Author Archives: lawbod

The changing world of copyright

By Katie Carter

It became apparent some years ago that in the brave new world of digital media, existing intellectual property rules weren’t quite keeping up.  A plethora of new case law, legislation and regulation (both UK and EU) continues to emerge to address this situation, but how on earth are you supposed to know what’s going on?

In the UK, the Hargreaves Review published in 2011 included a number of recommendations on What Should Be Done, most of which the UK government accepted.  A handy page of the Intellectual Property Office website provides a timeline of actions taken in response to the Hargreaves Review, and provides an excellent starting point for your awareness of ‘what’s going on’.  The IPO also provides news, which you can follow for further updates on official developments, but I have to admit it’s not my preferred reading.  There are a number of excellent blogs covering wide-ranging IP issues – you’ll find some of them listed by the IPO itself at  A couple of personal favourites, frequently updated, with alerts, wide-ranging comment, and numerous links to supporting documents are The IPKat blog and The 1709 Copyright Blog.  For those wanting to follow the legal journals, subscription services such as Lawtel can provide a subject-based alerting service, emailing you on a daily or weekly basis with a list of new IP articles published, as well as new cases and legislation if you wish.  Oxford students and academics wanting to make use of this option should contact the Legal Research Librarian ( for a username and password.

Returning to our Hargreaves review timeline, a quick glance reveals the range of material with which we might want to keep up.  First on the list is Bills, specifically the Intellectual Property Bill currently making its way through Parliament.  The best way to follow the progress of a bill is in fact through the Parliament website, where each Bill before either house has its own page.  You can find the IP Bill at with links to related documents such as explanatory notes and research papers, clear indication of which stage the bill has reached, and an option on the right to set up an alert for its progress.

IP Bill alerts

Alerts available from the Parliament website

But what about once the Bill has received Royal Assent?  Our observant law students will know that Royal Assent is not necessarily the same as commencement, but how can you check whether the legislation sections in which you are interested have come into force?

Is it in force feature from Westlaw

Is it in Force? (Westlaw)

Lexis and Westlaw can both provide a handy visual check for this in their Status Snapshot and Arrangement of Act respectively.  If we take a quick look at the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, for example, we can see that most sections relating to copyright are in force, except s.74 which has a little way to go.  A subject-based alert including legislation from a service such as Lawtel, LexisLibrary or Westlaw should also alert you to changes in the status of the law.  These services should alert you not only to new Acts, but also to new Statutory Instruments.  A quick glance at the Hargreaves Review timeline from the IPO should tell you how important SIs are to the changing landscape of IP law!

A closer look will show that the government is also consulting on numerous changes.  You can see government consultations through the portal, but bear in mind that consultations are hosted by individual departments, so you may find them more accessible via the department.  In this instance we might want to look at the consultations page on the IPO website – the closing date for consultation on Copyright works: seeking the lost, about the licensing of orphan works, is today (details at

And then are we up-to-date with it all?  Well, not quite…  the EU has also been active in this area, and on the subject of orphan works, the UK government is implementing EU Directive 2012/28 ‘on certain permitted uses of orphan works’.  Last week the Council of Europe formally adopted a new directive ‘on collective management of copyright related rights and multi-territorial licensing of rights in musical works for online users in the internal market’, which will have to be incorporated into domestic law within the next two years.  Cases and consultations feature here too, with a decision in Case C-466/12 Svensson two weeks ago which clarified the law on hyperlinks (essentially, linking to a work already publicly available online is not an infringement of copyright as there is no ‘new public’… *author looks at the number of links in this post and gives a sigh of relief*).  And for those interested in changes to EU copyright rules, the public consultation on the review of EU copyright rules has been extended to 5th March (it was due to close on 5th February), with details available at  If all this EU legal information leaves you a little confused,  the Law Bod offers a ‘Book a Librarian’ service.

