Past SLS Presidents’ Reports
2016: Professor Andrew Burrows
- It has been a pleasure and privilege to serve as the President of the Society of Legal Scholars for 2015-16. It has been hugely enjoyable to work with so many committed, efficient and enthusiastic colleagues and I would therefore like to start by thanking all those who have served on the Executive Committee, on Council, and on our other committees, the various officers of the SLS and, above all, our two administrators, Sally Thomson and Sara Bladon. I am conscious that Sally and Sara, even though working only part-time for the SLS, have gone beyond the call of duty in supporting me this year and I am very grateful to them. I have drawn heavily on the advice and help of immediate Past Presidents, Stephen Bailey and Jenny Steele, the elected future Presidents, Imelda Maher and Peter Alldridge, our Honorary Treasurer, Lucy Vickers, the new editor of The Reporter, Catharine Macmillan, our Subject Sections Secretary, Annette Morris, and our outgoing Honorary Secretary Richard Taylor. Annette and Richard have been stalwarts of the SLS for many years and it has made my job so much easier to be able to rely on their unstinting support, strategic clarity and eye for detail. Jamie Lee, our social media supremo, has been a terrific source of information and advice and has been patient with one of his former tutors for being behind the times on these matters. I would also like to thank Richard Edwards who steps down as Webmaster after some 14 years in that role. Richard designed our very first website and has been behind all the technological developments that the SLS has been able to enjoy over those years, including the move to using Mailchimp and the online directory of members. The Society owes him an enormous debt for all he has done. Finally, I should record my thanks to Caoimhin MacMaolain who steps down as Convenor for Ireland and Nick Wikeley who is standing down as Chair of our Research Grants Committee.
- At the Officers’ Strategy Meeting in the June before I became President – which it would seem is an ideal opportunity for the incoming President to reflect on strategic aims – I identified three goals. First, to try to raise the public profile of the SLS; secondly, to revamp the website not least so that it could be updated more easily; and thirdly, to seek ways of enhancing the academic experience for all at the annual conference. Much of my time as President was spent pursuing these aims.
- As regards the first, the Press covered, for example, our objections to the proposed changes to the qualifying route for solicitors proposed by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (and here I would like to interject my thanks to Fiona Cownie, Tony Bradney, and Stephen Bailey for leading our work and responses on this), and my own comments, as incoming President, on the inevitably detrimental effect on legislative quality of cut-backs at the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. The decision to invite the then Minister of Justice and Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, to be our guest speaker at the annual conference dinner was part of this strategy to enhance the national standing and importance of the SLS. Surely the SLS ought to try to engage with legal policy makers at the highest level possible, whatever their political persuasion. Although a wholly unacceptable comment by him brought the name of the Society of Legal Scholars to the attention of the national media, that was not the publicity we had been seeking although I am glad to say that The Times also picked up some of Lady Hale’s comments in her keynote address to the conference (even though putting their own slightly confused spin on them). I am reminded of the old adage that when one is trying to raise profile, ‘all publicity is good publicity’. Not of course wholly accurate but with a grain of truth.
- We have a shiny new website which, while not especially sophisticated, is easy to update (because it works on WordPress) and has won plaudits for being clear, modern-looking and logically structured. I would like to thank the members of the website sub-committee for their help with this. Principal thanks, however, should go to the designer of the website, Jo Cox of Bicester, Oxfordshire. It is, I think, important that, as we go forward, we keep Jo Cox on board. Her prices are very reasonable and she has a no-nonsense yet easy-going approach to what can be a very hassling exercise. The next, and potentially more difficult, phase is to modernise the members’ database and directory. I have agreed to continue to chair the website sub-committee as we move to that next phase.
- Concerns have been expressed over many years that, in some subject sections, a better mix of experienced and junior presenters at the annual conference would enhance the academic experience for everyone. While it is important to continue to encourage early career academics to present at the annual conference, they can be helped by the guidance and ‘role model’ provided by seeing and hearing senior academics in action. With this in mind, a number of senior academics were suggested by convenors and then approached to see if they would be willing to assist this initiative by being ‘keynote speakers’ in their subject sections. I was very grateful that almost everyone approached accepted that invitation and this resulted in some 50 keynote speakers at the annual conference. I very much hope that this initiative (or something very similar to it) will be continued at subsequent conferences.
- When I took up office, we were concerned about the potential impact on membership numbers, and hence subscription income, of the threatened institutional withdrawal of membership of the University of Law. We therefore embarked on a recruitment drive in October 2015. The successful upshot was that although, as feared, we did lose the 257 University of Law members – and 172 Rule 11 persistent non-payers were also removed as members – that loss was largely (albeit not entirely) offset by new members. As at September 1, 2016, our membership is a little in excess of 2,800. I would like to thank Tony Bradney as Membership Secretary and Sally Thomson for their help with this. It seems to me that we need another recruitment drive in the near future (with a simple one-sided page listing the benefits of membership). For the moment, as numbers have kept up, there is no need to raise the subscription but times are tough and inevitably our members will be looking at what we provide and will seek reassurance that it is worth the cost (which it clearly is).
