In this Blog, CREATe’s Dr Elena Cooper reports on The Hamlyn Lectures recently delivered by the eminent legal historian Professor Sir John Baker QC and connects the lecture’s theme of ‘inheritance’ from the past to CREATe’s record in copyright history.
More information about the Hamlyn Lectures 2019 is available here.
The Hamlyn Lectures – the UK annual public lecture series about law – require no introduction to a UK legal audience. Funded by a private trust, the lectures seek to further knowledge about law ‘among the Common People of the United Kingdom’ and each year, since 1949, have attracted a prominent speaker. This year’s lectures were delivered by the eminent legal historian Professor Sir John Baker QC, Downing Professor Emeritus of the Laws of England, University of Cambridge. Introduced by Lord Judge simply as ‘the oracle’ – someone who required no introduction and should simply speak – Professor Baker presented three lectures on legal history at the University of Cambridge, the University of Reading, and finally at Senate House, University of London. The trust proscribes that the lectures are to be about comparative law – usually thought to involve comparing the laws of different countries – but Professor Baker extended that concept to include a UK ‘comparative historicist’ approach, comparing the system of law we have today, to that of past times, specifically, the Elizabethan era.
The first two lectures outlined the principal features of law during the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603). The reign of Elizabeth I fell within the ‘Age of Common Law’ – the development of basic principles of law attributed to natural reason – in contrast to the reign of the current monarch, Elizabeth II, which can be largely characterised as an ‘Age of Statute’ – where a vast body of legislation has been passed. In the final ‘comparative’ lecture, ‘The Elizabethan Inheritance’, Professor Baker drew these strands together, looking back from the present to the past. He noted some continuities, for instance in the appearance of court proceedings and role of debt collecting, between the reigns of the two Elizabeths. Also, some concepts, such as ‘human rights’, today are often assumed to be new, yet in fact have deep roots in common law legal history. Notwithstanding these continuities, the lecture outlined the huge changes since the reign of Elizabeth I, in the court system, substantive law and the nature of litigation, which Professor Baker analysed in terms of accessibility, efficiency and fairness. Continue reading