Section: History


A Brief History of the Centre for Law and Society

Although the Centre's beginnings are usually traced back to 1983 – the moment at which the Centre’s direct predecessor, the Centre for Criminology and the Social and Philosophical Study of Law (CCSPSL) was established – the intellectual and institutional roots can certainly be traced back further.

School for Criminology and Forensic Studies

Criminology research at Edinburgh Law School has a long history. It begins with the establishment, over 40 years ago, of the School for Criminology and Forensic Studies, which involved staff from Social Administration (later Social Policy), Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy and Law. Two early influential figures were the Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at the time, Kenneth McRae, and Senior Lecturer John Shields. 

In 1969 Colin Campbell (now Sir Campbell, Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham University) was appointed to the Public Law Department of the Law School to teach sociology of law and jurisprudence. Robert Wilson, a sociologist, was also appointed, further enriching the Law School’s strength in sociology. One particular focus at the time was the sociology of deviance.

Committee on Socio-Legal Studies

A very significant change occurred in the early 1970s with the appointment of Neil MacCormick as Regius Professor of Public Law, and the Law of Nature and Nations (1972), Gerald Gordon as Professor of Criminal Law, and Frederick McClintock as the Law School's first Professor of Criminology (1974). Edinburgh's establishment of a Chair in Criminology, only the second such chair in the United Kingdom, also heralded a widening of research interests. Professor David Nelken also played a significant role in the development of socio-legal studies during this period.

Institutional changes were rapid: 1973 saw the establishment of the Committee on Socio-Legal Studies, which included historians, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists and a wide range of Law School staff. The Committee was very active, with one of its major and lasting contributions being the weekly seminar series, attended regularly by the many members of the Committee, and still very much alive today. 

Centre for Criminology and the Social and Philosophical Study of Law

In 1983, the Committee became the Centre for Criminology and the Social and Philosophical Study of Law (CCSPSL). CCSPL combined teaching (as was appropriate, given it was a Department of the Law Faculty), as well as an interdisciplinary and inter-faculty research centre. The first Centre lecture was given by Frederick McClintock (1984). The annual lecture became a very important event on the Centre’s calendar, delivered in the early years by Ken Mason (1985), the then Professor of Forensic Medicine and a current member of the Law School, and Neil MacCormick (1986). The annual lecture, combined each year with an annual dinner, has since then welcomed many world-renowned speakers, including Brian Barry, Jan Broekman, Jurgen Habermas, Nils Jareborg, Tony Bottoms, Nigel Walker, Zygmunt Bauman, Peter Goodrich, and Paul Hirst to mention just a few. In 2007 it was delivered by a former PhD graduate and staff member, David Garland - you can listen to a podcast of the lecture here.

Members of the Centre were involved in many significant events, including the Society of Public Teachers of Law (later and currently, the Society of Legal Scholars) conference in 1984, and the International Association of Social and Legal Philosophy (IVR) conference in 1989. 

Professor David Nelken, who taught in Edinburgh 1976-1984 and was one of the founding members of the Centre, secretary of the then Committee on Social Legal Studies (and a member of the Children's Hearings Panel) has recently received the 2011 senior 'Adam Podgorecki' prize from the International Sociological Association (the previous winner, in 2009, was Boaventura de Sousa Santos). In 2009 he was awarded the Sellin-Glueck prize by the American Society of Criminology and in the same year was made an Academician of the UK Academy of Social Sciences.

Centre for Law and Society

The Centre changed its name – to the Centre for Law and Society – in 1994. One year earlier, David Smith replaced Frederick McClintock as Professor of Criminology. 1994 also saw the appointment of Zenon Bankowski (who had become, successively, lecturer, senior lecturer and reader) to a personal chair of Legal Theory.

The Centre was awarded many grants in this time, and a great deal of important work was published in the 1980s and 1990s. Some of the meetings of the famous Bielefelder Kreis, of which Neil MacCormick and Zenon Bankowski were leading members, were held in Edinburgh. The Bielefelder Kreis produced many publications, including modern classics of legal scholarship, such as Interpreting Statues (1991) and Interpreting Precedents (1997). Other important works included David Garland’s work in penology (e.g. The Power to Punish, edited by David Garland and Peter Young, was published in 1983), work on juvenile justice (Cautionary Tales: Young People, Crime and Policing in Edinburgh, 1994 – produced by Richard Kinsey, Ian Loader, Simon Anderson and Connie Smith), the Edinburgh Crime Survey, work on rape and sexual history evidence by Beverley Brown (Sex Crimes on Trial, 1994, produced together with Michelle Burman and Lynn Jamieson), and work on the health and safety legislation of the North Sea Oil region by W.G. Carson. The influence of this early work on the Centre's current research projects is readily observed: e.g. the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime echoes the early work on juvenile justice.

