Please tell us a bit about your background.
I come from a small town in the West of Scotland called Erskine, around twelve miles from Glasgow on the banks of the River Clyde. It was built in the 1970s when the pressure on social housing in Glasgow became too great.
The town originally got its name after Viking raiders beheaded a local noblewoman “Eriskyne” and exclaimed her name in victory during battle. Later in the 17th Century Erskine was the site of Scotland’s most infamous witch trials. By the time I arrived on a balmy summer evening in 1984 violence levels and gender relations had improved ever so slightly…
I grew up on a council estate, and neither of my parents completed their secondary school education. So, they made sure I completed mine and went to University. Arguably I took it a little too far.
I attended the local state comprehensive school. I distinctly remember being told that if we made a mistake filling in our paper UCAS application (yes, it was that long ago) we wouldn’t be allowed to get another one. Luckily I’m a surgeon with Tipp-Ex.
What led you to a career in academia?
My undergraduate degree in Law is from the University of Glasgow. As part of that I spent a year abroad in Lund, Sweden at Lunds Universitet. That pretty much cemented my love of university life and university towns. My initial intention was to become an Advocate (Barrister) in Scotland. However, the thought of spending a compulsory two years working as a solicitor in Glasgow before training for the Bar whilst there was a world of ideas and opportunities out there was simply too much to bear. My first law degree left me with too many intellectual itches that I needed to scratch. I decided to pursue academia because Universities were the only environments I’d ever been in where people were continually working to better themselves, each other, and society in general. Most other workplaces seemed dull and insular by comparison. I applied to read for the BCL with the intention of spending a brief nine months “down south”. I’m still here, twelve years later. The only brief interludes were a stint as a judicial assistant at the Supreme Court of Israel and three years as a Junior Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge.
I suppose the other factor that led me to academic public law was that the big political events in my formative years were 9/11 and the second Iraq War. Both had huge constitutional implications. The present generation is being defined by Brexit and Covid-19, I’m sure that will make some interesting future public lawyers!
What are your research interests and why have you chosen those particular areas, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m a domestic public lawyer with a broad range of interests in constitutional and administrative law. These disciplines are different in kind, but they aren’t hermetically sealed. I chose public law because it provides the best intersection between legal detail and the big questions that have plagued civilisations for eons: who should govern? what do we consider “just”? and so on…
Right now, I’m working on a bunch of ideas. I’m trying to take a systemic look at the case law on the principle of legality, I’m trying to think about the nature of a political question in public law adjudication, and I’m always thinking about national security cases. It keeps me busy, for sure.
What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time?
It’s term time right now (MT20 week 4) so I think it’s safe to say none of us have much free time at the moment. However, I do love playing the guitar, reading, and playing video games (even though I get continually massacred on easy mode). Before the lockdown I was a pretty avid gym-user, too. I returned to playing guitar in Jan 2019 after a nineteen-year break. I let it slide because I was “busy” with law school and graduate school. If you’ve made it this far: don’t give up on your passions – they make us who we are.
What is the best thing about living/working in Oxford?
Like I said, I love university towns, and Oxford is really the premier experience of that. More specifically I love the intellectual variety and being close to so many brilliant colleagues who are also friends. Undergraduate students give Oxford a particular sense of life. There’s great pubs, cafes, and restaurants, but the accommodation prices leave a lot to be desired…
Who inspires you or has inspired you in the past?
Jimi Hendrix and Paul Craig. And yea, those guys do belong in the same sentence. Fight me in the comments.
What is your favourite place to visit in the world?
Right now, because of the pandemic I’m going to say home (yea, that town with the Vikings, Witches, and Awful Schoolteachers). Like many of us, I haven’t been home for nearly a year now. And like many of us, family time has only been in the context of a “Zoom” call. In the pre-pandemic era, I’d say Hong Kong. It’s lucky I always have return flights booked, otherwise I’d probably disappear to wander through Asia out of sheer curiosity.
Do you have any pets?
Sadly not, no. I grew up with a poodle, though. I was always convinced that if he could talk, he’d be like a 1950s Oxbridge Don…I’ve never thought about what subject he would have taught…maybe Classics?
I’m hoping to get a dog in time, but my pet allergies seem to have worsened with age.
What charity do you support and why?
I donate to the legal charity Reprieve.
Do you have any other accomplishments besides your academic career?
This really sets the bar high, and I’m afraid I can’t quite clear the hurdle! Does my (expired) “First Aid at Work” certificate count? Respect to any colleagues who manage to fill something in for this!