Friday, November 3, 2017

Sutherland Prize to Brand

At the annual meeting of the ASLH, the Sutherland Prize Committee, chaired by Neil Jones, Cambridge University, announced its unanimous selection of a Prize winner and an honorable mention.  Here is the citation for the Prize winner:
The Sutherland Prize for 2016 is awarded for an article addressing the far-reaching question of the extent to which the outcome of late-medieval common law litigation in England was determined by ‘official’ legal doctrine found in law reports, plea roll arguments and Inns of Court readings, rather than generally being determined by juries exercising their own normative discretion. In an article published in 1989 in the Wisconsin Law Review, David Millon argued that ‘Perhaps … the premodern common law supposed that local communities speaking through juries, rather than official agents of the state, should enjoy the power to decide the normative questions on which judgment rested.’ With a focus on civil litigation in the period around 1300, and by means of a detailed, scholarly, and illuminating examination of evidence provided by plea rolls and law reports, the author shows that ‘Millon’s pessimism about the value of attempting to reconstruct substantive legal doctrine from Year Books and plea rolls in the pre-modern period is misplaced’, and that this is so for three main reasons. Firstly, ‘there is much more evidence for the effective judicial control of juries than Millon’s model … might suggest’, operating, for example, through judicial control of the presentation of ‘evidence’ to juries; judicial ‘charging of juries’; judicial examination of juries as to the basis for their verdicts; and judicial consideration of verdicts before giving judgment. Secondly, evidence from the period around 1300 suggests that ‘the straight judicial application (and on occasion making) of substantive legal rules in cases that did not involve any jury fact-finding’ was ‘of much greater significance and importance’ than Millon’s account suggested, for example in cases where judgment was given simply on the basis of undisputed facts which had emerged in pleading. And thirdly, that Millon’s approach underestimated the role and significance of ‘official’ rules at the pleading stage, which seems to have involved ‘a considerable amount of argument not just about matters of procedure … but also about substantive legal matters’, which helped to shape the issues which went to jury trial. The article, by an author intimately familiar with the sources, serves not only to shed new light upon the litigation process at common law in the period, but is of much wider, and indeed fundamental, significance for the historiography – past, present and future – of the medieval common law, showing, as it does that ‘The “official” legal rules were important and legal historians have not been wasting their time in attempting to reconstruct their development from the early Year Books and still earlier law reports and the plea rolls.’ For these contributions the Sutherland Prize for 2016 is awarded to Professor Paul Brand for his article ‘Judges and Juries in Civil Litigation in Later Medieval England: The Millon Thesis Reconsidered’, 37 Journal of Legal History (2016), 1-40.
In addition the Committee unanimously recommended “that honourable mention be made of Professor Tim Hitchcock and Professor William J. Turkel’s article ‘The Old Bailey Proceedings, 1674-1913: Text Mining for Evidence of Court Behavior’, 34 Law and History Review (2016), 929-955."  The Committee explained that the article
breaks new ground through its statistical and ‘data mining’ approach to the entire body of the Old Bailey Proceedings Online 1674-1913. The authors provide a detailed analysis of the shape of the Proceedings as a whole, showing how the distribution of text between both sessions and individual trials evolved between the late seventeenth century and the early twentieth century; compare the resulting measures of a changing text to statistics reflecting court behaviour so as to examine how changes in the text reflect or hide changing patterns of court behaviour; and, by combining these two approaches, assess the reliability of the Proceedings as evidence of practice at the Old Bailey in the eighteenth century, and of changing court behaviour in the nineteenth century, providing in the process further evidence as to the development of the practice of plea-bargaining. The article will provide a fundamental reference-point for all future work on the Old Bailey Proceedings. . .  .

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