Professor Angelo Forte


This Blog is saddened to have to report the death of Angelo Forte. Though ill recently, Angelo had always shown enthusiasm for having fun in life and strong commitment to legal history. His photo on the Aberdeen web page shows the man in typical pose and expression.

Angelo graduated in history and law from the University of Edinburgh. Private practice was followed by teaching posts in Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh, before his move to the Chair of Commercial law in Aberdeen in 1993. He was a noted scholar of commercial law, producing what became the standard textbook for Scots students. His legal history research often reflected his commercial law interests, particularly in insurance.

Angelo was very proud of his descent from Italian immigrants who had married into Fife fisherfolk.  He had a strong interest in boats and the sea – interests that often cropped up in his scholarly work. Of  course, for one interested in the history of commercial law, shipping was inevitably important. But few legal historians publish on fifteenth-century ship types in the Mariner's Mirror, as Angelo did.

As well as his own work, Angelo was instrumental in founding the Scottish Legal History Group in 1981, holding meetings in his office in the Glasgow Law School, which then was in a number of converted houses in the area near the Main Library. Hector MacQueen recalls the meeting vividly – Angelo was a comfy figure, with a chuckle in his voice, smoking a pipe, sitting in a large chair. Though like all lives, Angelo's was not without its sadnesses and disappointments, his air of genial comfort is well remembered. Indeed, this blogger crossed the Karoo Desert in a 4 by 4 with Angelo and three others, the journey, from Pretoria to Cape Town, took two days, a test of good humour which Angelo passed with flying colours. Indeed we all had fun.

Our thoughts go to his wife and daughter.

He will be missed.


Dafydd Jenkins (1911-2012)

This Blog is saddened to note the death of Dafydd Jenkins. A more formal obituary will be found here:  As well as the wonderful and very typical photograph, it rightly describes him as "Scholar of Medieval Welsh Law (inter plurima)". A remarkable man, with a beautiful voice, he had a notably kind face, reflecting a notably kind disposition, and a smile in his eyes, as the photograph shows. Not all great scholars are lovely men, but Dafydd Jenkins was.

At the British Legal History Conference, his easy friendliness and warmth made all – especially young scholars – welcome. There he displayed a notable eagerness to discuss legal history, and a  keenness to foster newcomers and introduce them to established members. He was not one to leave people standing alone on the sidelines out of shyness. He was very engaging, and, though by any standard a grand man, not at all "grand" in his behaviour.

He will be remembered with great fondness and affection by many.

The Late Professor Emeritus John Adams (1939-2012)

This blogger was saddened to hear of the recent death of Professor John Adams at what is in the modern world a relatively young age. He was best known as an intellectual property lawyer, but, like most thoughtful private lawyers, he was also interested in legal history. In 1982 he published the extraordinary Bibliography of eighteenth century legal literature, a massive contribution of great value in those days before all the electronic resources that there are now readily accessible from one's computer. In 1992 came the Bibliography of nineteenth century legal literature. He was also a fun person. Our condolences go to his partner, David, who has suffered such a great loss. A much fuller appreciation will be given by our colleague Hector MacQueen on the website of the Intellectual Property Institute.

In Memory of Alan Rodger: A Conference on Legal History and Roman Law, 7-8 September 2012

The Blog is delighted to note that our colleague at Glasgow, Ernie Metzger, amd David Johnston, QC, an Honorary Professor in Edinburgh, are organising a conference in memory of the late Lord Rodger at Glasgow this September. It promses to be an imortant event to commemorate this great man. Readers of the Blog are encouraged to think of attending. The Legal History at Glasgow website states:

Alan Rodger, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, wrote on legal history and Roman law for more than forty years. He was a student of David Daube at the University of Oxford, and remained an active and engaged scholar even as he pursued a career as an advocate and in government, eventually serving as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

There will be presentations on the Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, as well as a reception and dinner on the Friday evening.  The conference is being organised by Ernest Metzger, Douglas Professor of Civil Law in the University of Glasgow, and David Johnston QC, Axiom Advocates, Edinburgh.

