Matt Dyson

Picture of Matthew Dyson, Associate Professor of Law

Please tell us a bit about your background.

I was born in Bromley, South London, on a Wednesday. School in the UK, and the USA, and then I studied law at Cambridge after a gap year teaching. I had thought I’d be a barrister and had a place for the Bar Course. But as results were coming out, I saw an advert for a funded PhD with a deadline only days later. Funding is always scarce, and the project sounded like amazingness on a stick, comparative law and legal history, with the incredible David Ibbetson and John Bell. It was also a chance to go deeper into ideas I’d only scratched the surface of in an undergraduate degree, and many more besides. I was lucky enough to get the place and worked on the European Legal Development project for the next 3.5 years, later published as 10 books with CUP. That included time working in Hamburg, Girona, Valencia and Paris. Standards were high, starting with project leaders who thought nothing of learning new languages for a PhD, or an article… In 2008, I started as a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, and after three wonderful but time-limited years, I moved to Trinity College for a similarly wonderful five years. I was then lucky enough to come to Oxford in 2016, to Corpus, and to a house on Osney Island. The house is meters away from the Thames for Stand Up Paddleboarding, canoeing, kayaking and flooding.

What led you to a career in academia?

I started teaching in 2005, and loved it. It’s a joy to try to help minds grow and to do so with as much joy as possible. You learn a lot, you share a lot, and you hopefully find in it a way to contribute to a better (educated) world.

I also found back in 2005 I really wanted to be able to argue for what I thought the law was, is, will be or should be. That freedom, and accompanying responsibility, seemed more exciting and somehow purer than saying what someone else wanted or needed the law to be. I’ve grown up a little since then, and feel, rather than just cognitively understand, the value in advocacy. That’s partly why I’m particularly happy to occasionally, once or twice a year, help or consult with appellate cases in areas of law I know something about. It feels like a sensible way to contribute while still being primarily an academic.

What are your research interests and why have you chosen those particular areas?

Predominantly my work is on criminal law, tort law, and the relationship between the two. I like to work with historical and comparative awareness, so I often look at around the last 200 years, and in up to 10 countries I know anything about. In Oxford that plays out well, as we have one of the strongest comparative law groups in the country (and most law Faculties I can think of internationally), and a dynamic, if much smaller, group of legal historians. So even within the somewhat solo existence of many lawyers, one isn’t swimming alone. It ties into the two advanced criminal law courses we have set up since I got here, and in a smaller way, to the new Modern Legal History course as well.

As for why I work on these areas, it started in Oxford, oddly enough. A brilliant Italian scholar was visiting Oxford in 2004, and happened to mention that he thought work needed to be done on tort/crime. That insight found its way to me and 22 year old Matt, fool that he was then, rushed in. But while it is a vast field, covering all of criminal law, all of tort law, and carefully laying them on top of and between each other, it is a very rewarding one. Sometimes there are absolute gems of reasoning and ideas; slightly more often there is an absence of attention, or a thin layer of detritus hiding a gaping hole of misunderstanding. What’s particularly interesting is how much the edges of a legal area show us about its core; about how its boundaries with other areas of law reveal a lot of what that area of law, and law in general, is and does.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am just about on the last two chapters of a monograph, Explaining Tort and Crime. It’s the culmination of 15 years’ worth of work. Two edited collections and many articles and book chapters covered some of the foundations for the field, and for some of the issues in the book, and it has taken time to collect the ideas and the sources. It’s been a real journey, and I still expect surprises in the last few weeks. The book charts when, how and why the relationship between criminal law and tort law has changed over the last 170 years. It focuses on fault as a substantive legal element, and on three procedural issues (criminal powers to compensate, timing rules between tort and crime and convictions being used in later civil courts). It was to cover more countries, but Covid has hindered that, so it focuses on England, and then comparatively calibrates itself against the developments in France and Spain, with references to pinpoints elsewhere, including Brazil, Chile, the USA, South Africa and Australia.

Beyond the book, there are a host of other projects that await starting or progressing. Some are with the European Society for Comparative Legal History, as I have just started my third year as its President. Some are in domestic criminal law and tort law, and some involve the Chambers I am an associate member of, 6KBW College Hill. I think into the future there’s a host of tort/crime things that haven’t even been questioned yet, so there’s scope for more.

Who inspires you or has inspired you in the past?

I have had some amazing teachers and colleagues. John and Cherry Hopkins, Michael Dougan, David Fox, David Ibbetson, John Bell, Reinhard Zimmermann, Catherine Barnard, Louise Merrett, Michele Graziadei, Liz Fisher, Birke Häcker, there’s quite a long list, to be honest. We have some lows in academia, but the highs, particularly some of our wonderful colleagues, are pretty high.

What charity do you support and why?

Action Against Hearing Loss, amongst others. My mum has had tinnitus for many years, and I have developed it in the last few years. I wanted to do one marathon in my life and did it for them in 2019, with the kind support of a number of academics and students here and from the past. Being part of Sol Samba, Oxford’s community Samba band, is not so much counter-intuitive, as about taking appropriate precautions. I look forward to seeing colleagues the next time we can do the Cowley Road Carnival!