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All Souls College

Oxford OX1 4AL

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Biography

Wolfgang Ernst joined the Faculty of Law in 2015. He was born in Bonn, Germany. After studies at Bonn and Frankfurt universities he obtained a law PhD from Bonn University (1981) and an LL.M. from Yale Law School (1982). He qualified for the German bar in 1985 and for professorial positions (private law and Roman law) in 1989 (Bonn University). He was a law professor at the University of Tübingen from 1990 until 2000 (Dean 1994/5) and at the University of Bonn until 2004, as well as Arthur Goodhart Professor in Legal Science at Cambridge University (2002/03; Fellow of Magdalene College). Since 2004 he has been Professor of Roman and Private Law at the University of Zurich.

Ernst’s main research areas are Roman law and the Roman law-based doctrinal history of civil law. Recent research topics include the monetary legal history and the legal history of 'social choice'. He also contributes to contemporary private law issues, with a main focus on contract law, personal property (including art restitution issues), and monetary law.

Ernst has been a visiting Professor at Hebrew University, Jerusalem (2010) and Herbert Smith Visiting Scholar, Cambridge University (2012). He holds honorary doctorates of Edinburgh and Vienna universities (2017).

In Oxford he lectures on Roman Law (Mods), the Roman Law of Delicts, and on the Roman and Civil Law of Contracts.

Publications

Recent additions

  • W Ernst , 'Mommsen on Money' (2022) Banking and Finance Law Review / Revue de droit bancaire et de finance (forthcoming)
  • W Ernst (ed), Frederick Alexander Mann - Life and Cases: Manuscript of an Autobiography (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2021)
    An (unfinished) autobiography of F. A. Mann, who arrived in London as a German-Jewish émigré, forced to leave Germany on the cusp of a promising career in German academia. He retrained as an English solicitor to become one of the leading lawyers of his time. From the introduction of Mann's autobiography: “I write [an autobiography], because I am persuaded that it is my duty to tell the story of a world that has disappeared, but should not be forgotten, – the story of a highly cultured German Jewish bourgeois milieu which perished in Auschwitz, though my nearest and dearest succeeded in escaping. The history of the rise and fall of that social class merits to be preserved, but stands in danger of falling into oblivion on account of the lack of specific material, – no great novel describing its drama and tragedy has yet been written.”
    ISBN: 978-3-8471-1350-8
  • B Häcker and W Ernst (eds), Collective Judging in Comparative Perspective: Counting Votes and Weighing Opinions (Intersentia 2020)
    DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781839700804
    This book provides unique insights into modern collective judicial decision-making. Courts all over the world sit in panels of several judges, yet the processes by which these judges produce the court’s decision differ markedly. Judges from some of the world’s most notable judicial bodies share their experiences and reflect on the challenges to which their collective endeavour gives rise. The judges' contributions provide a unique inside view into the functioning of modern judicial bodies, whilst also providing comparative analyses and reflecting on lessons learnt. Thus the book provides an ideal starting point for thinking about future court design.

Journal Article (1)

W Ernst , 'Mommsen on Money' (2022) Banking and Finance Law Review / Revue de droit bancaire et de finance (forthcoming)

Edited Book (3)

