Biography

Helen Scott is Professor of Private Law in the Oxford Law Faculty and Tutorial Fellow in Law at Lady Margaret Hall. Her research interests fall within the law of obligations (particularly tort and unjust enrichment) and civilian legal history (particularly Roman law). She is the author of Unjust Enrichment in South African Law: Rethinking Enrichment by Transfer (Hart, 2013), reviewed by Hector MacQueen in the South African Law Journal (here), and recently edited Private Law in a Changing World, a collection of essays celebrating the work of Danie Visser. She is currently working on projects concerning the role of foreseeability in the law of tort (her recent work on the history of foreseeability can be found here) and the role of fault in unjust enrichment.

She studied classics and law at the University of Cape Town and subsequently completed BCL (2000), MPhil (2001) and DPhil (2005) degrees at Oxford. Before taking up her current position at Oxford she was a professor in the Department of Private Law at the University of Cape Town, where she taught courses on comparative legal history, delict, unjustified enrichment and Roman law. Between 2005 and 2009 she was a tutorial fellow in law at St Catherine's College Oxford, and before that a fixed-term fellow at Trinity College. Between 2008 and 2014 she was also a visiting professor at the Université Panthéon-Assas (Paris II), where she taught a course in the common law of tort. At Oxford she teaches Roman law, tort, and the restitution of unjust enrichment.

In December 2017 she received a B rating (denoting an 'internationally acclaimed researcher') from the South African National Research Foundation.

