ScoLaR Conference – legal debate on a summer’s day

On Friday 21 May the second ScoLaR conference took place in Edinburgh Law School.  The organisers should be congratulated for organising an excellent, highly enjoyable conference.  

Robin White gave the first presentation: “A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of Civil Penalties”.  He set a theme which arose at different points later in the day, i.e. the difficult boundary between civil and criminal law remedies. 

Many, if not most, of the remaining speakers were early career academics or legal practitioners (I’m sure Robin won’t mind being omitted from that description).  After the first coffee break, Stuart Kelly focussed on the role of the Lord Advocate, providing some food for thought on what it means to be, on the one hand, independent and on the other, impartial.  John MacLeod then provided us with an interesting comparative perspective on situations in which someone may be barred from inheriting.  He took us through para 2339 of the German BGB and the Parricide Act 1594. All this led again to a thoughtful exchange of views on the possible interaction of the development of the civilian and the Scottish rules. 

After lunch Lorraine Barrie and Lindsay Paterson from the Govanhill Law Centre took the floor to focus on the crime of Unlawful Eviction.  Their presentation focussed on the fact that, despite the frequency with which such evictions occur, there is an extremely small number of successful prosecutions.  There is evidence that the police fail to take reports of the crime seriously.  They presented some harrowing testimony from some of their clients who are clearly being failed on all sides by the legislation and those responsible for implementing it.  Their presentation provoked what I would suggest is the best type of legal debate, where each lawyer in the room draws on his or her very different background and knowledge in order to suggest ways in which to tackle this serious injustice.  The discussion ranged from interdict, breach of the peace, remedies against agents, to that old chestnut spuilzie and delictual damages.

This was followed by Jill Robbie on “The Development of Common Interest in Scotland.”  Again, the audience was treated to a presentation from someone immersed in her subject.  Jill’s searches amongst the Session Papers have clearly borne interesting fruit and should lead us to treat the short reports in Morison’s Dictionary with great caution.  We also heard about the role of Kames in the development of the law in this area: the gentleman farmer who is an authority but a wild one.

Sadly, this blogger had to leave the conference before the end and so can’t comment on the remaining papers, including a final presentation from the Rt Hon Lord Rodger.  Perhaps some of the other bloggers can fill this void?  What I can do is to provide some thoughts on the idea of the conference as a whole. 

Firstly, although the focus of each speaker was part of Scots law, that description should not be taken in a narrow sense.  An example was Stuart Kelly who took us through some interesting theoretical ideas which are, of course, not particular to the Scottish legal system.  The approach of other speakers was broad and comparative.  Those who may have decided not to attend, fearing a narrow “Scottish” perspective, should be encouraged to attend next year.

Secondly, it occurred to me that this conference fulfils a need which has been created by the departure of the Scottish Law Faculties Conference.  There is certainly a need for a venue in which early career academics working in Scotland can meet and take part in debate. 

Rarely have I attended a conference where, in each case, the chair was forced to stop the proceedings when so many members of the audience were still waiting to pose their questions.  The casual observer of the day’s proceedings would (correctly) conclude that the PhD environment in Scotland is a highly dynamic one.  I, for one, am very much looking forward to reading the fruits of the labours of these early-career academics.    

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