- The end of this calendar year marks the conclusion of the term of office of the present Legal Studies editorial team. I would like to thank Imelda Maher, the General Editor, and her team of editors (Blanaid Clarke, Fiona de Londras and Colin Scott) for the great job they have done over the last five years. They have successfully raised the international profile of the journal and this has resulted, finally, and with a lot of hard work by them, in the journal being granted impact factor status. That is a very significant step forward. Early in 2016, we invited expressions of interest from those wishing to be their successors and ultimately, after interview, we appointed an editorial team from the University of Manchester to be the new editors from January 1, 2017. The new general editor will be Nicola Glover-Thomas, whose sole name will appear as the general editor on the front cover, and her editorial committee will comprise Margot Brazier, Elaine Dewhurst, Philip Handler (book review editor), John Pearson (associate editor), Robert Thomas, and Bruce Wardhaugh. I wish them every success.
- During the course of the year, there were a number of events at which I (along with others) represented the Society. These included, in November, the 2015 SLS Centenary Lecture at the University of Bristol given by Sir Nicholas Green entitled, ‘The Rule of Law and the Economy: Bankers, Brigands and Bounders’; in June, the annual meeting between the Law Subject Associations and the Law Commission at the Ministry of Justice; and in July, a meeting with Crispin Passmore and Julie Brannan of the SRA to discuss their continuing work towards reforming the qualifying routes for solicitors. I also represented the SLS on the Honorary QC appointment panel at the Ministry of Justice in November; and in March, we had the annual President’s Reception at the Middle Temple which was well-attended and was, I thought, a most enjoyable evening. In July, I attended the very sad and moving funeral of Jill Poole at Hampton-in-Arden (just outside Birmingham). Jill was a past editor of Legal Studies and a great supporter of the SLS and had been appointed as our next Honorary Secretary. Her death, following unexpected complications after eye surgery, was a shock to us all. Our thoughts continue to be with her family.
- Finally, and the highlight of any President’s year, was the annual conference. This ran from September 6-9 2016 at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, on the theme of Legislation and the Role of the Judiciary. There were plenary sessions on ‘Modern Statutory Interpretation’, ‘Legislation or judicial law reform: where should judges fear to tread?’ and ‘The Present and Future Work of the Law Commissions’. By popular demand an extra plenary session was added at the end of the conference on ‘The Legal Implications of Brexit’. The annual dinner (sold-out with 290 attending) was held at Lady Margaret Hall and there were pre-prandial drinks receptions on the Tuesday and Thursday at Magdalen and All Souls colleges. The sun shone and the conference had a record number of delegates (some 579). This was the second year in which the conference has been organised by Meeting Makers who did an excellent job. Of the team there, I would especially like to thank Fiona McGillivray for her very hard work and efficiency which were so central to the success of the conference.
- An indicator of the good health of the Society is that there has recently been no shortage of members coming forward to fill vacant positions as officers and on our committees; and the SLS is especially grateful to Richard Taylor who, following Jill Poole’s tragic death, has agreed to stay on as Honorary Secretary until January 1 when Paula Giliker will take over. I wish the incoming President, Imelda Maher, the very best for the forthcoming year; and I very much hope that she enjoys her Presidential year as much as I have done mine.
2014: Professor Stephen Bailey
It has been a great privilege to serve as President of the Society of Legal Scholars.
I have been a member of the Society myself for over 40 years. I am a great believer in the importance of academic subject associations. They provide a necessary focus for the development (and sometimes the defence) of academic disciplines. The need for such associations to thrive is particularly apparent at the present time. There is within the governance and management of Higher Education Institutions constant pressure for the restructuring of Universities into ever-smaller numbers of larger academic units supported by less-specialised (and smaller) groups of administrative staff. There is also constant pressure for the standardisation of procedures, in ways that fail to take account of genuine disciplinary differences. (Sometimes University administrators invoke the law. They say, for example, that unless a University can demonstrate that a 2/1 in Law is exactly equivalent to a 2/1 in astronomy or dentistry it is at risk of being sued. I hope that law academics can inject some rationality into such debates.) Academic subject associations need to work together to help colleagues resist these pressures. Major allies should be our students. Law students relate to Law Schools and Departments not multi-disciplinary schools, faculties or colleges. There is, however, a tendency for Law to be paired off with all sorts of different subjects eg Business, Law Politics, Sociology, Geography. The risks of loss of identity can be significant.
In our own field, we are facing the possibility of significant changes to legal education arising from the (varying) responses of the Legal Services Board, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board to the Legal Education and Training Review. This Review was in effect mandated, in the eyes of some prematurely, by the Legal Services Board. While the Bar Standards Board is reaffirming its commitment to an academic stage involving a qualifying law degree, the Solicitors Regulation Authority is apparently open to dispensing with “qualifying law degrees”. The consequences could well be significant.
In Law of course we have a number of subject associations, including ourselves, the Association of Law Teachers, the Committee of Heads of University Law Schools and the Socio-Legal Studies Association. I am pleased to report that we have been working together on our responses to LETR developments. A group has met a number of times and its work continues. I am particularly grateful to Fiona Cownie and Tony Bradney, who have been our lead representatives on that working group.
