OBITUARY:Professor Robert Heuston
Wednesday 03 January 1996
Although on first meeting a shy, even austere man, Heuston was a delightful, witty and insightful companion. He was also a devoted teacher. Generations of undergraduates at Pembroke College, Oxford (where he was a Fellow from 1947 to 1965), remember him as the proverbial guide, philosopher and friend - and sometimes rather intimidated dean. His time as the college's first Law Fellow ensured an eminence to law teaching at Pembroke which was continued by his successors - Dan Prentice and John Eekelaar. He loved the college's traditions and he enjoyed and savoured those same traditions at Trinity College Dublin, where he moved as Regius Professor in 1970, after five years as Professor at Southampton University.
Intellectually, Heuston was probably a transitional figure in both the study of tort law and of legal history. His successive editions of Salmond on Tort showed a growing breadth of interest outside mere black letter law. Inevitably, however, his tentative steps towards a more contextual approach tended to be overshadowed by the work of P.S. Atiyah and the disciples of the American law and economics schools. At the same time, his contributions, through the 10 editions from 1953 to 1992, were of great significance to academics and practitioners in both United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.
As the years progressed his interest in legal history grew. He is known chiefly for his continuation of Attlay's Lives of the Lord Chancellors. In a 1964 volume he brought the history up to 1940 and in his 1987 volume up to 1970. His somewhat gossipy, albeit deferential, style made his books especially popular with bench and Bar.
His volumes probably had less acclaim among the newer generation of legal historians who tended to be more analytical and less deferential. Robert Heuston himself was, in return, somewhat sceptical of the more controversial approach and proudly eschewed reading the more "advanced" social science contributions to the ongoing evolution of legal history.
Heuston was a son of the Protestant Ascendancy. His concern about the "betrayal" in 1922 and the contribution of the Castle Catholics influenced generations of his students. His lectures at Oxford on constitutional law, borne out of his Irish background, were thought by some to verge on the iconoclastic. This was particularly true for their views on fundamental law - views which, one might add, would now find at least some favour with a Laws or a Woolf.
His reputation extended through the common law world. A member of the Law Reform Committees in both England and Ireland, he had been Visiting Professor at the Universities of Melbourne and British Columbia as well as the Australian National University. His work has now been cited in most common law jurisdictions.
He married Bridget Bolland, widow of Neville Ward-Perkins, his economics colleague at Pembroke, in 1962, and became a successful father to her four children. His wife's illnesses, at their retirement home at Navan, north of Dublin, were a great sadness to him and kept him away from the legal institutions he loved so much. He was proud of being both a Honorary Bencher of Gray's Inn and King's Inns, Dublin, and deeply touched by being a made a QC last spring. It was a fitting tribute to a man who has done so much for his profession - and his friends.
Robert Francis Vere Heuston, legal scholar: born Dublin 17 November 1923; called to the Bar, King's Inns 1947, Gray's Inn 1951; Fellow, Pembroke College, Oxford 1947-65 (Honorary Fellow 1982), Dean 1951-57, Pro-Proctor 1953; Professor of Law, Southampton University 1965-70; member, Law Reform Committee (England) 1968-70, (Ireland) 1975-81; Regius Professor of Laws, Trinity College Dublin 1970-83; Arthur Goodhart Professor of Legal Science and Fellow, Jesus College, Cambridge 1986-87; honorary QC 1995; publications include Salmond and Heuston on Torts (as editor), 11th edition 1953 to 20th edition 1992, Lives of the Lord Chancellors, vol i 1885-1940 1964, vol ii 1940-70 1987; married 1962 Bridget Ward-Perkins (nee Bolland); died Navan, Ireland 21 December 1995.
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