We will keep you informed of arrangements: please send a note to if you are considering attending. In due course those who wish to attend the conference, with or without the reception and dinner, will be able to register from this site.

The speakers will include

Tiziana J. Chiusi
Professor of Civil Law, Roman Law and Comparative Law, University of Saarland

Michael Crawford FBA
Emeritus Professor, History, University College London

Robin Evans-Jones
Professor of Jurisprudence, University of Aberdeen

Joshua S. Getzler
Professor of Law and Legal History, University of Oxford

Kenneth Reid CBE, FBA, FRSE
Professor of Scots Law, University of Edinburgh

John Richardson FRSE
Emeritus Professor of Classics, University of Edinburgh

Boudewijn Sirks
Regius Professor of Civil Law, University of Oxford

Tributes and Bibliography
A list of tributes to Alan Rodger, with a bibliography of his works, may be found at


Memorial Service Oxford, 11 February: Alan Rodger

After the moving memorial service in Edinburgh at St Giles for the Lord Rodger of Earlsferry (see, readers of this Blog may be interested to know that another one will be held in the University Church in Oxford on 11 February at 2p.m. The card is copied in below:


The Right Honourable the Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

1944 – 2011

Doctoral Student, New College, 1967-1969
Dyke Junior Research Fellow, Balliol College 1969-1970
Fellow, New College 1970-1972
Honorary Fellow, Balliol College 1999-2011
Honorary Fellow, New College 2005-2011
Visitor, St Hugh’s College 2003-2011
Visitor, Linacre College 2008-2011
Visitor, Balliol College 2010-2011
High Steward, University of Oxford 2008-2011


Refreshments will be served in the Divinity School following the service.

George Dargo: Prominent Historian of Louisiana Law dies

I first met George Dargo only in November 2008. It was in New Orleans at a conference at Tulane organised by Vernon Palmer to mark the Bicentenary of the enactment of the Digest of the Civil Laws now in Force in the Territory of Orleans. In a sense, however, I had known Professor Dargo since I was a graduate student. This was because, a couple of years before I started work on my PhD in Edinburgh, he had published a major monograph, Jefferson’s Louisiana: Politics and the Clash of Legal Traditions (Cambridge Ma, 1975), based on his own Columbia PhD thesis. It is undoubtedly one of the most important studies ever of the Louisiana Purchase and its impact on the politics and legal culture of Louisiana. It was a major influence on my own work.

The importance of this book led to a revised edition by the Lawbook Exchange (2010), updated with a new introduction. To mark its publication, along with Georgia Chadwick, Director of the Law Library of Louisiana, who had encouraged the enterprise, the Lawbook Exchange organised a lunch at Antoine’s in New Orleans during the American Association of Law School’s Conference in January 2010.


width=320(At Antoine’s: Professor Dargo is on the left, with Olivier Moreteau, Vernon Palmer, and Claire Germaine. Photo courtesy of Valerie Horowitz, Lawbook Exchange.)

In the intervening years, Professor Dargo had studied law and moved from being a Professor of History to one of Law. He was to have a distinguished career at the New England Law School, where he maintained a notable interest in legal history, while also teaching Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, Freedom of Expression, and Law and Literature. It is worth noting that his collected essays, Colony to Empire: Episodes in American Legal History, will be published in the Spring, again by the Lawbook Exchange.

At the Tulane Conference Professor Dargo gave a lively historical paper on the context of the Digest. I spoke on the same panel. On the evening of that day, at a reception in the house of a benefactor of the Tulane Law School, I had my first long chat with him. He was interesting and witty with a wry attitude (he waswidth=240 keen on Seinfeld), and entirely charming. I took to him immediately.

(Professor Dargo signing copies of Jefferson’s Louisiana in New Orleans. Photo courtesy of Valerie Horowitz, Lawbook Exchange.)


