“The Unity of Public Law?” — The 2016 Public Law Conference

In September 2016, together with my colleagues John Bell, Jason Varuhas and Shona Wilson Stark, I co-convened the 2016 Public Law Conference. The following is a brief report on the conference that was first published on the Cambridge Law Faculty’s website. 

From 12 to 14 September 2016, the Cambridge Law Faculty hosted the second Public Law Conference, convened by Professor John Bell, Professor Mark Elliott, Dr Jason Varuhas and Dr Shona Wilson Stark, and generously supported by Hart Publishing. The conference formed part of the Public Law series — a programme of major international biennial conferences that aims to provide the common law world’s pre-eminent forum for the discussion of public law matters. Building on the success of the inaugural conference, which took place in Cambridge two years ago, the 2016 conference took “The Unity of Public Law?” as its theme. A wide range of issues pertinent to the theme were examined, including questions concerning the cohesiveness of public law as a discipline and the extent to, and respects in, which public law exhibits forms of unity that cross national borders.

The interrogation of those questions was aided by the range of jurisdictions represented at the conference, and the rich comparative lens thereby afforded. Approximately 200 delegates — representing almost 25 common law and other jurisdictions — attended the conference, with 65 papers being delivered over two and a half days. Keynote speakers included members of three Commonwealth apex courts: Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice of New Zealand, The Hon Robert French, Chief Justice of Australia, and Lord Reed, a Justice of the United Kingdom Supreme Court.

Innovations introduced at the 2016 conference sought to deepen the commitment of the Public Law series to fostering the scholarship of early career researchers. To that end, a fee-waiver programme for doctoral candidates speaking at the conference was introduced, dedicated doctoral candidate panels were added, and the Richard Hart Prize for the best paper by an early career scholar was established. The judging panel for the prize comprised Professor David Feldman (University of Cambridge), Professor Carol Harlow (LSE) and Lord Reed JSC. The first recipient of the prize was Jennifer Raso, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto. The general standard of the papers considered for the prize was very high.

The Faculty of Law at Cambridge has played a major role in establishing the Public Law series of conferences, and will remain closely involved in them. However, part of the blueprint adopted when the series was established was that it should not be geographically confined to Cambridge, and that the venues in which the conferences are held should reflect the broad common law roots of the series. With those aims in mind, the third conference in the Public Law series will be held in July 2018 in Melbourne, and will be co-organised by the Faculty of Law in Cambridge and Melbourne Law School.

The 2014 conference gave rise to an edited collection — Bell, Elliott, Varuhas and Murray (eds), Public Law Adjudication in Common Law Systems: Process and Substance — published earlier this year by Hart Publishing. It is anticipated that an edited volume will also emerge from the 2016 conference. Further information about the 2018 conference will be made available via the conference website and Twitter feed in due course. In the meantime, information about the first two conferences can be found on the website. Videos of plenary sessions from the 2016 conference will be made available in due course.