PRONI tour and exhibition

Attendees at our autumn discourse and AGM in November were treated to a specially-curated exhibition and tour of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Archivist Des McCabe selected a number of significant and fascinating documents which were of interest to legal historians, and explained the workings of the Public Record Office.

PRONI is the official archive for Northern Ireland and contains millions of documents that relate chiefly, but not exclusively, to Northern Ireland.  They date largely from c.1600 to the present day (with a few dating back as far as the early 13th century).

Located in Belfast, PRONI is a government organisation founded in 1923 (shortly after the partition of Ireland). It now operates as part of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure within the Northern Ireland Civil Service .

British Legal History Conference, University of Reading

A number of members of the Society including the President attended the British Legal History Conference at Reading in July 2015.  The theme of the conference was Law: Challenges to Authority and the Recognition of Rights.

The Society provided some of the seed capital for the conference along with the Selde2015-07-08 ABA memorial at Runnymeden Society and the Legal History Society of Wales.  There were a significant number of delegates from the United States and Canada along with a group from Australia.

From Ireland, six members of the ILHS presented papers:-

Dr Donal Coffey, University of Surrey: A reconsideration of the Imperial Conference of 1926 and conference on the operation of dominion legislation 1929

Dr Kevin Costello, UCD: Mandamus and parish politics 1620-1800

Dr Coleman Dennehy, UCD and UCL: Assize Justice in restoration Clonmel2015-07-08c Sir John Baker on Queen of the Thames

Dr Conor Hanley, NUI Galway:

Judgement by one’s peers? 
Radical and trade unionist views of jury trial in Victorian Britain

Dr Niamh Howlin, UCD: 

Challenging authority: criminal justice responses in Ireland

Dr Andrew Lyall: Granville Sharp’s MS Cases on Slavery

The conference included a visit to the site of the sealing of Magna Carta where the event is commemorated by an imposing memorial erected by the American Bar Association. 2015-07-08 ABA memorial at Rummymede Text

This was followed by a paper entitled Magna Carta- the beginning of the Myth delivered Sir John Baker QC, Downing Professor of Laws (Emeritus) at Cambridge, aboard the Queen of the Thames as it cruised the river by the meadow at Runnymede.

Sir John is a gold medallist of the ILHS and has been a member of the Society since its inception.

It was a most enjoyable afternoon
completed with an English cream tea.

Over 70 papers were delivered in a series of sessions over the four days and great credit goes to Professor Catherine Macmillan and her team from the University of Reading for the flawless organisation of the four days.

One feature of the conference was a session at which twelve Ph.D. candidates presented papNiamh H at Readingers on Criminal Justice in Empire, Anglican Ecclesiastical law, Law Religion and Excluded Groups and Processes, Rights and Colonies.

Professor Rebecca Probert of the School of Law at Warwick delivered a fascinating address to a plenary session entitled Victorian Bigamists – Challenging authority or claiming rights?

The next conference will be held at University College London in July 2017.

The exact date of that conference remains to be fixed and a call for papers will be made in due course.

The Dark Side of Magna Carta

Amidst the celebrations of the 800th Anniversary of Magna Carta a pause for reflection is necessary. A one-day conference at the University of Newcastle will explore how Magna Carta’s legacy has been invoked in support of a range of highly contested historical and contemporary constitutional developments.

  • How did a feudal bargain between an inept King John and his most powerful subjects come to vested with immense symbolism within the United Kingdom’s legal and political order?
  • When the 1215 Magna Carta was quickly repudiated and the reincarnations of the instrument shorn of their more radical provisions, can it support the rule-of-law claims based upon it?
  • How did imperial narratives which justified the extension of Magna Carta to colonised peoples as part of the United Kingdom’s “civilising mission” come to be reimagined as “exporting British values”?

Attendance is free thanks to funding from the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal and the Society of Legal Scholars. Attendees are asked to register for the Conference by contacting Kevin Crosby at

Further information is available here.