George Joseph Bell, PRINCIPLES OF THE LAW OF SCOTLAND, FOURTH EDITION, with an introduction by Kenneth G C Reid Edinburgh: Edinburgh Legal Education Trust, Old Studies in Scots Law, vol 1, 2010. xxviii + xx + 910 pp. ISBN 9780955633225. £30.

AuthorJohn MacLeod
Date01 May 2011
Publication Date01 May 2011

One of the distinguishing features of Scots law, and of Scots private law in particular, is the role played by the works of the institutional writers. These texts, now all rather aged, continue to be regarded as formal sources alongside case law and statute. Needless to say, this means that they are very valuable to the student, the academic and the practitioner.

Sadly, with the exception of Stair's Institutions, access to them has been somewhat limited in recent years. The last editions of Bell's Principles and Commentaries and of Erskine's Institute were reprinted in 1989 and 1990 by Butterworths in conjunction with the Law Society of Scotland but these editions are themselves out of print. Publication of older Scottish legal texts has not kept pace with the advances in access to historic case law through the Justis and Westlaw databases. The Edinburgh Legal Education Trust's reprint of the fourth edition of Bell's Principles (published in 1839) is therefore particularly welcome. The text remains a key authority for many areas of private law, perhaps most notably in relation to common property and the law of error. This edition was the last to be prepared by Bell himself and the editorial updates in later editions are not recognised as having the same authority as Bell's text. Modern textbooks now provide an up to date statement of the law. Therefore, it is helpful to have Bell's thoughts without later accretions.

As well as being an important source for contemporary law, Bell's Principles mark a significant stage in the development of Scots law. While reflecting the institutional tradition in seeking to present...

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