Understanding Legal Development: Method in Law, History and Language

The project is to develop further methodological tools for studying legal development. For present purposes legal development could be described as how, why and when law changes. The study of legal development seeks to identify cross-jurisdictional drivers of legal change. My research is therefore backward and forward looking within Europe. For instance, an understanding of the factors behind legal change would enrich any discourse on the convergence or divergence of legal systems. Similarly, when harmonisation is being considered, an understanding of forces which might draw systems closer, or pull apart surface unity, aids in effective planning.


My research to date has looked at different aspects of the emerging field of legal development. In particular, it has concentrated on understanding how two neighbouring but dogmatically separate areas of law, tort and crime, have evolved. On the one hand, tort law is sets a base level of consequences for behaviour that harms a private person. On the other hand, criminal law, the state’s determination of wrongs which are sufficiently serious to merit the punishment rather than merely compensation. This work is important not just because it has required prototype techniques for tracing and explaining legal development. In addition, my work on the points of intersection of tort and crime has provided a strong background from which to select and later contextualise case studies for the methodological tools the project seeks to hone. The project would test out the methodological tools, seeking to shed light both on examples already studied and new aspects of tort and crime. Examples of promising areas include the role of public perceptions of justice in the development of rules of evidence, approaches to joint wrongdoing in tort and crime and the use of external standards to determine liability.

Indeed, the irony is that while domestic lawyers anecdotally focus on the smallest points of language, they do not do so with the full range of methods. Interpretation of legal texts and concepts follows from within a tight confine of legal practice rather than from a wider pool of resources. This is not very surprising given that law operates within a deeply-rooted authority paradigm. Their practice reinforces the elitism of legal actors. However, the mystique surrounding law is neither helpful nor necessary.


Matt Dyson is and Early Career Fellow at CRASSH, Lent 2013.

He is a Fellow and Director of Studies in Law at Trinity College. He was awarded his PhD on Interfacing Tort and Crime: Legal Development in England and Spain since 1850 in May 2009 at Downing College. From 2008 to 2011 he was a Fellow at Jesus College. His research focuses on the relationship between different areas of law, particularly Tort and Crime, since around 1800 in a number of jurisdictions, especially from a procedural perspective. He has held visiting positions in Hamburg, Harvard, Sydney, Girona and Valencia. Matt teaches Tort Law, Criminal Law, EU Law, Roman Law and Comparative Law.


Tel: +44 1223 766886