W Ernst (ed), Frederick Alexander Mann - Life and Cases: Manuscript of an Autobiography (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2021)
An (unfinished) autobiography of F. A. Mann, who arrived in London as a German-Jewish émigré, forced to leave Germany on the cusp of a promising career in German academia. He retrained as an English solicitor to become one of the leading lawyers of his time. From the introduction of Mann's autobiography: “I write [an autobiography], because I am persuaded that it is my duty to tell the story of a world that has disappeared, but should not be forgotten, – the story of a highly cultured German Jewish bourgeois milieu which perished in Auschwitz, though my nearest and dearest succeeded in escaping. The history of the rise and fall of that social class merits to be preserved, but stands in danger of falling into oblivion on account of the lack of specific material, – no great novel describing its drama and tragedy has yet been written.”
ISBN: 978-3-8471-1350-8
B Häcker and W Ernst (eds), Collective Judging in Comparative Perspective: Counting Votes and Weighing Opinions (Intersentia 2020)
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781839700804
This book provides unique insights into modern collective judicial decision-making. Courts all over the world sit in panels of several judges, yet the processes by which these judges produce the court’s decision differ markedly. Judges from some of the world’s most notable judicial bodies share their experiences and reflect on the challenges to which their collective endeavour gives rise. The judges' contributions provide a unique inside view into the functioning of modern judicial bodies, whilst also providing comparative analyses and reflecting on lessons learnt. Thus the book provides an ideal starting point for thinking about future court design.
D Fox and W Ernst (eds), Money in the Western Legal Tradition: Middle Ages to Bretton Woods, (Oxford University Press 2016)
DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198704744.001.0001
Monetary law is essential to the functioning of private transactions and international dealings by the state: nearly every legal transaction has a monetary aspect. This book presents an analysis of Western monetary law, covering the civil law and Anglo-American common law legal systems from the High Middle Ages up to the middle of the twentieth century. By drawing together, the changing concepts of money and private transactions throughout the ages, the chapters investigate the special contribution made by legal scholars and practitioners to our understanding of money and the laws that govern it. Divided in five parts, the book begins with the coin currency of the Middle Ages, moving through the recognition of nominalism in the early modern period to cashless payment and the rise of the banking system and paper money, then charting the progression to fiat money in the modern era. Each part commences with an overview of the monetary environment for the historical period. These are followed by chapters describing the legal doctrines of each period in civil and common law. Each section contains examples of contemporary litigation or statute law which engages with the distinctive issues affecting the monetary law of the period.
ISBN: 9780198704744

Chapter (6)

W Ernst , 'Insulam Exurere: Reading Collatio 12.7.1–3 Closely' in B Spagnolo and J Sampson (eds), Principle and Pragmatism in roman Law (Hart Publishing 2020)
ISBN: 9781509938957
W Ernst , 'The Fine-Mechanics of Judicial Majoritarianism' in B Häcker and W Ernst (eds), Collective Judging in Comparative Perspective: Counting Votes and Weighing Opinions (Intersentia 2020)
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781839700804.002
This chapter tries to identify key issues of judicial majoritarianism as a basis for discussion. Rather than promoting an ultimate master plan, it focuses on asking questions and reporting practical models, which are in use or have been proposed. The issues and model solutions set out here are extracted from a comparative survey of legal history, published in 2016. Participants in the 2017 ‘Collective Judging‘ Conference were given this chapter for inspiration; it is published here with only a few alterations.
W Ernst , 'Nisi aliud actum est: zur Frage nach einem ius dispositivum im römischen Recht bis Justinian' in T Giaro (ed), Roman Law and Legal Knowledge: Studies in Memory of Henryk Kupiszewski (Warsaw: University of Warsaw 2011)
ISBN: 978-83-63093-01-3
W Ernst , 'The Glossators’ Monetary Law' in JW Cairns and PJ du Plessis (eds), The Creation of the Ius Commune: From Casus to Regula (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2010)
ISBN: 9780748642922
W Ernst , 'Fritz Schulz (1879–1957)' in J Beatson and R Zimmermann (eds), Jurists Uprooted: German-Speaking Emigré Lawyers in Twentieth Century Britain (Oxford University Press 2004)
DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199270583.003.000
Fritz Schulz (1879–1957) was one of the most successful Roman law scholars in Germany when the Nazi rule ended his career in 1933. Forced into early retirement, he and his wife held out in Germany until 1939, when they escaped first to Leiden (The Netherlands) and then, by a narrow margin, to Oxford. There the family was kept afloat by a patchwork of support, coming mainly from Oxford University Press, whose Kenneth Sisam unlocked funds of the American Rockefeller Foundation for a full range of outstanding émigré scholars, from Balliol College and friends like F. A. Mann. Free from professorial duties, Schulz wrote two remarkable books, widely translated and reprinted ever since. He was the first to understand the Roman lawyers' writings as expressions of a professional, ‘scientific’ activity, opening up Roman law as a field for the study of history of science.

