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School of Law

Professor Maksymilian Del Mar awarded British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship

The project examines the scholarship and political life of one of the twentieth’s century’s most distinguished jurists: Professor Sir Neil MacCormick (1941-2009)

18 May 2020

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Professor Sir Neil MacCormick

Maksymilian Del Mar, Professor of Legal Theory and Director of Graduate Studies in the School of Law at Queen Mary University of London, has been awarded a prestigious 12-month British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship. The Fellowship will allow Professor Del Mar to complete a monograph entitled Neil MacCormick: A Scottish Jurisprudence for Stanford University Press. The project is accompanied by a website, which will also be updated to include new material.

The project examines the scholarship and political life of one of the twentieth’s century’s most distinguished jurists: Professor Sir Neil MacCormick (1941-2009). Supported also by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, as well as funding from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the long-standing project has involved examining the relationship between MacCormick’s extensive philosophical oeuvre and his political involvement, both in the Scottish National Party and in the European Parliament.

Professor Del Mar said: ‘I’m hugely grateful to the British Academy for the opportunity to complete the monograph, which I’ve been working on now for some time. The project has been difficult for many reasons. One is personal: I knew MacCormick, having been his last PhD student, and this has made it hard to gain the critical distance required. Another difficulty has been historiographical: over time, I have realised that the dominant labels of twentieth century legal theory, such as legal positivism and natural law, are not helpful in understanding and appreciating MacCormick’s work – hence the need to situate his contribution as part of a neglected tradition of Scottish jurisprudence. Yet another difficulty is that although MacCormick was well known as a Scottish public figure, little has been written on the sheer extent of his behind-the-scenes contribution to the Scottish National Party’.

In addition to being an accomplished and much-admired author, including of the classic Legal Reasoning and Legal Theory (1978) and the quartet of books known as Law, State and Practical Reason (1999-2008), MacCormick was also an active politician, involved in drafting a Constitution for a Future Independent Scotland, and serving as Member of European Parliament (1999-2004). Professor Del Mar said: ‘MacCormick was and remains important. He was one of the first legal philosophers to take seriously the European Union as a distinct legal order, developing an account of law that did not prioritise state law, and arguing for the importance of replacing the language of sovereignty with that of subsidiarity. More generally, he was – perhaps, in part, because of his experience as a Scot – careful to develop a theory of law that placed emphasis on the experience of ordinary people rather than officials. His conception of the rule of law, for instance, was one that argued for the importance of the full opportunity to be heard, including in court. He also did much to enable and nourish relations between jurisprudence in the English-speaking world and traditions of theorising law on the continent.’

For a flavour of MacCormick’s work, see his influential 1993 Lecture: ‘Beyond the Sovereign State’.

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