Neil MacCormick was at this time also involved in a collaboration with University Paris II (resulting in the publication of Controversies about Law's Ontology, edited together with Paul Amselek), editing the legal entries of the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (with Beverly Brown), collaboration with Ota Weinberger on An Institutional Theory of Law (1986), as well as being involved in numerous translation projects (including a translation of Robert Alexy’s A Theory of Legal Argumentation with Ruth Adler). Indeed, a number of important translations were published, e.g. Jerzy Wroblewski’s The Judicial Application of Law (translation by Zenon Bankowski and Neil MacCormick), and Gunther Teubner's Law as an Autopoietic System (translation by Ruth Adler and Anna Bankowska, but with involvement also from Zenon Bankowski). 

Indeed, at this time a number of publications were produced as part of the Edinburgh Law and Society Series, published by Edinburgh University Press. This included, amongst others, the above-mentioned Controversies about Law’s Ontology and Sex Crimes on Trial, but also Patrick Nerhot's Law, Writing and Meaning, David Meyers’ The Human Body and the Law, a collection entitled Closure or Critique: New Directions in Legal Theory (edited by Alan Norrie), another collected called Principled Sentencing (edited by A von Hirsch and A Ashworth), and Elizabeth F. Kingdom’s What’s Wrong with Rights? The Law and Society series was edited by Peter Young and Beverly Brown. The Centre has continued its run of important work in criminology and jurisprudence with the Centre for Law and Society Series, published by Ashgate. This new series has recent published Law and the Politics of Reconciliation(edited by Scott Veitch), which pursued a theme that was prevalent in the work of a former Director of the Centre, Emilios Christodoulidis, as well as featuring strongly in the work of Victor Tadros (a former staff member of the Centre).

These scholarly innovations were bore pedagogical fruit. The School had been offering a Masters of Science in Criminology (open to non-law graduates) and a two-year research LLM for some time, before, in 1984/5 leading the way in the United Kingdom with a new one year LLM by examination and short dissertation. Both the MSc and the LLM have continued to break new pedagogical ground over the years. Since 2008, the School has also offered an LLM by research in History and Philosophy of Law

There have been many distinguished postgraduate students at Edinburgh, including Ruth Adler, Bruce Anderson, Fernando Atria, Ian Loader, David Garland, Emmanuel Melissaris, Joxerramon Bengoetxea, Linda Clarke, Jes Bjarup, George Pavlakos, Claudio Michelon, Emilios Christodoulidis, Scott Veitch, Michael Roumeliotis, Nicholas Passas, Peter Goodrich, Sundram Soosay, and many, many others. Current information about postgraduate studies at the Centre is available here.

Over the years the Centre has received many distinguished visitors, including long-term visits from Vittorio Villa, Massimo La Torre, and as recently as 2008, Tim Hope. The Centre continues to welcome visitors, for both short and long terms, many of whom have arrived in Edinburgh courtesy of prestigious awards. There has also been continuing involvement of staff in the Politics Department, which has included figures such as Jeremy Waldron, Richard Bellamy and Cécile Fabre.

Recent Developments

More recently, the Centre has organised many important events, often leading to significant publications, including the 25th Anniversary of Neil MacCormick's Legal Reasoning and Legal Theory (leading to the publication, in 2007, of The Universal and the Particular in Legal Reasoning, edited by Zenon Bankowski and Jamie MacLean), and the 20th Anniversary of Police and People in London (now published as a collected entiled Transformations of Policing, edited by Alistair Henry and David Smith). Other events included The Future of Critical Legal Education: 25 Years of Images of Law (2001; Images of Law is by Zenon Bankowski); a Colloquium on Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2001), a Simone Weil Workshop (2002), and the Scottish Criminology Conference: 20 Years of the Power to Punish (2003; the conference has led to a major publication in 2006, Perspectives on Punishment: The Contours of Control (Oxford University Press) edited by Sarah Armstrong and Lesley McAra).

In May 2008, the Centre celebrated a Festival of Legal Theory.

On Neil McCormick's retirement in January 2008, Neil Walker was appointed as Regius Professor of Public Law, and the Law of Nature and Nations.

In July 2008, Neil Walker and Sharon Cowan succeeded Richard Sparks as co-directors of the Centre.

Centre Events

Information about the Centre's current and planned events is available here.

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