Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Despite Brexit: Strengthening the role of EU law at UK universities

It seems unlikely that the ‘Brexit’ will somehow be stopped. Prior to the referendum, research in economics explained the many negative economic implications. An issue less relevant for the general public, but highly relevant for UK legal scholarship is the future status of research and teaching on EU law in a post-Brexit UK. In past decades, UK law schools have established themselves as leading knowledge hubs for EU law. So what will happen now?

Some may suggest a grim scenario: to start with teaching, EU law will be dropped from the compulsory subjects required for the qualifications as solicitor and barrister. In addition, since EU students will in the future be charged the considerably higher overseas fees, few of them will want to study in the UK, thus further decreasing the demand for EU law teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate level. Finally, academic staff with core expertise on EU law may feel alienated and leave for universities in Ireland and continental Europe.

However, this is not bound to happen. While universities cannot prevent the ‘Brexit’, they can autonomously decide to keep EU law as an important subject in both teaching and research. Even more so, as a form of resistance counterbalancing the Brexit, they should strengthen the role of EU law at their universities. For example, universities should not only keep modules of EU law at the undergraduate level as mandatory ones for their LLB degrees, but introduce new LLM degrees on EU law related topics, establish new centres of EU law, strengthen the collaboration with universities in Europe on EU law etc. It’s in their / our hands.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

After ‘Brexit’: Leaving the UK?

Let’s imagine the following:

A scientist from continental Europe relocates to the UK, partly at least due to the membership of the UK in the EU. He (or she) lives and works in the UK for a decade, gradually moves all of his belongings to the UK and eventually becomes a UK citizen.

In the Brexit debate, the ‘leave’ campaign’s most successful argument is that we need to stop continental Europeans coming to the UK. The majority of the UK population follows this view and votes for Brexit.

So ‘after Brexit’: emotionally, the scientist just wants to get away from the UK – to anywhere else in the world, be it a university in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore etc.

Of course, rationally, the right decision is (or rather: the right decisions are) not to leave …

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Counting Laws in Comparative Law? – A Comment on the ‘Global Regulation’ database

I came across www.global-regulation.com a few weeks ago and its ‘analytics’ function seems quite interesting indeed, despite some problems discussed below. Counting ‘laws’ is also not something entirely new to comparative law - in my book:
Actual attempts to measure the quantity of legal rules have been limited to the codified law. In the 1980s Heinz Schäffer and Attila Racz led a research project on ‘Quantitative Analyses of Law – A Comparative Empirical Study: Sources of Law in Eastern and Western Europe’. This project used questionnaires to estimate the total amount of generally binding normative acts, for instance, in terms of pages and the number of single norms. Schäffer and Racz also tried to identify the amount of legal changes within a period of ten years, as socialist governments were expected to be less hesitant in changing existing legal orders. More recently, Tom Ginsburg and colleagues were interested in whether and how legal systems differ in the ‘specificity’ of codified law. The first paper called this ‘leximetrics’, and examined whether in Europe the length of laws implementing EU directives varies systematically across countries… Ginsburg and colleagues also examined the specificity of constitutions, using data from most countries of the world...
Global Regulation’s analytics enables searching for the frequency of terms based on a large number of laws from (at present) 48 countries; for non-English speaking countries this is based on machine-based translations of laws. For the purpose of comparison the search results are displayed in two bar charts showing the absolute number of laws that mention a particular term and then the percentage of each country’s laws. Naturally, the absolute data usually have the countries with many laws at the top position (notably the US); thus, the percentage data are the more meaningful ones.
  Searching for general substantive terms such as ‘justice’, ‘efficiency’, ‘welfare’ etc and then comparing the results across countries is interesting, but it is unlikely to be reliable due to differences in legislative drafting and problems of translation.
  A bit more specific terms may work better such as ‘socialism’, ‘social’ and ‘god’ – and the following results may indeed be somehow plausible (click to enlarge):



The chart below for Europe is interesting as well: so apparently countries that are not quite in the EU – Switzerland and Turkey – have many laws that need to deal with their relationship to the European Union.

Next: what about the relationship to international laws and other countries more generally? Searching for ‘international’ and ‘foreign’ gives you the following (and I also searched for further terms such as ‘China’, ‘India’, ‘English’, ‘French’, ‘Spanish’ etc):


Those latter results show the main limitation of the database: some countries, eg Estonia, Switzerland and Turkey, are always at the top of the results. How is this possible? Well, the data only present the number of laws, regardless of the length of the laws. Thus, I’d suggest that for those countries the database seems to have mainly covered fairly long laws (such as the main Codes) that are likely mention any term, while for other countries many smaller statutes seem to be included.
  The obvious solution would be not simply to measure and report the number of laws in percentage terms, but also to consider the length of these laws. Apparently, Global Regulation has this information as it also reports the ‘complexity’ of laws which it defines as the length of laws; yet, unfortunately, this is not (yet) included in the comparative bar charts.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Comparative Company Law – 2nd edition – suggestions?

