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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Legal History of the British Empire

The mention of Ivor Richardson's article on the JCPC prompts me to post about something I should have noted some time ago, the recent conference on the Legal History of the British Empire. This was the first of its kind, and held at the National University of Singapore in early July. It was the initiative of John McLaren of the U of Victoria and David Williams from Auckland.

The conference was very well attended given the distance involved. There were about 120 attendees, and someone, not me, did a nationality count. If my memory is correct, there were 31 Australians, 21 Canadians, a dozen new Zealanders, and the rest was comprised of scholars from the UK, the US, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Trinidad and Tobago, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, France (!) - altogether a total of 16 countries. The coverage of topics was even more diverse than that, for some people gave papers on countries other than  their 'own.' Mcmaster's Bonny Ibhawoh, for example, spoke about his work on Africa, a New Zealander gave a paper on Samoa, while Hudson Janisch of Victoria gave the only paper on St Helena. It was nice to see an acknowledgemnt that US history is also British empire history, although a paper on the 19th century US had to be eimaginatuively packaged as a 'legacy' of empire.

The quality and variety of papers in the sessions I attended was generally very good. Richard Boast of Wellington was superb on explaining the NZ Maori land court, a graduate student from China gave a very good piece on public health in Hong Kong, John McLaren's talk on the multiple meanings of the rule of law in the empire was excellent, there was a fascinating exposition of Judge John Gorrie's political activism in colonial Trinidad, and, of course, since I have already mentioned it, we had the almost complete legal history of St Helena. 

There is a complete list of the papers and authors on the conference website, at . There may be a forthcoming volume of some of the papers, and there is talk of a repeat in 2014 or 2015.

It should be added as a final note that the organisation was superb, with the National University of Singapore responsible for that.

Jim Phillips


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