A related development has been the review of the Law Subject Benchmark (at least for England) by the QAA, which has established a group to do the work, chaired by Professor Rebecca Huxley-Binns, the President of ALT. I am grateful to Tony Bradney for agreeing to represent SLS on this group.
Other matters preoccupying us have included the government’s policy on Open Access and the REF. SLS joined many other Subject Associations in arguing that the Government and the Research Councils were wrong to seek to pursue a policy to prioritise “Gold Open Access” (under which a journal article is openly available free of charge from the moment of publication provided a hefty fee has been paid to the publisher by the author) over “Green Open Access” (under which publishers make journal articles available openly after an embargo period without any fee paid to them). While the Research Councils have given some Universities money to cover these costs, this comes nowhere near being enough to allow Gold Open Access to become the norm. After consultation, HEFCE confirmed that it was adopting a balanced view on this matter. The REF results will be out in December 2014. There is already much talk about “REF2020”. If there is to be a further REF it is likely (1) that there will be heavy bureaucratic pressure for this to be conducted largely by metrics and (2) that academics in the humanities and social sciences will take a lot of convincing that metrics are fit for this particular purpose.
As President, I have represented the Society at a series of events. These included the very sad occasion of the memorial service for Professor John Tiley held in the chapel of Queens’ College Cambridge on 9 November 2013. John was our President in 1995-96 and a strong supporter of the Society in general and the Tax Law Subject Section in particular. I was very pleased that we were able to hold the Annual President’s Reception at the Supreme Court, which was a most enjoyable occasion. I spoke at a one-day Conference on Open Access organised by the Academy of Social Sciences and attended a number of AcSS meetings and I spoke at a one-day Conference on LETR organised by Fiona Cownie. I attended the Society’s Annual Lecture in the Centenary Lecture Series given by Sir Rabinder Singh at the University of Birmingham and kindly organised by James Lee and the Annual Meeting between representatives of the Law Subject Associations and the Law Commission.
Among the developments in the Society’s work we have seen this year, I am very pleased to report the establishment of a new SLS Legal Scholarship Fund to support activities that fall outside the scope of the existing SLS Research Activities Fund and the funding for the SLS Annual Seminar Series. The new Fund is in the first instance non-recurrent. It will be a question for the future in the light of the pattern of applications to the Fund and the Society’s financial position as to whether it can be established on a recurrent basis. Richard Edwards, the Society’s Webmaster, has done a great deal of work to improve the website and arrangements for emailing members, and to bring about the move to a web-based Members’ Directory, which was demonstrated at the Annual Conference.
The final part of my report comprises thanks. First I would like to thank our Annual Conference sponsors: Hart Publishing, Lexis Nexis, Thomson Reuters, Sweet & Maxwell and Wiley for their continued support. Then we owe a particular debt of gratitude to the Officers of the Society for the vast amount of very effective work they undertake. I am grateful for the support and advice I have received from the Past President, Hector MacQueen, the Vice President, Jenny Steele and the Vice President Elect, Andrew Burrows. I would also like to thank in particular our Honorary Secretary, Richard Taylor, the Honorary Treasurer, Peter Alldridge, supported by Sara Bladon, the Subject Sections Secretary, Annette Morris, the Membership Secretary, Tony Bradney, and the Webmaster, Richard Edwards. The Editors of Legal Studies, Imelda Maher, Blanaid Clarke, Fiona de Londras and Colin Scott have continued their excellent work in securing the position of the journal as a leading law journal, now supported by an International Advisory Board. I am delighted that Imelda will be our President in 2016/17 and will I believe be the first there has been based at a Law School in the Republic of Ireland. The colleague who is perhaps best known to our Council representatives and our members is Sally Thomson, our Administrative Secretary. I am very grateful for the excellent support she has provided to me both as Honorary Secretary and as President.
This has been the final year that the detailed organisation of the Society’s Annual Conference has been undertaken by Keele Conference Management. The team there have supported us now for a number of years but a change of policy at Keele University has meant that their focus in future will be wholly on events held at that University. We are very sorry to lose their support; their work has been excellent and the continuity of arrangements have been invaluable. In recent years Sharon Faulke and Lois Henney-Jackson have been leading on this; this year Lois bore the brunt of the responsibility. We are very grateful to them. I am pleased to say that we have identified successors, Meeting Makers, who will be working with Jenny Steele for York and Andrew Burrows for the Oxford Conference.
Finally I would like to thank my colleagues in the School of Law at the University of Nottingham. Three of our PhD students, Sabine Jacques, Hemi Mistry and Christy Shucksmith kindly organised the very successful SLS PhD Conference that took place on Monday of the Annual Conference week at Nottingham. Sabine, Hemi and others helped with the Conference for the rest of the week. I am very grateful to them. And I owe a great debt to my academic colleagues in the School of Law who have given me enormous support over many years.
I would like to conclude by offering my best wishes for the future to my successors and to the Society.