The 2019 Sir Gerald Gordon Seminar on Criminal Law

The 2019 Sir Gerald Gordon Seminar on Criminal Law

11 June 2019 saw the 11th annual Sir Gerald Gordon Seminar in Criminal Law taking place at the University of Glasgow. The Gordon Seminar is the UK’s only generalist criminal law conference. For the last 11 years, it has been bringing together academics and practitioners in criminal law for a day of presentations and informal engagement. This year’s seminar was a little bit special as it will be Sir Gerald’s 90th birthday next week and we were delighted that he was able to join us for a day of great papers. We are grateful, as ever, to our sponsors, the Clark Foundation and the Faculty of Advocates, whose support means that we can make the event free to attend. 

One of the speakers said to me over dinner that they had initially thought that the event would be a bit odd as the topics of the papers – albeit that they were all in the general area of criminal law – were so diverse. As the day progressed, however, they were able to see common threads and themes running through the programme and by the end they were a convert to the generalist format. We have sometimes considered theming the seminar, but have always ultimately decided that this would be a mistake. The beauty of the seminar is its diversity, but also that it can reveal connections and synergies that would not have been obvious from the topics of the papers themselves.   

Dr Catherine Appleton and Professor Dirk van Zyl Smit (University of Nottingham) kicked off this year’s event, building on their excellent book Life Imprisonment: A Global Human Rights Analysis to speak about other types of sentences that are life sentences in all but name.

They were followed by Professor Sharon Cowan, Dr Chloë Kennedy (both of the University of Edinburgh) and Professor Vanessa Munro (University of Warwick), who spoke about the fantastic Scottish Feminist Judgments Project, both about the criminal cases involved, but also the art work and other creative aspects of the project. One of the most affecting moments of the day was a recording of Jay Whittaker reading her own poem based on the case of Drury v HM Advocate, written using words from the judgment itself. Felicity Belton (University of Glasgow) then did an awesome job as our PGR speaker, discussing the criminalisation of forced marriage in Scotland and questioning whether it was the most appropriate way to address the issue. Dr Matt Dyson (University of Oxford), who teased us with his mysterious title “A ripple in crime”, spoke about patterns of law reform in criminal and tort law. His presentation is part of a broader project in this area that, if the presentation itself is anything to go by, will be a significant and original work. Dr Mo Egan (University of Stirling) gave a thought-provoking presentation on remote harms and criminal responsibility in digital space. Dr Federico Picinali (London School of Economics) discussed the compatibility of the presumption of innocence with non-binary verdict systems, this too being part of a very interesting project in which he intends ultimately to defend multiple verdict systems from their critics. Finally, finishing the day with a fascinating historical paper has become something of a seminar tradition and Kelly-Ann Couzens (University of Western Australia) did not let us down. She gave us a compelling account of the investigation and High Court trial of Dr Edward Pratt Evatt in 1882, who was accused – but ultimately acquitted – of sexual offences against one of his female patients.  

A few words about Sir Gerald himself are in order. Sir Gerald Gordon CBE QC LLD is one of the most influential figures in Scottish criminal law and procedure. He was Professor of Scots Law at Edinburgh University from 1972 until 1976 and his work The Criminal Law of Scotland was one of the first volumes to be published in the prestigious Scottish Universities Law Institute (SULI) series in 1967. It is now in its fourth edition and is regarded as the leading source on Scots criminal law by the courts (where it is frequently cited) and academics alike. Sir Gerald was a sheriff from 1976 to 1999 and a temporary High Court Judge until 2004. He was a member of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission from its inception in 1999 until 2009. He was knighted in 1999, having previously been made a CBE, and was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2002. He continues to edit Renton and Brown’s Criminal Procedure according to the Law of Scotland and the Scottish Criminal Case Reports. He is an inspiration for all of us who work in the field of criminal law.

 Next year’s seminar will take place on Thursday 11 June 2020. Details will be available on the Sir Gerald Gordon seminar website in early 2020.

~ Professor Fiona Leverick (Professor of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice)

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