And finally: for general notes on keeping up and current awareness don’t forget you can find information and ‘how to’ notes in our Research Skills libguide under ‘Keeping up to date’.

And a little something extra from Justcite!

Justcite logo

By Katie Carter

Oxford readers are no doubt familiar with subscription database Justcite, sister site to Justis, as a citator tool – ie. it tells you where a case was reported; whether it has been subsequently applied, followed, distinguished or overruled; what cases and legislation were cited by your original case; and links through to the full text.  Particularly for those of you who enjoy thinking about these things graphically, the Justcite precedent map also allows you to see all these case connections at a glance, and to link through to related cases quickly and easily.

Justcite precedent map

Justcite precedent map

And now we have another new feature to focus our analysis: Citations in Context.  When you click on the menu option for subsequent cases you will see your usual list of cases organised by treatment – but the eagle-eyed among you will notice some small speech bubbles.

Citations in context

Citations in Context

You’ll notice they also mark the number of paragraphs which refer to your original case, so you can get some idea of whether it was relatively unimportant or the main topic of discussion.  When you click on one of these speech bubbles it will expand the view to show the relevant excerpt from the citing case.

Expanded view of citations in context

Citations in Context expanded

You can read the paragraph(s) that actually refers to your case, see whether it discusses the point of law in which you are interested, and form your own opinion of the judgment if necessary.   No more wondering whether the case is on topic, and ploughing your way through an entire transcript to find what the judge actually said!

Zero Hours Contracts; A Developing Story

By Penny Schenk

Zero hours  employment contracts (or ZHC’s) have been widely discussed recently. This post seeks to (very briefly) define a “zero hours contract” and highlight the current Government consultation on the subject which ends on March 13.

 Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) Kevan Davis

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) Kevan Davis

First of all, what constitutes a ‘zero hours contract’? I was rather surprised to learn from the consultation that there is no legal definition of a zero hours contract in domestic law. Rather, it’s a term that encompasses a variety of different employment contracts. Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that the use of such contracts has increased in the past 5 years, and that there are currently about 250,000 such contracts in effect in the UK at present.

The Department of Business and Industry consultation defines a zero hours contract this way:

In general terms a zero hours contract is an employment contract in which the employer does not guarantee the individual any work, and the individual is not obliged to accept any work offered.

The consultation also contains a useful chart outlining the employment rights one has, depending on whether one is considered an employee, employee shareholder, worker, or is self-employed. Some have incorrrectly assumed that a zero hours contract neccessarily means sacrificing these rights; this is not the case.

The consultation ocncentrates on two controversial aspects of zero hours contracts:

1. Exclusivity

Specifically, employer exclusivity clauses that can prevent workers from seeking additional employment even when the employer with which they have a zero hours contract has no work to offer them.

2. Transparency

Or, how to address a widespread lack of understanding about the nature of zero hours contracts.

The Government is seeking input on various options it is proposing in relation to zero hours contracts, and those who wish to participate can do so here.

Still more from HeinOnline

By Katie Carter

We have just added the History of International LawHeinOnline collections list collection in HeinOnline to our subscription, offering over 1,000 titles, covering subjects from the Law of the Sea to the Nuremberg trials.  You’ll find it in the list of collections on the right of the screen as you open HeinOnline; click on the + sign to see the sub-collections.  The collection is divided into War & Peace, Law of the Sea, Hague Conference & Conventions, International Arbitration, Serials, a Bibliography of Other Works, and Scholarly Articles.  Sadly the titles cannot be found online by searching SOLO at the moment, which means you’ll need to take a look at HeinOnline to see whether a title is included, but I’ll do my best to give you a flavour of them…

The majority of titles were published in the first half of the twentieth century, but there are also older and more recent works – the earliest publication date I have spotted so far is 1613, William Welwod’s Abridgement of All Sea-Lawes; Gathered Forth of All Writings and Monuments, Which Are to Be Found among Any People or Nation, upon the Coasts of the Great Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, found in the Law of the Sea collection.  If Welwod is a name whose significance escapes you then take advantage of the richness of resources in HeinOnline and try J. W. Cairns, ‘Academic feud, blood feud, and William Welwood: legal education in St Andrews, 1560–1611’, Edinburgh Law Review, 2 (1998), 158–79, 255–87.  (For other resources on International Sea Law, see our recent post

