Cambridge Public Law Conference 2014

It has been my great pleasure this week — along with three of my colleagues in the Faculty of Law at Cambridge — to co-convene a major international conference on public law. The following account of the conference — and of our plans for future conferences in the series — is based on the news item published today on the Faculty’s website. 

From 15 to 17 September 2014, the Faculty of Law hosted a major international conference on Process and Substance in Public Law. The conference, sponsored by Hart Publishing, was specifically designed to address a clear need for a regular, international public law conference, bringing together common lawyers from a variety of jurisdictions. The intellectual case for a conference of this nature stems from the fact that common law systems are simultaneously similar to and different from one another. While those from common law jurisdictions all work from background understandings that have enough in common to facilitate fruitful engagement, significant differences between such systems open up opportunities for valuable exchanges of ideas and debate. These possibilities were realised at the conference; the exceptionally high quality of the papers was matched by the quality of the debate which they provoked, as participants grappled and engaged with points of contact and contrast between the many jurisdictions that were represented.

The experience of the conference convenors — Professor John Bell, Dr Mark Elliott, Dr Jason Varuhas and Dr Philip Murray — has been that there was significant demand for a conference concentrating on the academic study of public law. Following the issue of a call for papers, they received approximately 170 abstracts from scholars based across the common law world. The conference was attended by over 200 participants drawn from a wide variety of common law and other jurisdictions, including Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Italy, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. The conference opened with an interview of Sir John Laws, a Lord Justice of Appeal in the England and Wales Court of Appeal, conducted by Cambridge’s Professor David Feldman; the keynote address was given by Professor Jerry Mashaw of Yale University; and almost 50 papers were delivered by public law scholars representing many of the world’s leading law schools.

The convenors intend that the 2014 Public Law Conference will be the first in a biennial series of such conferences. The second conference is scheduled to take place, again in Cambridge, in September 2016. Thereafter, the conference will move among universities across the common law world, the intention being that the first conference to take place outside of Cambridge will be held in 2018. In this respect, as in certain others, the Public Law series is modelled on the highly successful series of Obligations conferences in private law, which is now in its seventh iteration, the first having been held at the University of Melbourne and the most recent in Hong Kong.

In summer 2016, the Faculty of Law at Cambridge will host both the eighth Obligations and the second Public Law Conference. The Obligations series has become the pre-eminent conference on private law within the common law world, and it is the intention of the convenors of the Public Law series that it will quickly establish itself as the public law analogue of the Obligations conferences. The enormously positive response to and feedback on the first Public Law Conference — and to the larger intellectual endeavour of which the inaugural conference forms only the starting-point — suggests that this ambition is well on its way to being realised.

Further information about the 2014 conference can be found on the conference website, which will be updated in due course with information about the 2016 conference, and via the conference’s Twitter feed. Galleries of photographs from the first, second and third days of the conference can be found on Flickr. Video recordings of the plenary sessions will shortly be available online.

It is intended that an edited collection based on a selection of papers delivered at the conference will be published in 2015 by Hart Publishing.

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