Law, history and adulterous wives

By Dr Gwen Seabourne, Reader in Law (University of Bristol Law School).


For centuries, English  common law saw married women as inferior to their husbands, disadvantaged in terms of legal rights and to be protected from themselves and from the outside world. Most formal legal disadvantages have been removed, so it might well be asked why modern lawyers should bother to look at the old laws.

One insight from history which is important for those working to consolidate gains already made and to make further improvements in the legal position of women is that there has been no straightforward, as-the-crow-flies, journey from oppressive medieval rules to enlightened modern ones. This comes out particularly in my recent work on the laws about adulterous wives [see G Seabourne, ‘Copulative complexities: the exception of adultery in medieval dower actions‘, in M Dyson and D Ibbetson (eds) Law and Legal Process: : substantive law and procedure in English Legal History (Cambridge, 2013),  34-55; and ibid, ‘Coke, the statute, wives and lovers: routes to a harsher interpretation of the statute of Westminster II (1285) c. 34’ (2014) 34(1) Legal Studies 123-42]. (more…)

The future of personal injury law

By Prof Keith Stanton, Professor of Law (University of Bristol Law School).

© ArtemSam | iStock
© ArtemSam | iStock

The changes to personal injury law announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Autumn Spending Review have already raised considerable controversy. Claims for damages for whiplash injuries are to be abolished (along it seem with claims for all low value minor soft tissue injuries incurred in road accidents).  In addition, the small claims limit for personal injury cases is to be increased from the current £1,000 to £5,000.

As a result of the latter change, a much greater number of personal injury cases will be determined in a procedure under which a winning claimant will be unable to recover any costs. The purpose of this comment is not to consider the immediate implications of these changes, but rather to ask what they tell us about how the personal injury system is likely to develop in the future. (more…)

Ebola, Zika and R2P: 5 Definite Lessons for Africa and the International Community

By Dr Foluke Ifejola Ipinyomi, Teaching Associate (University of Bristol Law School).

© Fleur Launspach/Al Jazeera
© Fleur Launspach/Al Jazeera

At the height of the Ebola epidemic I wrote a blog post enumerating lessons that can be learnt by the international community. I continue to be concerned with the responsibility to protect [R2P] and its operation in West Africa especially focusing on the preventive arm of R2P. I also continue to examine any responsibility which the international community may have in preventing human suffering in fragile states.

To recap, in April 2014, the first cases of Ebola were brought to international attention. The outbreak started in Guinea, but quickly spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone with isolated cases in neighbouring Senegal and a transported outbreak in Nigeria. Without a hashtag to cling to or an ice bucket challenge to surmount, the world largely ignored the outbreak. It was not till selfless American and British aid workers, who contacted the deadly virus, were flown to their respective homelands for treatment, that the mass hysteria of an imminent biological apocalypse caused several governments around the world (outside West Africa) to begin to consider what they may do to avoid the virus killing their own citizens. Nevertheless, by October 2014 infections had occurred in the US and Spain. (more…)

The interpretation of arbitration clauses: where is the seat of arbitration?

By Prof Jonathan Hill, Professor of Law (University of Bristol Law School).


It is a truism that arbitration clauses are often poorly drafted, not infrequently agreed at the 11th hour or lifted (inappropriately) from unrelated contracts. As a consequence, courts often have to try to make sense of clauses which are unclear or potentially inconsistent. In Shagang South-Asia (Hong Kong) Trading Co Ltd v Daewoo Logistics [2015] EWHC 194 (Comm), [2015] 1 All ER (Comm) 245 the parties had agreed that arbitration was to be ‘held in Hong Kong’, but that ‘English law [was] to be applied’. After the tribunal had rendered its award, the claimant applied to the English court for setting aside of the award under section 67 of the Arbitration Act 1996. As in Dubai Islamic Bank v Paymentech [2001] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 65, the English court’s setting aside jurisdiction depended on England being the seat of arbitration (see Arbitration Act 1996, s 2(1)). (more…)

The Legal Status of the Agreement of the Heads of State or Government (re Brexit)

By Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law (University of Bristol Law School)


On 19 February 2016, sometime well after breakfast, the members of the European Council reached an agreement concerning a new settlement for the United Kingdom within the EU. The Government was quick to proclaim that the UK’s ‘special status’ in ‘a reformed European Union’ amounts to ‘the best of both worlds’. David Cameron’s ‘hard-headed assessment’ is that the UK will be stronger, safer and better off by remaining inside this reformed European Union, and so he is recommending that the British people vote to ‘remain’ in the in-out referendum on 23 June.

The substance of the reforms, which focus on economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty, and welfare and free movement, is and will continue to be much debated. This contribution instead focuses on a more technical question – the legal status of the deal – a subject which is now said to be creating ‘open warfare’ in the Tory party. (more…)

The myth of the “securitized Muslim community”: the social impact of post-9/11 counterterrorist law and policy in the west

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School).

9780415870375S Greer, ‘The myth of the “securitized Muslim community”: the social impact of post-9/11 counterterrorist law and policy in the west’ in G Lennon & C Walker (eds), Routledge Handbook of Law and Terrorism (London: Routledge, 2015), 400-15.

The academic literature broadly concerned with the ‘social impact’ of post-9/11 terrorism and counter-terrorism in the West is dominated by ‘the securitization thesis’ at least eight senses of which can be distinguished: 1. Muslims as a whole feel under suspicion from society merely because they are Muslim; 2. Muslims as a whole are under suspicion from society for the same reason; 3. Islam is under suspicion from society; 4. Muslims as a whole feel under suspicion from the state solely on account of being Muslim; 5. Muslims as a whole are under suspicion from the state merely because they are Muslim; 6. Islam is under suspicion from the state; 7. Muslims as a whole are subject to special security and criminal justice measures purely because they are Muslim; 8. Islam is subject to special security and criminal justice measures not applicable to other faiths or ideologies. There can be little doubt that the first four propositions are true at least to some extent. But these are not genuine instances of ‘securitization’ because this term can only credibly refer to objective, deliberate, state-managed processes, not reducible to the subjective experiences of those who may or may not have been affected by them, or to social processes over which the state may have little or no control. (more…)

Supreme Court rulings on vicarious liability: Cox and Mohamud

By Prof Paula Giliker, Professor in Comparative Law (University of Bristol Law School).

© The Local Data Company
© The Local Data Company

“To search for certainty and precision in vicarious liability is to undertake a quest for a chimaera”: Lord Dyson (Mohamud)

On 2 March 2016, the Supreme Court delivered two judgments which it described as “complementary to each other” on the controversial topic of vicarious liability in tort.  Vicarious liability imposes strict liability on an employer for the wrongful actions of (usually) its employees which are committed in the course of his or her employment.  Recently, however, as Lord Phillips (former President of the Supreme Court) stated in the case of Various Claimants v Catholic Child Welfare Society [2012] UKSC 56 (“the Christian Brothers case”), “the law of vicarious liability is on the move.”  Since 2001, it has been an area of law subject to expansion.  The question on appeal to the Supreme Court was essentially how far this expansion would go, examining, in particular:

  • The relationship needed to give rise to vicarious liability. This was examined in Cox v Ministry of Justice [2016] UKSC 10.
  • The manner in which the wrongful acts of the employee have to be related to the relationship giving rise to vicarious liability – in other words, were the employee’s torts so closely connected with his employment that it would be just to hold the employers liable? This was examined in Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc [2016] UKSC 11.

Both judgments are short and unanimous.  Neither claim, however, to provide absolute tests, taking the view that a lack of precision is inevitable, given the infinite range of circumstances where the issues arise. (more…)