There are a number of titles likely to be of interest to historians or students of International Relations, as well as lawyers.  As a quick sample of the historical interest, the War & Peace collection contains (among others!) Gooch & Temperly, British Documents on the Origins of the War, 1898-1914 (London, 1927-1938); Correspondence with the German Government regarding the Alleged Misuse of British Hospital Ships (London, 1917); and Thodore Roosevelt, Naval War of 1812, or the History of the United States Navy during the Last War with Great Britain (New York, 1883).

Sample titles

A sample of titles

Works such as Schuman,  American Policy toward Russia since 1917: A Study of Diplomatic History International Law & Public Opinion (New York, 1923) or Moore, Principles of American Diplomacy (1918) may also be of interest to users of the Vere Harmsworth Library, which holds the hard copies of these titles.  More recent discussions of the development of international law can be found under the scholarly articles tab, which lists items from the Harvard Law Review, the American Journal of International Law, the Yale Journal of International Law and a number of others.

HeinOnline search box
Once you’ve gone into a collection you’re interested in (either the top level ‘History of International Law’ or a sub-collection) click on the Search tab to bring up a small search box on the right to check whether your title is here.  Advanced search options and search tips are, as usual, available below the quick search box.

National Libraries Day 2014 – Behind the Scenes at the Law Library

As it’s National Libraries Day on 8th February, I’m taking you for a quick tour behind the scenes at the Bodleian Law Library so that you can see some of the work we do when we’re not helping out in the reading rooms.

This is the Information Resources office. When new books and journals arrive, this is where they go first. There are around 500,000 books in the collection and we receive hundreds of new items every month, so there’s always plenty of work to do! We have six members of staff working in the main office, two of whom are from Official Papers, and three more in the corner office (they’re a little camera-shy though, so they’ve asked not to be in the pictures) :

We use library management software called Aleph to manage the records for all of these items. All of the Bodleian Libraries and a lot of the college libraries use it too. It’s like a giant database that contains all the important information about everything in the collection, from title and author to the size of the book, what it’s about and where it’s shelved.

Aleph is linked to SOLO, so that when we add a record for a new book it will show up on SOLO when you search for it, but in a much more user-friendly format. This is what the records look like when we’re working on them. We have to be careful when working on the coding of records, as one typo could stop it from showing up properly on SOLO :

ir office 009

When new books arrive, they go to our Graduate Trainee to be stamped, security tagged  and given an initial record check. Books that we’ve bought will have short ‘order level’ records, while books we receive through legal deposit should be given a basic record by the Legal Deposit Agency up in Edinburgh before they get to us. The coloured slips in the books tell us how detailed the Agency’s record is, so we know how much work we’ll need to put in before it’s up to standard.

ir office 003

The record for each book has to be checked carefully in order to make sure it meets the correct standard and contains all the right information to make it easy to find on the system. Some are quite straightforward, but others can take a long time to sort out! We receive quite a lot of non-English language material, which can be particularly tricky to catalogue.

ir office 004

Once the records are finished, the books can be labelled with the appropriate shelfmark and sent up to Academic Services for a final label check before going out onto the shelves for you to use. This whole process can take a few days, depending on the volume of material we’ve received, but we make sure that books in high demand (e.g.  Law Reserve books) get high priority.

The serials team in the corner office deal with journals and looseleafs. Each one has to be registered on Aleph, stamped, tagged and given a shelfmark before it’s ready to go out on the shelves for you to read. They also make sure that complete runs of journal issues get sent away to the bindery on a regular basis so that individual parts don’t get lost.

ir office 006

This is just a small snapshot of what librarians get up to behind the scenes. If you’d like to find out more, please leave your questions in the comments box below, or get in touch via facebook or twitter.

