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From small acorns

For 40 years the Law School at Strathclyde University has been putting law students through their paces. It’s not all been plain sailing, but the men and women who have featured in its proud history have ensured one thing – it’s never been boring.

The University of Strathclyde was granted a Royal Charter empowering it to award degrees in 1964. Its origins however go back to 1796 when John Anderson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, left instructions in his will for the foundation of a second university in the city. His vision was for a “place of useful learning with opportunities for all, regardless of gender or class. The tradition of “useful learning and increased access to education has remained constant throughout Strathclyde’s history.
In its 40 years Strathclyde Law School has established a reputation for quality teaching and research, not only in the traditional ‘core’ subjects essential for entry to the legal profession, but also in a wider range of topics, such as human rights law, construction law, information technology law, welfare law, environmental law and socio-legal studies, including criminal justice. The recent official review by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council of the quality of legal education awarded Strathclyde the grade of “exemplary (the highest grading possible) for the quality of the Law School’s teaching and learning strategy. Law teaching is supported by the highest quality of academic scholarship: Strathclyde was recently officially rated by the five-yearly Research Assessment Exercise as the best in Scotland and ninth equal (out of 60) in the UK.
A giant leap then from the heady days in 1964 when the Scottish College merged with the Royal College to form the University of Strathclyde. Those who had been teaching law at the separate colleges were joined by new colleagues and in 1964 a law department was formed with four members. The original founders, Ted Barrie, Campbell Burns and Evelyn Gavin, were headed up by Dr Isaac Miller, who had come from Glasgow University. Ted Barrie was a barrister but had come from a local government background and had been Town Clerk of Pontefract. Campbell Burns, a local boy from Woodlands, was a Glasgow graduate and contemporary of Teddy Taylor. Previously, he had been in practice as a solicitor with an interest in business and commercial issues. Evelyn Gavin had an interest in criminology and subsequently went on to serve on the Parole Board.
The Law Department, which was at that time based at Pitt Street in what was the old Scottish College of Commerce building, expanded its scope of activity from its original remit providing service teaching principally for students in the Business School and Arts and Social Studies Faculty.
In addition to classes for other degrees, the Law Department offered Law as a principal subject in the BA degree. This was developed, with the Law Society of Scotland’s approval, into a fully fledged LL.B. degree, starting in 1968. In order to make this feasible, more staff were taken on – these included Eric Young, an Edinburgh graduate from a local government background with an interest in planning issues and the Fife Flyers and now a leading Planning Law consultant, John Fitzsimons, an ex-electrician who was a late entrant into law from the Fiscal Service and who, since the mid-90s, has been a Sheriff in Dumbarton, and the now retired Ian Dickinson, who served 25 years at the university.
Another eminent name to join the Law Department in those early days included Norman MacEwan, a local councillor from Stirling and tireless campaigner for human rights (before the issue was fashionable). So respected was his work that the Norman MacEwan Centre in Stirling was named after him, following his death in the late 80s.
This small group was joined by John Sinclair, who subsequently became Director of the Diploma and Professor of Conveyancing at Strathclyde.
Peter Robson came along in 1970 to reduce the very wide teaching portfolios that the still small staff had to take on in order to ensure its educational offering was comprehensive.
In those days, typically, an individual could teach the whole of Family Law, Private International Law and half of Contract and Commercial Law. Another feature of academic life at this time was the background of those joining the Law School.
All Strathclyde Law School staff were legally qualified but no-one had obtained a postgraduate qualification prior to joining the staff. This has altered significantly over the years as legal academia has changed from the original 60s model, where classes were taught by solicitors and advocates on a part-time basis, in the same way as tutors on the modern-day Diploma in Legal Practice.
In spring 1971 the funding body, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, recommended that Strathclyde University cease teaching law. At that time five universities were teaching law and the funding body felt that five was one too many and that Strathclyde should be the one to go.
As this threat loomed, the Law School owes a debt of gratitude to the then Principal, Sir Samuel Curran. Sir Samuel was proud of his fledgling law department and fought for its survival. Fortunately, it was a battle that Sir Samuel won. The university resisted this recommendation and instead approved the expansion of its staff numbers.
The ambition to provide a full portfolio of classes for a modern Law Department with International and European Law offerings was realised in the spring of 1971 when Dr Akos Toth, who retired in 2002 after forging a major international reputation with his writings, joined from Exeter University.
At this time the pre-Jordanhill university consisted of ten schools and it was around this time that the Law Department sought to leave the Business School and become a separate faculty in its own right. The Law Department was growing, in terms of staff, students and reputation, and felt that with its own identity it could become a standalone faculty that contributed to the stature of the university. Despite this purported move being unsuccessful, the Law Department did score a victory by becoming one of the first law departments to introduce the Law School tag. No longer was law merely a department within the Business School, it was a Law School, within the Business School. Subsequently, the Law School was moved into the expanded Faculty of Law, Arts and Social Sciences on August 2004.
In 1972 the Law School moved into the sixth floor of the Stenhouse Building on Cathedral Street. At that time it shared the floor with the Department of Administration and HR Management. It has since expanded into the ground floor and part of the third floor, as well as across the road into the first floor of the Lord Hope Building on St James Road.
