Past SLS Presidents’ Reports
2016-17: Professor Imelda Maher
- It has been an honour to serve as President of the Society in 2016-2017, representing the Society and organising the 2017 conference in the UCD Sutherland School of Law.
I would like to thank the Executive of the Society, the Council, the officers and our staff. Previous presidents have advised and offered support – it is a long road to the conference. Andrew Burrows was there to assist me with the often-mundane queries that arose in relation to the conference. Peter Aldridge, my successor and Andy both ensured a seamless handover between us. Richard Taylor and then Paula Giliker as Honorary Secretary take on the lion’s share of work for the Society. Thanks to them both for their professionalism and collegiality. Thanks to Lucy Vickers as Treasurer for her support in relation to organising the conference in another currency, for the run of queries I had all year and for instituting the competitive Subject Section Fund to stimulate more section activity outside of the conference. Thanks to Catharine MacMillan for her editing of the Reporter, progressing the move to digital and introducing new material and ideas. I can safely say I will miss the flurry of Sunday emails that characterised the year.
Sally Thomson and Sara Bladon provide valuable support to the Society and its membership in their respective roles as administrative secretary and treasurer. Jo Cox as our new web master is helping us develop our communication with our membership. Special thanks to Andrew Burrows for steering through the changes to our IT policy and procedures and to Jamie Lee who looked after our social media.
A special thanks to Annette Morris. I feel particularly privileged to have had the chance to work with her as Subject Sections Secretary during her final year in the role. There is no doubt that the main work of the conference -the subject sections – is down to the Subject Sections Secretary and Annette has shown herself to be superb in that role.
The Society owes a debt to the editors of Legal Studies for continuing to enhance the journal’s standing and the quality of the scholarships it produces.
Thanks to the chairs and members of the many committees of the Society for their ongoing work. Prize-giving and the allocation of research funds take time and careful deliberation, as does engagement with the professions, especially in the current context, which takes resilience and repeated engagement with the SRA in particular.
Setting up a new committee is a challenge and special thanks to Navraj Singh Ghaleigh for his careful and creative stewardship of the new committee on equality diversity and inclusion.
Thanks to Maria Lee for leading on the Brexit seminar initiative which led to such positive engagement with colleagues.
Finally, I want to note on behalf of the Society, our thanks to those who are stepping down: Annette Morris as Subject Sections Secretary and our longstanding executive members: Fiona Cownie, chair of the legal education committee and Tony Bradney, our membership secretary. Their contribution to the Society has been exemplary.
Representing the Society
There are many events where I represented the Society during the year. First, the past president and I represented the Society at the Honorary QC appointment Panel in the Ministry of Justice in November. I was back there again in June with the Subject Section Secretary and Honorary Secretary with representatives from the ALT and SLSA to meet the Law Commissioners to discuss the work of the Commission and synergies with the societies and their members. Having attended the annual ALT Lord Upjohn lecture in November, I discussed in general terms the next REF with their outgoing president and we had a productive informal discussion after the Law Commission meeting with the officers from the other societies to explore common themes.
The Centenary lecture ‘Why Study Legislation’ was presented by Dame Mary Arden at Manchester University on December 1. It was an honour to introduce Lady Arden at a well-attended lecture. Thanks to Bruce Wardhaugh and colleagues for their wonderful organisation of the event.
Finally, Greta Bosch (Legal Education Committee) represented the Society at the European Law Faculties Association in April in Brno while an excellent SLS Seminar was held in Durham Law School in February on The Future of Commercial Law see here
Themes of the Presidency
There were three inter-related issues that I was keen to progress when in office: Brexit; Equality, Diversity and Inclusion; and the opportunity having the conference in Dublin presented to reflect on what it means for the Society that it is in the UK and Ireland.
Under the stewardship of Maria Lee and with the support of the Executive, a series of workshops were held across the UK reflecting on The Law School and Brexit. There was a competition to select those who would receive the funds to run the event and the reports from them are available on the SLS website here. The workshops were held in law schools in the Universities of Strathclyde, Northumbria, Liverpool, Swansea, Keele and Bristol with over 150 members taking part. The challenges for law schools and Brexit also informed the discussion in the lunch time panel on the contribution of the Irish Diaspora to Legal Scholarship at the annual conference where the panel reflected on migration, education, identity and Brexit. More directly, like the Oxford conference last year, an additional seminar was run on Friday afternoon with the Honorable Society of Kings Inns on ‘The Common Law and Brexit: A New Frontier?
Equality Diversity and Inclusion
A new EDI committee has been set up, with Navraj Ghaleigh chairing. The membership is a mix of executive members and other members who applied following the usual call. The committee crafted a mission statement for the Society which was adopted by Council in September and consideration is currently being given as to how best to communicate this through the website, social media and The Reporter on the website. The Society can be proud that it is one of the few learned societies in the UK and Ireland to have such a statement. The challenge now is to give effect to it. A first step in implementation was the second panel at the conference on Leadership and Diversity in Law Schools.
The SLS in the UK and Ireland
My location in Dublin allowed for a reflection of what it means to be a Society that represents members in four jurisdictions. This question informed the conference theme – The Diverse Unities of the Law – where one panel brought together judges from each of the four jurisdictions providing ample food for thought. Following a suggestion from the Executive, the Society was fortunate to be allowed to hold the annual reception in the Irish Embassy in London where the then ambassador, Dan Mulhall, spoke to those attending, with my own speech subsequently published in The Reporter examining the historic links between England and Ireland.
The Hon Mr. Justice McMenamin of the Supreme Court of Ireland was the first Irish judge to attend the reception and the Hon. Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan of the Court of Appeal of Ireland and an eminent Irish constitutional law scholar, was made an honorary member of the Society. The Irish Law Reform Commission has become a patron member: the first Irish body to do so – and without any approach from the Society. The lunchtime panel on the contribution of the Irish diaspora very directly addressed the increasing number of scholars educated in Irish universities who are part of the Law Schools of the UK. Conor Gearty, a UCD alumnus whose entire career has been spent in England was the (very well received) after dinner speaker. My hope is that the Society will continue to be enriched by the four jurisdictions within which its members are located and after 2019, that it will benefit from having a mix of EU and non-EU common law jurisdictions within its title.
There is a separate conference report. The conference was a full five-day event with the graduate conference on the Monday, a joint British Association of Comparative Law and Irish Society of Comparative Law seminar was held Tuesday morning on ‘Comparing UK and Irish law: A Special Relationship?’. The conference itself ran as usual from Tuesday lunchtime to Friday lunchtime with the seminar on Brexit on Friday afternoon. The weather was kind until the heavens opened Friday afternoon. The keynote speaker initiative worked well this year. The subject sections continue to attract speakers from across their careers. On average the rejection rate for papers is 50%, although some sections are noticeably much more oversubscribed than others underlining the continuing need for review and renewal. Hence the trialling of two new sections worked well this year. I want to note my thanks to my UCD colleagues who ensured the event went smoothly and to our student volunteers -their involvement is part of preparing the next generation and showing them what we do reminds them that expertise is hard won and continually tested. I want to thank those publishers who gave the students books to take away at the end of the conference. A much-appreciated gesture. Special thanks to Fiona McGillivray and Meeting Makers for the smooth running of the event.
Finally, I want to wish Peter, Richard and Rebecca well while knowing that, however daunting the role is, the team of support staff and members who work for and support the Society makes the Presidency a rewarding and enlightening experience.
2015-16: 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.
2013-14: 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.