Welcome back

By Katie Carter

Welcome back to all those who went away for the vacation and Happy New Year to everyone.  

I will be covering the Legal Research Librarian role for Kate Jackson over the next six months, so if you have any questions about the databases or want any training, please do contact me at  And now, just get you in the mood, a few new things for the new year:

Last autumn Lexis had a bit of a facelift, and now that I’ve learnt to like the new look, I thought I’d share just a few hints and tips.
Lexis annotations
1.  A small yellow speech bubble.  This appears on the legislation screen, and may be easily missed, but if you click on it a handy side-by-side view of Halsbury’s Annotations will present itself on screen.




Lexis contents


2.  Where’s my contents list?  If your research looks like mine, you’ll dive into a book chapter or legislation section… only to realise that you need a previous/subsequent/nearby section.  While the browsable contents list seems to have vanished in order to give more screen space to the text it is still available: click on the little gray tab on the left of your screen and the table of contents will slide back out.


Lexis view

3.  But I want more screen space!  In that case, the ‘change view’ buttons on the right are for you: click on the box with a diamond shape to make the headings, margins, further information boxes and all other clutter disappear (only on the screen, I’m afraid, any clutter on your desk you’ll need to clear yourself).




Another (relatively) recent tweak comes from Westlaw, which has introduced filters for your results list, including topic, date and jurisdiction:

Wlaw filtersYou may find the date filter particularly useful for any journal searches, as it allows you to collect results from a much wider range of dates (such as ‘last 12 months’, or even ‘betweeen date x and date y’) than the advanced search screen (which only offers ‘Year of Publication’).

The Little Drummer Boy

By Gill Hicks

Come they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see
Pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest gifts we bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

So to honor Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
When we come

Little baby
Pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too
Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give our King
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Shall I play for you
Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Mary nodded
Pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Then He smiled at me
Pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

The Little Drummer Boy was originally called the ‘Carol of the Drum’ and was based on a Czech carol. It was adapted in 1941 by Katherine Kennicott Davis although the popular version today is based on the recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale.

In the first verse ‘Come they told me’ refers to the Wise men or Kings. I’m not going to write a lot about these as they have been covered already. For more legal information about wise men and kings see ‘We three kings’ and ‘Good King Wenceslas’ both earlier blogs. But there is an interesting historic Scottish Act that mentions the need for ‘wise men’

College of Justice Act 1532 asp 2 (Historical Scottish Act)

[1532cc. 36–41]

Concerning the ordour of Justice and the institutioun of ane college of cunning and wise men for the administracioun of Justice    (westlaw)

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA it is against the law to play a flute or drums on the street to attract attention.

I’m not going to go into noise abatement which drummer boys will certainly attract as this has been covered in ‘Silent Night’ in this blog.

One last historical fact that although drummer boys were used in the army as an important means of communication as the 19th century progressed the drummer boy was in decline and the bugle was used more often.

In America on the plantations drums were allowed for the slaves to make music. This led the slave owners to become anxious that the drums would not prevent an uprising but may well prevoke it as they led to uniting the community. In 1739 in South Carolina drums were used to signal the start of a violent slave rebellion and led to the prohibiton of drums by law and for them to be classified as weapons.

Silent Night

Parrot in cage

By Penny Schenk

A silent night is sometimes the exception rather than the rule, and aggreived parties will, on occasion, turn to the law.

In a 2012 Jersey case,  Fernando v Minister for Health and Social Services, the owner of a property containing nearly 200 parrots won his appeal against a noise abatement order. The case makes interesting reading, addressing as it does the nature of a “statutory nuisance.”

The appellant and parrot-owner, Mr. Fernando, asked the Jersey Royal Court to overturn the noise abatement order that had been served on him by the Health Minister, Anne Pryke. In the course of proceedings, questions were raised about the relevant Jersey statute, and also about the way the matter had been handled.

