John W Cairns, Law, Lawyers and Humanism. Selected Essays on the History of Scots Law, Volume I John W Cairns, Enlightenment, Legal Education and Critique. Selected Essays on the History of Scots Law, Volume II

Publication Date01 September 2017
Date01 September 2017

In the two volumes of his Selected Essays on the History of Scots Law, Professor Cairns has provided those interested in the study of the subject with an extremely useful collection of highly insightful studies. Hitherto many of these have not been easily accessible due to their publication in volumes with more limited circulation than journals. Those points in themselves would more than justify the decision of Edinburgh University Press to publish these volumes, which are produced to a very high standard. Yet there are other factors that make the publication particularly helpful and timeous for scholars. Each will be considered here in turn.

First, Professor Cairns has chosen the articles selected for the book carefully in order to draw out core themes developed in his research. The first volume focuses on “the development of Scots law and the Scottish legal system from a transitional phase at the beginning of the Early Modern period through to the start of the Modern era in the nineteenth century, in particular exploring the significance of the Civil Law, and its importance in legal education” (I, xxv). By contrast, “the second volume of essays builds on the background found in the first to examine in detail the impact of the Enlightenment on Scots law and the Scottish legal system.” The argument pursued there is that “an Enlightened critique” of how law ought to be developed and reformed was “developed… through legal education” (I, xxv, read together with II, 37–81; 341–363; see also I, 144–220). The argument continues that this ultimately resulted in legal reform, and it helps to explain the radical restructuring of the Court of Session in the early nineteenth century. It will be appreciated that one of the key themes of both volumes is the subject of legal education in Scotland; the history of the subject is one in which Cairns displays a particular mastery. He demonstrates how engaging the topic can be. The present reviewer enjoyed in particular his reconstructions of the eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century arguments concerning the relevance of Civil Law studies to aspiring lawyers (II, 37–63).

Second, while the articles have not been reworked to take into account fresh scholarship that has emerged since their publication, Cairns has written introductions to each volume that contextualise his work in light of the fact that the discipline of Scottish legal history has developed rapidly over the last decade. He notes that the first section of...

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