John Erskine, AN INSTITUTE OF THE LAW OF SCOTLAND 1st edn 1773 Edinburgh: Edinburgh Legal Education Trust ( 2014. Old Studies in Scots Law, vol 5. cxii+1025pp. ISBN 9780955633263. £30.

Publication Date01 September 2015
Date01 September 2015

The Edinburgh Legal Education Trust is an important funding vehicle for legal research and education. Financed ultimately by CPD provision, the Trust is a powerful example of the positive impact that commercial engagement with the profession can have on the academic study and teaching of law. One of the Trust's activities is the publication of books on the law. Its Older Studies in Scots Law series comprises facsimile editions of important Scottish law books with introductions by some of today's leading legal scholars. The volume under review is the fifth to be produced in the series. Previous volumes have also been reviewed for this journal (see (2011) 15 EdinLR 33 and (2014) 18 EdinLR 300).

As is noted in the original advertisement to Erskine's Institute, and as is commented upon in the introduction to this volume, Erskine worked towards completion of his Institute in the final years of his life. As such, it benefited from his focused attention as well as his forty-seven-year career as an advocate and teacher of law. He did not live to see the realisation of his endeavours, so the volume was edited and seen through the press by his son, David. The second and third editions of the Institute (1785; 1793) were enlarged by material not attributable to Erskine. The consequent importance of the first edition is noted in the volume under review: “By contrast [to the subsequent editions], the first edition, reprinted here, provides a statement of the law as Erskine believed it to be at the time when he completed the work, in the 1760s. It is therefore the authoritative version of Erskine's text” (xxxv).

The new introduction is written by Kenneth Reid, who is also the series editor. It is critical, engaging and useful in contextualising the work that follows. The introduction first examines issues relating to Erskine's life, including his education, professional practice, attempts to secure a teaching position, subsequent teaching career, the writing of his Principles, and his eventual retirement. It then discusses the Institute itself: why Erskine may have written it late in life, the preparation of the printed edition, the initial reception and later editions of the work, its structure, pattern of citation, and the extent to which there is overlap of content with the Principles. The introduction concludes by reflecting on the later reputation of the Institute, from once having “primacy of place as the leading statement of contemporary law” (xxxi) to earning...

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