In our judgment there are other reasons to look urgently at an amendment of this legislation.  We cannot help noticing that the property from which the alleged statutory nuisance has been emanating and the property of the complainants are very valuable properties.  Article 5 appears to impose a statutory duty on the minister to serve an abatement notice if satisfied that a statutory nuisance exists.  We are told that in this case the complainants threatened the minister with judicial review if she did not issue an abatement notice.  A review of the evidence put before us, to which we will return later in this judgment, shows that officials from the Environmental Health Department attended on site on numerous occasions over a period of about two years.  Considerable public expense has been occurred both in those visits and in these proceedings.  All of that could and should have been avoided with a consequence saving for the public purse if the complainants had brought an action in voisinage.  We can see no reason why the minister should not have a discretion as to whether or not to issue an abatement notice.  We do not see why it should be mandatory that the public bear this cost, and this is another reason why we think the minister might want to review this particular piece of legislation.

At one point, the Court went so far as to pay a visit to the premises in question.

The Court was invited by the appellant to attend on site to examine the premises where the parrots are kept.  We did so, noting the objections made by the Solicitor General. We make it plain that the purpose of so doing was not to listen to the noise levels as they were on that particular day, because those levels might have been affected by factors which were not previously present.  The purpose of the visit as far as we were concerned was to enable us to be familiar with the premises and its environs, and to enable us to assess what could be done to ameliorate the noise if, when we had examined the other evidence, we were satisfied that that course of action was necessary.  Our site visit did reveal that there were certainly a very large number of parrots and other birds on the premises.  We are told by Advocate Benest that there are some 196 parrots which the appellant keeps there.

Later, they considered the concept of what constitutes a ‘nuisance’:

The dictionary definition appears to indicate that a person or thing is a nuisance if he, she or it causes inconvenience or annoyance, and that indeed is the general meaning of the word.  There is no objectivity about the approach.  Using the word entirely properly, a person could describe the noise emitted from neighbouring premises as a nuisance in circumstances where no one else so regarded it.  To the person making the statement, the noise emitted was causing annoyance and was therefore a nuisance.  Given that Article 5 appears to require the minister to issue a notice if satisfied that a statutory nuisance exists, it does not seem to us that the word “nuisance” in Article 2 can possibly be given its ordinary meaning.

The Court heard evidence of past visits by officials to the complainants’ residence.

We have noted that officials visited either the appellant’s residence or the complainants’ residence approximately 19 times in 2009, 20 times in 2010 and 30 times in 2011.  On the overwhelming majority of those visits, officials considered that the noise emanating from the appellant’s property did not amount to a nuisance.  There were occasions when the officials noted that the birds made a noise intermittently, or could be heard, sometimes squawking, sometimes only faintly.

In making his case, the appellant cited World Health Organisation guidelines, which list a number of factors that determine whether a noise is likely induce annoyance.

“The capacity of a noise to induce annoyance depends upon its physical characteristics, including the sound pressure level, spectral characteristics and variations of these properties with time.  During day time, few people are highly annoyed at LAeq levels below 55dB(A), and few are moderately annoyed at LAeq levels below 50dB(A).  Sound levels during the evening and night should be 5 to 10 dB lower than during the day.  Noise with low frequency components require lower guideline values.  For intermittent noise, it is emphasised that it is necessary to take into account both the maximum sound pressure level and the number of noise events.  Guidelines or noise abatement measures should also take into account residential outdoor activities.”

The Court heard about other factors in this case, as well as the issue of indigenous versus non-indigenous noise:

[The Solicitor General] accepted there was room for a social conscience in deciding whether a nuisance took place – this was a reference to the fact that the appellant was seeking to breed parrots of a species which were globally threatened – and he further submitted that one had to look at the whole context including the fact that the noise from crows, horses and other birds might be described as indigenous noise, to be expected in the countryside, but there was nothing indigenous in Jersey about parrots.