In the early 70s a number of new staff joined to enhance the staff to student ratio. A few stayed for limited periods of time whilst most stayed rather longer. Nigel Savage, who is now Head of the College of Law at Nottingham Trent University, arrived to help develop the Business Law field in 1974. Kenny Miller, now Deputy Principal of the university, came along in 1975 to assist with legal systems and property. Ian Angus joined to provide assistance in the area of European and International Law in 1976 and stayed for three years until returning to private practice. Both he and Kenny Miller were graduates of Strathclyde, coming from the early years of the LL.B. Ian was replaced by Rebecca Wallace in 1979. Subsequently, Rebecca went on to become founding Professor of the Napier University Law School and is now at Robert Gordon’s University.
The expansion of Business Law and the profile of the Law School within the Business School were given a boost when a second chair was approved in 1978. The promotion of Campbell Burns to the chair recognised the change in the nature of academic life.
Prior to that era, lecturers had lectured, but Campbell had written books, articles and had completed a doctoral thesis. This was the start of the recognisable modern criteria for assessing academic worth. Staff numbers in Business Law were expanded with the addition of John Huntley, who is now Professor of Law at Caledonian University, Alistair Clark, who is now a highly successful Advocate, the late Alex Shearer and Ian Lloyd, now Professor of IT Law in the Law School. and Director for the Centre for Law, Computers and Technology established in 1991.
This team developed the reputation and output of the Law School in terms of the scope of the subjects offered as well as published works. The contrast between 1980 and 1970 was remarkable both in terms of staff numbers and staff output
In 1984 the Law School scored a major coup when the Principal at that time Graham Hills advertised for one replacement professor, to take over from the retiring Isaac Miller, but in fact appointed two external candidates and promoted one internal candidate. This saw Dr. Akos Toth granted a Personal Chair. Joe Thomson, now Regis Professor of Law at Glasgow University and a Scottish Law Commissioner, and Alan Paterson, President of the Society of Legal Scholars, member of the Judicial Appointments Board and Head of the Centre for Professional Legal Studies (CPLS) joined – both Edinburgh graduates working in Law Faculties of King’s College London and Edinburgh respectively.
When Campbell Burns left to work full-time as a Sheriff towards the late 80s his replacement as Professor of Business Law came from the University of East Anglia. Bob Burgess took over as Head of the Law School in 1990. Joe Thomson succeeded the towering figure of David Walker as Regis Professor of Law at Glasgow University in 1991 and Strathclyde continued with the professorial replacement policy that had been the subject of a cartoon in the Times Higher Educational Supplement back in 1984.
During this period of the Law School’s development other influential figures, Professor John Blackie and Gerry Maher, joined and became integral members of the Law School family.
Neil Hutton joined in 1990 and was appointed Professor in 2001. Professor Hutton has gone on to spread the good reputation of Strathclyde Law School around the world as a visiting Professor at the University of West Cape in South Africa, the University of Cordoba in Argentina and the China University of Political Science and Law.
During the remainder of the 1990s the Law School’s postgraduate programmes developed in response to evolving technologies and the demands upon the legal profession, one of its key successes being the IT Law offering, which was the first to be offered both live and through distance learning via the Web.
In 1992 Bob Burgess and the legendary Ross Harper were instrumental in launching the first part-time LL.B in Scotland, which really opened legal education up to many whom before had been denied access due to other commitments.
In 1995 Alan Paterson succeeded Bob Burgess as Head of the Law School and discussions began with Joe Thomson, now at Glasgow University, in order to create a joint venture between Strathclyde and Glasgow Law Schools in the shape of the Glasgow Graduate School of Law (GGSL).
The continuing growth of the Law School and the creation of GGSL in 1996 led to the taking over of the first floor of the Lord Hope Building and the creation of the best legal professional skills training facilities in Scotland.
Alan was one of the earliest in the Law School to travel widely, with visiting professorships (twice) at the University of New Mexico, but in later years his “firsts were less exotic – Chair of the Committee of Heads of University Law Schools for the UK and then member of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland.
After six years at the helm he was succeeded by Kenny Miller. During Kenny’s (in the event) short, tenure both Neil Hutton and Barry Rodger were appointed to personal chairs. Kenny also oversaw the final submission of the Law School to the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise, and the preparations for the subject review for QAA, teaching and learning (both resulting in an excellent outcome).
Kenny was responsible for a number of innovations during his time as Head. In particular he set up the Campbell Burns Scholarships, and for staff Kenny instituted the Staff Research and Development Fund, whereby all members of the academic staff have access to a resource which they can use for travel, conference attendance, research assistance and any other expenditure which is related to their research.
Kenny was Head of the Law School for only one year, for during that year the new Principal, Professor Andrew Hamnett, recognised Kenny’s skills and appointed him as Deputy Principal.
In 2001 Kenneth Norrie succeeded Kenny Miller as Head of the Law School. Kenneth’s tenure has been characterised by an increase in the number of students on programmes such as the graduate entrant LL.B and the part-time LL.B, as well as an increase in the numbers of staff. Kenneth oversaw (and is overseeing) important structural changes to the Law School vis-à-vis the University.
Particular mention should be made of the move of Faculty, from the Business School to the newly formed Faculty of Law, Arts and Social Sciences; the physical relocation due in 2005 of the Law School to the Lord Hope Building; the reintegration of the Law School with the Centre for Professional Legal Studies (CPLS); the ever-increasing portfolio of activities undertaken under the auspices of GGSL; and the changing financial and accounting structures between the department, the University and the Faculty. During Kenneth’s time as Head Mark Poustie, Paul Maharg and Jenny Hamilton were all promoted to personal chairs and Noel Whitty joined the department as professor of human rights law.
From those small beginnings with four staff, the Law School now boasts some 30 full-time academics and a myriad of part-time research assistants and administration staff. It would be difficult to suggest how many of today’s legal professionals owe their careers to the Law School, but it would be accurate to say that the majority of law firms in Scotland will, at some point, have been touched, and benefited from, Strathclyde Law School.

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