In May, 2010 I organised in Edinburgh a Workshop on the history of the law of Louisiana. As one of the most noted scholars of the early territorial period in Lousiana, George was of course invited. He planned to come with his wife. Unfortunately, this ultimately proved impossible.

Despite illness, Professor Dargo taught through the last semester (a mark of the man), dying at home on the evening of 5 January. He will be much missed and our thoughts go to his wife, children and grandchildren. Further obituaries may be found at


Peter B.H. Birks: A Recent Assessment

The recent death of Lord Rodger has caused your blogger to reflect quite a lot on the late Peter Birks, since he and Alan Rodger had been so close and both died so much before their time. It was therefore fascinating, while browsing in the Edinburgh Law Library’s current periodicals section, to come across in the Restitution Law Review (2011) the paper by Professor Gerard McMeel of Bristol reflecting on the intellectual legacy of Peter Birks and considering what type of scholar he had been.

I was initially surprised to see this; it sometimes feels very much as if Peter is still with us. But it is seven years since his death and he now even has an entry in the ODNB by Willam Swadling (which I did not realise until reading Professor McMeel’s article). Perhaps our consciousness of his continuing presence is just a reflection of the power of his charisma and personality and the continuing relevance of his work. Professor McMeel has certainly made a good case for the assessment of Peter’s intellectual legacy, if only because it is already being fought over. As McMeel rightly says, Peter “was the dominant private lawyer of recent time”.

Classification or taxonomy was an abiding interest of Peter’s; so one can imagine his amusement as his successors try to classify him. He would also have applied his formidable intellect to correcting them where he thought them wrong. Though a kind man, he could be quite impatient with wilful stupidity or intellectual idleness. According to McMeel, by both friend and foe, he has been variously labelled as a taxonomist, a positivist, a formalist, a correctivist, an interpretivist, and a pragmatist. No doubt, like us all, he was not always consistent in his approach. But what is fascinating is that so many writers are in a way creating their own Birks and arguing over the intellectual legacy: whether one they wish to agree with or one they wish to reject.

Peter’s death is still recent; the loss is still raw and felt. Grief may still seek ownership and possession of the memory.

I first got to know Peter well when I returned to Edinburgh from teaching at the Queen’s University, Belfast. He then held Edinburgh’s chair of Civil Law. Of my senior colleagues at Edinburgh, he was the only one who offered me anything significant in the way of mentoring of the type I had already experienced at Queen’s from, among others, my excellent Head of Department there, Colin Campbell. Though I was formally in the Department of Scots Law, much of my teaching was in Civil Law. Together with the talented Departmental Secretary, Mrs Lisa White, Peter generated an air of excitement in the Department. One felt that important things were happening, and that good things would be the result. He was enthusiastic; he made one feel the importance of academic life. This meant that Peter was not an easy-going man. He was quite impatient with some of his fellow Professors in the Faculty, whom he saw – rightly or wrongly – as obstructive to progress and development. He was an enthusiastic if not always popular teacher. He really wanted to communicate his ideas. The duller brethren found him difficult; the brighter responded to his keenness, charisma, and indeed handsome looks to be stimulated and excited by ideas and scholarship.

Swadling writes that Peter was “still based in Oxford” during his time in Edinburgh; from the Edinburgh point of view one would not have known. He seemed omnipresent. He created the Edinburgh Roman Law group, still going strong; he created the Edinburgh Legal History Discussion Group, of which one can say the same. Many articles started off in the latter as a brief presentation before friends over a glass of wine. It is obvious, though, that he had a punishing regime of night buses and later an old banger of a car to travel to Oxford for most weekends. In many ways it must have been a tough life for Peter and Jackie, particularly after the birth of their son who was christened in Edinburgh. But one was not aware of this. In Edinburgh Peter had made himself comfortable. He had a delightful small flat overlooking Greyfriars Kirkyard in an old converted building.
Peter loved Roman law. He became famous for his work on English restitution, and indeed when I came back to Edinburgh, he will have been completing the first edition of his masterful work on the topic. It is his work on restitution that McMeel discusses as disputed. But the Birks I knew was the Birks excited by the discovery of the Lex Irnitana and the implications this held for our understanding of the role of the judges and of Roman procedure; the Birks keen on the Lex Aquilia and teasing out the nature and interpretation of texts on damage caused by smoke from a cheese manufactory; the Birks who took students through Cicero’s speeches so they could get a grasp of the immediacy and reality of Roman law; the Birks who understood that Gaius was still an excellent introductory work for novice lawyers; the Birks who wrote for our students a wonderful unpublished essay to help them understand the nature of an obligation.