In the end, the Court decided for the appellant, deciding that the minister should not have served the abatement notice:

This is a straightforward judgment call for the Court.  Taking all this evidence into account, we are satisfied that the minister was not justified in serving an abatement notice pursuant to Article 5.  This is one of those occasions where reasonable persons might equally reasonably arrive at different views.  We have the duty of making our assessment on the evidence and we do not find that the statutory nuisance is proved.  Accordingly the appeal succeeds.

You can see (and hear) Mr. Fernando and his parrots in this news report of the time, before the outcome of the appeal was known.

Little Donkey, Away in a Manger and the Nativity

Little donkey, little donkey                                       
Had a heavy day
Little donkey
Carry Mary safely on her way…

Image courtesy of Gonmi

Image courtesy of Gonmi

By Francesca Marsden

Little Donkey was written by English songwriter Eric Boswell, and topped the UK charts for several weeks at the end of 1959. The carol, telling of Mary’s journey to Bethlehem on the donkey, is ever-present in children’s nativity plays. Away in a Manger, first published in the nineteenth century, its author unknown, is also sung sweetly by the young casts of the plays, and depicts the nativity scene, with ‘the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay’. It seems unlikely that the sweet innocence of these carols could or should link to any legal controversy, but it being my job with this blog to find a nice (if tenuous!) link to the law, I have managed!

In the UK in recent years, nativity plays have sparked debate amongst parents who want to to take pictures and videos of their little ones’ starring moments. In 2010, there were many reports of parents being banned from taking pictures for the family album, or videos  to cherish (and embarrass with on their child’s 18th!) Many schools feared that allowing this was a breach of data protection policy. They were particularly concerned given the uptake of social media, and the consequent speed at which these items can be shared. Of particular concern is adoptive or foster children being traced through social networking sites. The debate caused the Information Commissioner to issue formal guidance on the matter, which can be found here. The Commissioner asserted that as long as the material is for personal use, and that a sensible degree of common sense is utilised, recording these moments through photography and film is permitted, and not in breach of the Data Protection Act. Ian Shoesmith’s BBC article on the debate considers that ‘ultimately, it’s about striking the balance between protecting the relatively small number of at-risk children and the rights of the vast majority of parents to enjoy looking at photographs recording their children’s special moments.’ Search SOLO using key terms and restrict to the Bodleian Law Library for publications on Data Protection law in the Law Bod.

Image courtesy of Keith Williamson

Image courtesy of Keith Williamson

It is not just nativity plays which can be linked to the law. Nativity scenes on public display on land and in buildings have also caused controversy throughout history, particularly in the United States, where nativity scenes, often termed crèches, have been the subject of several lawsuits. In 1969, the The American Civil Liberties Union contended that a nativity scene on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., part of a Christmas pageant sponsored by the Interior Department, suggested government support for religion, which violates separation of church and state. After a four-year case, the United States Court of Appeals eventually considered that the nativity should either be removed from the pageant or that the Interior Department should should disassociate themselves from the display. From 1973 the nativity was no longer included, although in recent years it has been re-introduced.

A key case in law relating to nativity scenes is Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 1355 (1984) . Similarly to the case above, this addressed whether the inclusion of a nativity scene in the Christmas display of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, that being the prohibition of government establishing an official religion, endorsing any one religion or endorsing non-religion, thereby ensuring separation of church and state. The court ruled that the nativity scene had ‘legitimate secular purposes’ as part of an all-encompassing holiday display. Conversely, Allegheny County v. A.C.L.U, 492 U.S. 573, 109 S. Ct. 3086 (1989) resolved that a nativity scene on the staircase of Allegheny County Courthouse was unconstitutional, since the nativity was the sole focus, with no attempt at secular symbols. Today, nativity scenes are permitted in the US, as long as they adhere to the so-called ‘Reindeer Rule’, a term used by several commentators to refer to the regulations stipulating that religious displays must be equated with non-religious symbols. The issue is still very current – in June 2013, Texas Governor Rick Perry introduced the Merry Christmas Bill, which permits the display of nativity scenes and Christmas trees in schools. A similar law has been announced in Oklahoma City this week ‘to ensure schools can celebrate the religious reasons for Christmas without fear of any backlash’. An interesting article on ABA journal from 3rd December 2013 also reflects the ongoing currency of the issue. See the USA collection in the Law Bod for material relating to the Establishment Clause. Texts such as First Amendment Law in a Nutshell by Barron and Dienes include easy to read chapters on freedom of religion.

