BACL Postgraduate Workshops 2021

April 14 2021: Comparative Public Law and Methodology

April 21 2021: Comparative Private Law

The University of Bristol School of Law was delighted to be chosen to host the BACL Postgraduate Workshop 2021.  Sadly, due to the pandemic, the workshop was moved online.  Instead of a two-day conference, two online zoom conferences were organised: the first (on April 14 2021) focussing on comparative law methodology and public law and the second (on April 21 2021) on comparative private law.  We were delighted that BACL sponsor, Intersentia, were able to join both sessions, ably represented by Ann-Christin Maak-Scherpe (General Manager, Intersentia), who provided an insight into comparative law publishing and expressed her willingness to act as a contact point for future authors. Student presenters were encouraged to attend both sessions and invite their supervisors if desired.

Session One (Comparative Public Law and Comparative Methodology) was introduced by Dr Sophie Turenne (President of BACL) giving an insightful introduction to the session theme with examples taken from her own doctoral research.  She was followed by Dr Margo Bernelin (Research Fellow (CNRS) University of Nantes) who gave a paper entitled ‘Lessons to be learnt: Reflections from a BACL Postgraduate Workshop alumna’.  Having attended an earlier BACL postgraduate workshop as a PhD student, hosted by the University of Kent, Dr Bernelin reflected on what she had gained from the experience, both in terms of feedback on her research and encouragement in terms of funding and resources (which led to her carrying a heavy bag of books back with her on the Eurostar from the Kent University bookshop!)  Dr Bernelin advised attendees not to be afraid to ask questions or raise problems they were experiencing in their research. The answers, she advised, could be very helpful indeed.

Session One included four extremely well-presented papers by: Eva Bernet Kempers (Antwerp),Comparative Methodologies in Animal Law’ ; Abdelmohse Sheha (Strasbourg), ‘Challenges and Risks of Micro Comparative Studies’;  Virginie Kuoch (Paris Sorbonne),From the Four wall doctrine to Constitutional engagement, a comparison between Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore’s judges’ behaviours towards foreign law’; and Micol Ferrario, (Neuchatel), ‘Judge – Legislator, direct democracy and parliamentary supremacy: a Swiss magic formula for a well – balanced jurisprudential use of the comparative interpretative method?’

All four papers gave rise to a lively discussion, examining both the substantive thesis and the difficulties of comparative law research, particularly in engaging in empirical work during a pandemic.  The papers also discussed methodology, the challenges of remaining objective and how to avoid accusations of cherry-picking (or “ornamental” comparative law research).

Session Two (Comparative Private Law) was introduced by Professor Paula Giliker who discussed the challenges of engaging in comparative private law research and the distinctive methodologies that could be adopted, making reference to her own work as a comparative law researcher. This session included five excellent papers: Ian Smith (Humboldt), ‘Comparative Law in the Study of Access to Justice in Commercial Fraud Cases’; Yefan Xu (Bristol), ‘Employee status within the Company Decision-making Process in China – A Comparison with Germany and Britain’; Chen Chen (Oxford), ‘The boundary between planning, nuisance and servitudes in English and French law’; Yang Guo (Warwick), ‘Hypothesis for a disgorgement remedy for breach of contract: Comparing China and UK’ and Grigorios Bacharis (EUI), ‘How private enforcement impacts civil liability: A framework from competition damages’.

The papers raised a number of questions about methodology, good practice and how to deal with source material that might be uncertain or unsettled in the jurisdiction in question. Engaging in empirical research during a pandemic was again discussed, together with interview methodology.  A lively discussion examined the difficulties of identifying the research question, dealing with conceptual uncertainty, and the choice of jurisdictions (including related questions such as the number of jurisdictions to be examined and the extent to which one should choose related or starkly different jurisdictions to compare).

It was a great pleasure for the University of Bristol to host (albeit virtually) the 2021 BACL postgraduate workshops and while it would have been wonderful to invite everyone to Bristol, the zoom format worked well and allowed the debate and conversation which is always such a positive feature of these workshops. I was impressed by the dedication and enthusiasm of the students and it was fantastic to be able to attract students from a diverse range of jurisdictions which rendered the experience truly comparative. Thanks also go to BACL executive members who attended and participated in every session, Dr Sirko Harder who joined us for session 2 and, in particular, Dr Yseult Marique for her technical expertise. It is hoped that attendees, like Margo Bernelin, will remain friends of BACL and we wish them the very best with their doctoral research and future careers. 

The 2022 BACL postgraduate workshop will be hosted by the University of Kent, hopefully in person!

Report: Professor Paula Giliker (University of Bristol).