Home > Speech at President’s Reception 2022

Speech at President’s Reception 2022

This is the speech given by the SLS President for 2021-22, Professor Catharine MacMillan, at the President’s Reception held at The Law Society, 113 Chancery Lane, on Wednesday 9 March 2022. 

Thank you all for coming to this President’s Reception for the Society of Legal Scholars.  Before I address the substance of my remarks this evening, I would like to begin by acknowledging the shock and sadness that we all feel over the unprovoked aggression by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.  The scenes we now witness are distressing ones many of us thought would never occur in Europe again.  The courage of the Ukrainians in defending their nation, freedom, and democracy is enormous.  At the same time, we must acknowledge the courage of those Russian citizens who have protested against this invasion, often at the risk of their own safety.  In an attempt to provide tangible support to the Ukrainian people, we have established a collection here tonight for money which will be donated to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.  The DEC consists of 15 leading charities, including the Red Cross, who are currently providing humanitarian aid within Ukraine and the surrounding countries.

The purpose of our President’s Reception is to outline the work of the Society and to thank those who have made this possible.  It also provides an opportunity to address the state of legal academia today.

The SLS has as its objective the advancement of legal education in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  To this end, the SLS has held and will hold events around the United Kingdom this year.  We began the year with the first inaugural Baroness Hale lecture, held at York University, and with Lady Hale herself as our speaker.  Further events are planned in Newcastle, Durham and Swansea.  We hope, as the Covid restrictions ease and travel allows, to hold an event in Ireland.  The subjects of these events are diverse and represent the wide range of interests and activities of our members.

The Research Activities Fund allows the SLS to support legal research and scholarship from an annual fund of £30,000.  This Fund allows individual scholars to seek small grants to meet the expenses of undertaking original research.  The Small Project and Events Fund provides members with support for projects or activities which advance the interests of legal education. The Society’s journal, Legal Studies, is one of the foremost journals in the United Kingdom and enjoys an international readership.  Legal Studies is peer-reviewed and publishes a varied range of scholarly articles which include doctrinal, conceptual and socio-legal analyses across the spectrum of legal scholarship.

I would like to acknowledge the success of some of our members in the past year in advancing legal scholarship.  Paula Giliker, our Vice-President Elect, and Erika Rackley have been elected to Fellowships of the Academy of Social Sciences. Jeffrey Golden and Duncan Fairgrieve have been appointed as Honorary Queen’s Counsel this year.

It is my pleasure to award the prizes for the 2021 conference paper prizes.  The 2021 Best Paper prize is awarded to Narine Lalafaryan for her paper ‘Orchestrating Finance with Material Adverse Changes’.  This paper, a work of law and economics, investigates Material Adverse Change clauses and proposes a novel Multifunctional Effects Approach of these clauses in debt finance.  The selection panel were impressed with the originality and reach of the paper and the important contribution it makes to scholarship in this field.  The paper will be published in Legal Studies, giving you an opportunity to read it.   The 2021 Best Paper Prize for a Doctoral Student was David Satwell for his paper ‘Injunctions, land and the cynical breach’.  The selection panel were impressed with the intellectual rigour of this paper which sought to identify the doctrinal rationale underlying the importance of a defendant’s cynical breach as an important factor in granting an injunction for an infringement of property rights.

The work of the Society in supporting, advancing and recognising excellence in legal scholarship is only made possible by the countless and tireless efforts of many individuals who generously give their time and energies to these ends.  I want to thank the members of the Executive Committee, the Council, and the Subject Section Convenors.  I would also like to thank the members of the outgoing editorial team of Legal Studies.  In addition, my personal thanks go to Rosa Bladon and Sara Bladon, our administrative secretary and treasurer’s assistant respectively.

As you will gather from the above description the state of legal academia and scholarship in the United Kingdom and Ireland is flourishing.  One has only to look at the size of our law faculties, the range of subjects taught upon a diverse array of programmes, to realise this.  In particular, legal academics responded admirably to the enormous challenges presented by the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic in taking teaching online, hybrid and in-person (masked).  Legal academics first discovered and then mastered new technologies to deliver knowledge to their students.  The scale and pace of these developments is extraordinarily impressive.

Similarly, legal scholarship has developed enormously over the past decades.  Legal scholars synthesise and analyse almost every form of law, looking both to its past development and charting its future possible progression.  The intellectual rigour and the creativity present in modern research and publications is both greater and more diverse than we have ever seen in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  This is important for both our students and for the development of law as a whole.

However, it is also clear that we face enormous challenges, particularly in the United Kingdom.  Two are of particular relevance.  Both involve the most fundamental condition necessary for outstanding legal scholarship and education – the people who undertake it.  First, we are currently in the midst of an industrial action brought by the University and College Union over substantial cuts to USS pensions, falling pay, the gender and ethnic pay gap, precarious employment practices and increasing workloads.  As a learned society, the SLS is not involved in this industrial action but excellent legal education and legal scholarship are created by outstanding legal scholars.  And for universities to attract – and to retain – people as outstanding legal scholars they must offer appropriate pay, pensions and working conditions.   To do otherwise risks a slow diminution in the quality of legal education and scholarship.

Second, the United Kingdom is at an important cross-roads in its political, economic and legal development.  Brexit is now a reality.  Many of us would not have chosen to stand at these cross-roads.  However we must now select a route from these cross-roads.  A route which includes links and connections to legal scholars in other jurisdictions – in Europe and beyond – is one most likely to produce excellent legal education and scholarship in the future.  It is invariably useful, in both the creation and the analysis of law, to consider what other legal systems, faced with similar issues and challenges, do.  This is not necessarily to advocate for the adoption of elements of other legal systems, but a knowledge of them is important.  The links that England, in particular, has with other jurisdictions may well be most apparent outside the United Kingdom but they are links which are now changed. We no longer have, for example, either the Erasmus programme or the free movement of scholars from European Union member states.  Similarly, the visa and related schemes which brought scholars from the Commonwealth are also changed.  We must actively work to create new links with legal scholars in other jurisdictions.

We have, within the Society itself, an existing bond with scholars from a mixed legal system in Scotland and from another country in Ireland.  In addition we have now formed an official link with the German society for comparative lawyers, the Gesellschaft für Rechtsvergleichung.  Further links with similar learned societies in other countries are planned.

It is with the importance of links and connections to other legal jurisdictions, systems and scholars that the theme for this year’s annual conference has been chosen.  Our theme is ‘the links and connections to legal development’ and the conference will explore how links and connections both within one legal system and across different legal systems work to influence the development of law.  The conference, from the 6th to the 9th of September, will be held at King’s College London in Bush House, itself one of the great centres of links to the outside world as the one-time home of the BBC World Service. The conference will be held in person and a varied and interesting social programme is planned – full details are and will be on our website.

Thank you all for the support you have given the Society. Thank you for coming to the Reception.  Do enjoy the rest of the evening.

Professor Catharine MacMillan
SLS President 2021-22