Book (2)

W Ernst , Justinian’s Digest 9.2.51 in the Western Legal Canon (Intersentia 2019)
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781780688961
Justinian’s Digest, enacted 533 CE, collects excerpts of high-calibre writings from Roman legal intellectuals, produced in the first and second centuries CE. Since the High Middle Ages it has been used as a quarry of legal concepts and doctrines. Concerning the liabilities of two consecutive attackers, the first of whom mortally wounds the victim, while the second finishes the job and leaves the victim dead, the Digest preserves two conflicting texts: Celsus (67–130 CE) held that the second attacker is liable, under the relevant statute (the lex Aquilia), for killing, whereas the first attacker should be liable for wounding only. Julian (ca 110–ca 175 CE), in contrast, advocated holding both attackers liable as killers. To the present day, commentators on Justinian’s Digest have been challenged to make sense of the conflict between these two statements. Ever more elaborate interpretations have been advanced, unlocking a range of diverse issues of causality and evidence, deterrence and statutory interpretation. Like few other texts from Roman lawyers, Julian’s essay (D. 9.2.51), mirrored in a colourful spectrum of intellectual responses, emerged as a signature piece of the western legal canon. Focused on the history of one case, this book provides an exhaustive review of past and present interpretations and makes for a historiography of Roman law scholarship, from its medieval beginnings to our contemporary research activities.
ISBN: 9781780688329
W Ernst , Die Einrede des nichterfüllten Vertrages: Zur historischen Entwicklung des synallagmatischen Vertragsvollzugs im Zivilprozess (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot 2000)
Untersucht werden die Begründung und Entwicklung des Prinzips, wonach der Vertragsschuldner nicht zur Erfüllung der ihm obliegenden Verpflichtung gezwungen werden kann, solange ihm ein unerfüllter Anspruch auf die Gegenleistung zusteht. Im römischen Recht konnte keine Partei ihre Verurteilung mit der Begründung abwenden, sie habe die Gegenleistung noch zu erhalten. Wegen der ausstehenden Gegenleistung war sie darauf verwiesen, ihrerseits Klage zu erheben ("independence of actions"). Eine rechtsprinzipielle Einrede des nichterfüllten Vertrages war nicht anerkannt. In der Zeit Diokletians hat man die Ansprüche der Vertragsparteien in ihrer prozessualen Durchsetzung koordiniert, indem man den Richter zur Verurteilung auch des Klägers ermächtigte. Das justinianische Recht hat dann die Rechtsfigur der "Einrede des nichterfüllten Vertrages" eingeführt, indem man Ausnahmeentscheidungen des klassischen Rechts verallgemeinerte. Die mittelalterliche Rechtswissenschaft hatte diese im justinianischen Recht nur erst postulierte Einrede (exceptio non adimpleti contractus) in eine funktionierende Prozeßtechnik umzusetzen. Die Verurteilung zur Leistung "Zug um Zug" war dem justinianischen Recht fremd und konnte sich nur mühsam durchsetzen. In der deutschen Rezeptionsjurisprudenz ist man dazu übergegangen, die Erbringung der Gegenleistung als Voraussetzung für eine wirksame Klageerhebung anzusehen. Mit der Behauptung, die Gegenleistung stehe noch aus, rügt der Beklagte demnach eine unzureichende Klagebegründung; es handelte sich nicht mehr um eine regelrechte Einrede. Diese Lehre des usus modernus wird vom preußischen Allgemeinen Landrecht rezipiert. 1824 beginnt mit einem Aufsatz Heerwarts die Rückkehr zur Tradition des gemeinen Rechts: Das sächsische BGB verwirklicht die Einrede-Lösung, die vom Dresdner Entwurf und dann auch vom BGB übernommen wird.
ISBN: 978-3428100699

Centres

Research programmes

Research Interests

Roman Law, doctrinal history of civil law, history of monetary law, legal aspects of ‘social choice’

Options taught

Roman Law (Delict - FHS), Civilian Foundations of Contract Law, A Roman Introduction to Private Law

Research projects