First edition published in 2013 (see Amazon and Hart websites). 

Now we’re planning a second edition. What shall we change? We have some plans, but we’d also be very happy to get comments and suggestions via email.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Different uses of the term ‘letterbox companies’

The news reporting of the ‘Panama papers’ frequently mentions ‘letterbox companies’ (eg, see a simple Google news search). In recent academic research, the same term has also been used in a number of publications (see Google scholar search, starting 2010). But there is the potential of misunderstandings as there are at least two different types of letterbox companies, let’s call them:
  • Type A: companies that do business in one country, but are incorporated with only a ‘letterbox’ in another jurisdictions.
  • Type B: companies that are mere ‘special purpose entities’, ie those too merely have a ‘letterbox’ in the country of incorporation, but they only hold financial assets and are not involved in any business activity in any country.
The ‘Panama papers’ concerned the ‘type B letterbox companies’ and those may indeed be seen as potentially problematic as they may be used for purposes of tax evasion (or at least tax avoidance), money laundering etc – while ‘type A letterbox companies’ may potentially be seen as a legitimate choice of law. So, for a legal assessment – be it of relevant rules of conflict of laws or, in the EU, the freedom of establishment – it is crucial to be clear which type of letterbox companies an analysis aims to address.

Should I quit social media for good?

So I have said it. In the last couple of months, I have hardly been on Twitter, this blog has been rather dormant, and my Linkedin, Facebook etc accounts are merely passive anyway. So did I miss anything (or did anyone miss me)? In any case, it feels good to know that it can be done in order to spend more time with the variant of reality that is not related to social media.
   To answer the question, I’m not going to quit, but will only use it if I want to (which may state the obvious). So, for this blog this means that I’m not going to return the one-blog-post-per-week cycle that I had until half a year ago, but there may be a bit more activity than recently.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Comparative Law (book): reviews and slides

Ok, first the vanity part of this blog post: it’s nice to see that the reviews of my Comparative Law keep coming in: so, apparently, it is ‘thought-provoking’ and of ‘high quality’ (Bogdan), ‘very interesting, well-written, and accessible’ (Pozzo), ‘a readable tour de force’ (Patrignani), ‘compelling’ (Xanthaki), ‘a thoroughly enjoyable read (Marique) and ‘innovative’ (Shen). Ok, I cherry-picked a bit! For some more extracts see the site accompanying the book.

On this website there are also Powerpoint slides on the themes of this book, which I just updated (as I was teaching a new comparative-law module last term); maybe of interest for some.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Varieties of Legal Systems: Towards a New Global Taxonomy (revised paper now online)


I blogged about this paper a year ago (the title was still a bit different) and eventually it has been accepted for publication. The abstract reads:
Legal scholars, economists and other social scientist often refer to the idea that countries can be classified into a number of ‘legal families’ or ‘legal origins’. Yet, this research is unsatisfactory as regards the actual classifications of the legal systems of the world. It is the aim of this paper to fill this gap and to develop a more robust taxonomy of legal systems. This taxonomy is based on a new dataset of 156 countries that is subsequently analysed with tools of network analysis. Applying cluster optimisation, this paper finds that the world’s legal systems can be divided into four clusters. It displays those clusters in a map, akin to the Inglehart-Welzel cultural map. It is suggested that those findings have important implications, not only for our understanding of the legal world, but also for the feasibility of legal transplants and harmonisation.
And the map above is of course this map of clusters. The new version of the paper is available here.

Update: and now also on the Early View site of the Journal.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Greetings from Singapore (with some thoughts on Ferguson’s Empire)

I’m enjoying my time in Singapore where I’m a visiting fellow at NUS in December. It’s always nice to stay at a place for a bit longer than a conference visit (which I did in Singapore two years ago) and learn about a country’s history, culture, laws (including the more unusual ones, cf also above) etc.
  I also used the occasion to read Ferguson’s Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (2003). This book has been controversial but it reads very well and it does address in quite some detail the dark sides of the British empire. However, overall, the conclusion is more positive – phrased as the hypothetical that ‘it must be said that the experiment of running the world without the Empire cannot be adjudged and unqualified success’; in particular that ‘there is good evidence that the imposition of British-style institutions has tended to enhance a country’s economic prospects’ (with examples of British law, administration and government) (pp 369-371). 
  It reminds me a bit of my ‘overfitting legal transplants’; sometimes foreign ideas can be quite helpful – and indeed Singapore may be an example where the transplanted English law is regarded as something valuable.
  The question is, however, whether the positive aspects associated with the British colonial empire could not also have been achieved without the negative ones. Focussing on the rule of law, it can be seen that many countries ranked in ‘top 20’ (see eg here) have not been part of the British empire: eg, the Nordic countries but also South Korea and Japan. So, as always, making a general assessment about complex historical events is problematic since any causal linkages are not that clear.