Publications

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  • Helen Scott, 'Comparative taxonomy: an introduction' in E Bant, K Barker and S Degeling (eds), Research Handbook on Unjust Enrichment and Restitution (Edward Elgar 2020)
    DOI: doi.org/10.4337/9781788114264
    ISBN: ISBN: 978 1 78811 425 7
  • Helen Scott, 'Change and continuity in the law of unjust enrichment' in Helen Scott and Anton Fagan (eds), Private Law in a Changing World: Essays for Danie Visser (Acta Juridica 2019)
    The past decade has seen a marked rise in unjust enrichment scepticism across the common-law world. Some argue that the ‘at the expense of ’ element in particular has been over-generalised and that the restitution of unjust enrichment should be principally confined to cases of deliberate conferral by the plaintiff. Others go further and argue that the law of unjust enrichment itself does not exist insofar as ‘unjust enrichment’ is neither a cause of action nor a consideration of justice capable of justifying restitution. This essay offers a tentative response to these arguments, defending a performance-based analysis of core Kelly v Solari-type cases but questioning whether the continued existence of the subject really depends on the tight normative unity that its critics demand. At the same time, the essay considers the ways in which legal history, comparative law and legal theory have acted as drivers of change in this context, examining the phenomenon of change and continuity in private law with reference to these developments.
  • Helen Scott, 'The history of foreseeability' (2019) 72 Current Legal Problems 287
    The factual component of the duty of care inquiry—that harm to the claimant as a result of the defendant’s conduct was reasonably foreseeable by the defendant—has been entrenched in English law since Donoghue v Stevenson. Both indigenous and comparative (specifically South African) evidence suggests that Lord Atkin’s formulation of the duty of care test was influenced by a particular fragment contained in Title 9.2 of Justinian’s Digest, ‘On the lex Aquilia’. Interrogation of the foreseeability principle in its original setting shows, however, that its role there was rather circumscribed. Derived perhaps from the account of wrongdoing offered by Aristotle, for whom the fact that harm had occurred contrary to expectation (paralogos) served to demonstrate that it had been unintentionally inflicted, in the context of Roman culpa foreseeability functioned as a technique for determining the avoidability of the harm—essentially a causal inquiry. This historical insight serves to illuminate the limits of foreseeability in the context of the modern test for duty of care. As a principle which generates liability, it may be that reasonable foreseeability cannot bear the normative weight assigned to it. Thus the history of foreseeability furnishes the material for a further critique of the duty concept, adding an historical dimension to contemporary calls to abandon the factual component of the duty of care entirely.
  • R Evans-Jones and Helen Scott, 'Lord Atkin, Donoghue v Stevenson and the Lex Aquilia: Civilian Roots of the "Neighbour" Principle' in PJ du Plessis (ed), Wrongful Damage to Property in Roman Law: British Perspectives (Edinburgh University Press 2018)
    ISBN: ISBN 978-1-4744-3446-1
  • Helen Scott and Anton Fagan, 'Regulating Risk Through Private Law: South Africa' in Matthew Dyson (ed), Regulating Risk Through Private Law (Intersentia 2018)
  • Helen Scott, '“South Africa” in “Reflections on the Restitution Revolution”' in Sarah Worthington, Andrew Robertson and Graham Virgo (eds), Revolution and Evolution in Private Law (Hart Publishing 2018)
  • Helen Scott, 'JF Uys, Harm by Animals: The South African Law through the Cases (Fontes Iuris, 2012)' (2017) 134 South African Law Journal 712 [Review]
  • Helen Scott, 'Transforming the South African Law of Unjustified Enrichment' (2017) 25 Restitution Law Review 29
    ISBN: ISSN 1351-170X
  • Helen Scott, 'Defence, Denial or Cause of Action? “Enrichment Owed” and the Absence of a Legal Ground' in James Goudkamp and Frederick Wilmot-Smith  (eds), Defences in Unjust Enrichment (Hart Publishing 2016)
  • Helen Scott, 'The Death of Doctrine?—Private Law Scholarship in South African Today' in Jürgen Basedow, Holger Fleischer and Reinhard Zimmermann (eds), Legislators, Judges, and Professors (Mohr Siebeck 2016)
  • Helen Scott, 'Liber homo suo nomine utilem Aquiliae habet actionem: D. 9,2,13 pr in context' in Jan Hallebeek, Martin Schermaier, Roberto Fiori, Ernest Metzger and Jean-Pierre Coriat (ed), Inter cives necnon peregrinos: Essays in honour of Boudewijn Sirks (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2014)
  • Helen Scott, 'Rationalising the South African law of enrichment' (2014) 18 Edinburgh Law Review 433
  • Helen Scott, 'Contumelia and the South African Law of Defamation' in Helen Scott and Eric Descheemaeker (eds), Iniuria and the Common Law (Hart Publishing 2013)
  • Eric Descheemaeker and Helen Scott (eds), Iniuria and the Common Law (Hart Publishing 2013)
  • Helen Scott, 'Iniuria and the Common Law' in Helen Scott and Eric Descheemaeker (eds), Iniuria and the Common Law (Hart Publishing 2013)
  • Helen Scott, 'Jacques du Plessis, The South African Law of Unjustified Enrichment (Juta, 2012)' (2013) 24 Stellenbosch Law Review 638 [Review]
  • Helen Scott, 'Killing and Causing Death in Roman Law' (2013) 129 Law Quarterly Review 101
  • Helen Scott, 'Pits and Pruners: Culpa and Social Practice in Digest 9.2' in Andrew Burrows, David Johnston and Reinhard Zimmermann (eds), Judge and Jurist: Essays in Memory of Lord Rodger of Earslferry  (Oxford University Press 2013)
  • Helen Scott, Unjust Enrichment in South African Law: Rethinking Enrichment by Transfer (Hart Publishing 2013)
  • Helen Scott and Daniel Visser, 'Excess baggage? Rethinking risk allocation in the Restatement (Third) of Restitution and Unjust Enrichment' (2012) 92 Boston University Law Review 859
  • Helen Scott, 'Absolute ownership and legal pluralism in Roman law: two arguments’ Acta Juridica [2011] 23–34' [2011] Acta Juridica 23
  • Helen Scott and Daniel Visser, 'The impact of legal culture on the law of unjustified enrichment: the role of reasons' in Elise Bant and Matthew Harding (eds), Exploring Private Law  (Cambridge University Press 2010)
  • Helen Scott, 'Daniel Visser, Unjustified Enrichment (Juta, 2008)' (2009) 17 Restitution Law Review 258 [Review]
  • Helen Scott, 'Ernest Metzger, Litigation in Roman Law (OUP, 2005)' (2007) 66 Cambridge Law Journal 234 [Review]
  • Helen Scott, 'Liability for the mass publication of private information in South African law: NM v Smith (Freedom of Expression Institute as Amicus Curiae)' (2007) 18 Stellenbosch Law Review 387
  • Helen Scott, 'The requirement of excusable mistake in the context of the condictio indebiti: Scottish and South African law compared' (2007) 124 South African Law Journal 827
  • Helen Scott, 'Omnes unius aestimemus assis: A note on Liability for Defamation in Catullus V’' (2006) 3 Roman Legal Tradition 95
  • Helen Scott, 'Restitution of extra-contractual transfers: limits of the absence of legal ground analysis’' (2006) 14 Restitution Law Review 93
  • Helen Scott and Nicholas Barber, 'State Liability under Francovich for Decisions of National Courts' (2004) 120 Law Quarterly Review 403

Research programmes

Research projects