presenter identified the missed opportunity presented by the passage of the 2013 bill, which might have led to the unification of the still-extant Censorship Board of Ireland with the Film Classification Board. Continuing on the theme of Irish legal history, Aengus Fallon discussed the influences on the drafting of key legislation in the Irish Free State between 1922-24. Again, as is evident from all the papers, context triumphed: the exigencies of the rapid creation of a functioning constitutional machinery, coupled with a scarcity of resources (Arthur Matheson, the sole parliamentary drafter at the time, was indefatigable in his task), led to a replication of the Westminster model and a spate of legislative plagiarism.
A debt of gratitude is owed to the session sponsors, the Centre for Legal History, as well as to the Centre’s director, Dr Paul du Plessis, who acted as discussant. Thanks should also be extended to the conference committee for convening the event, and finally to the presenters themselves, for providing such thought-provoking insights into their research.
Peter Candy is a doctoral candidate at Edinburgh Law School.