Of course, some of this links up with his work on English restitution: our students got a lot on Gaius’ and Justinian’s schemes of classification. The problems posed by Gaius’ division of obligations and the nature of the condictio indebiti were expounded to them. We still give our students the clever selection of texts that Peter and Grant McLeod developed for teaching first-year Roman law: texts the juxtaposition of which encourages students to investigate and think for themsleves through the problems of law and history they pose. Peter was interested in what some might think of as by-ways in legal history. Thus I recall a paper at the Legal History Discussion group on Giles Jacob, “blunderbuss of law”; another on William Fulbecke, which led to a reprint of Fulbecke with an introduction by Peter. These minor figures were seen by Peter as encapsulating something significant about learning and classification: they emphasised that law was a rational system, just as much as did Gaius, Justinian, and Blackstone. That they were not great figures in a constructed canon was central to their significance. Peter’s understanding of legal history was undoubtedly influenced by Toby Milsom, who is indeed the most important historiographer of the early medieval common law since Maitland.

Peter was a sociable man. I recall many pleasant dinners in Edinburgh restaurants or after the Roman Law Group. (I also recall a dinner in my then flat in Stockbridge where there was an explosive argument with a colleague!) As I then lived on my own, I often worked late in the evening in Old College, as was often Peter’s practice. If he noticed I was there, and had finished for the night, he would call me down to his office, where we would share a bottle of (usually) red wine with conversation ranging from mere gossip to university politics to scholarly matters.

This brings me back to Professor McMeel’s paper. His main focus – and that of those whom he discusses – is on Peter’s work in restitution. He sees the key to understanding Peter’s oeuvre in that field as lying in his background in Roman law and Milsomian approach to legal history. This seems right. It certainly chimes with my own knowledge of Peter’s interests. I knew Peter best in the period of transition from his early to his middle phase, to adopt McMeel’s divisions of Peter’s work; but this as when he was laying down the foundations.
Peter is undoubtedly much missed. As was natural, I saw him increasingly less as the years passed; but we never became totally out of touch, though our academic interests increasingly diverged. I can still feel the shock when he told me of his illness. Swadling states that Peter had a strong sense of duty; this was true. He was indeed a good and faithful servant.

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.

James J Robertson

The Blog is saddened to heear of the death of James J (Jim) Robertson late of the University of Dundee's School of Law. Jim was an affable man who loved the history of Scots law and who made the influence of canon law on Scots law his particular interest. He was an active member of the Stair Society for many years, even delivering its annual lecture in 1987 on "Aspects of Scottish Legal Research in the Archives of the Roman Rota and the Roman Penitentiary".

A.W.B. (Brian) Simpson


The Blog was saddened to hear of the death on 10 January, 2011, of Brian Simpson, one of the leading historians of English law. Brian had a brilliant quirky mind and noticed the oddities and strangenesses that explain a lot and give a depth and perspective to legal historical studies. He also had the gift of being a very entertaining speaker to both small and large groups. His presentations at the British Legal History Conference are legendary. He was also a very humane and human man. There is a brief CV on the website  of the Michigan Law School, from which the above – very accurate – photo has been borrowed.

There is a curious glimpse of Brian in the funny and sad diaries of the late Kenneth Williams, which record a visit to Oxford and a lunch with Brian. The mind boggles at the thought of the conversation! 


1 2 3