Finally, returning to the UK, a story in the media on 9th December 2013 kindly provides another link between Little Donkey and the law. The owner of a real-life Little Donkey starring in a nativity play in South Wales this Christmas must ensure the child playing Mary wears a safety hat as the donkey proceeds through the town centre. This forms part of the donkey owner’s licence agreement.

Thanks to this blog, next you time you or I hear Little Donkey or Away in a Manger, we’ll be helpfully aware of all the legal links they (tenuously) suggest!

We Three Kings

We three kings of Orient are.

Bearing gifts, we traverse afar.

Field and fountain, moor and mountain,

Following yonder star…

By Madeleine Lawson

‘We Three Kings of Orient Are,’ also known as ‘The Quest of the Magi,’ is a nineteenth-century carol by Reverend John Henry Hopkins Junior.  (Click here for a rendition of the song by Kings College Cambridge.)

Image by Mike, via

Image by Mike, via

Apart from the classic image of the three wise men travelling from afar bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, to me the idea of ‘three kings’ also brings to mind the three heirs-in-waiting for the British throne: Princes Charles, William and George. So now for the slightly tenuous legal connection…

Up until recently, both common and statutory law dictated that accession to the throne within the British monarchy should be governed by male preference primogeniture, which decrees that sons should always be placed above daughters in the royal line of succession.

In 2011, however, this 300-year old tradition changed when David Cameron’s government proposed the introduction of absolute primogeniture, a rule under which the crown is simply passed to the eldest child of the monarch – regardless of gender. With the marriage of Prince William to Catherine Middleton having taken place only six months previously, in April 2011, it seems likely that this decision would have been made in anticipation of the arrival of the couple’s eagerly-awaited first child – who, in light of these changes, would be entitled to the throne whether a boy or a girl.

Alongside this major change to royal succession law, Cameron also recommended several other amendments, including the removal of the clause that prevents the King of Queen from being married to a Roman Catholic. However, the condition that the sovereign his or herself must be a Protestant in communion with the Church of England (of which the British monarch is ‘Supreme Govenor’) was to remain in place.

Although the premise might seem fairly straightforward, in practical terms the legalities of bringing about this reform were actually rather complex as they involved making changes to various elements of legislation, including the 1689 Bill of Rights and the 1701 Act of Settlement:

The Bill of Rights (1689)

After James II fled to France following the Glorious Revolution and was consequently viewed as having abdicated, the Bill of Rights (1689) was put in place to name William and Mary of Orange as the rightful joint rulers of England and Scotland. The Bill instructed that the next heirs should be William and Maery’s direct descendants (ie: children), followed by Mary’s sister, Anne, and her descendants, and finally any later descendants of William if Mary were to die and he were to marry again.

The Act of Settlement (1701)

In 1700, after Mary had died childless and William had chosen not to remarry, Anne was left the sole remaining heir to the throne when her only surviving child died of a fever. With no further successors having been nominated, parliament ruled that – after Anne’s death – the crown should pass to William’s cousin, Sophia of Hanover, and her Protestant descendants. Roman Catholics, or those married to a Roman Catholic, were forbidden from ever ascending to the throne.

Sophia of Hanover Image by lisby1, via

Sophia of Hanover
Image by lisby1, via

Returning to the present day, David Cameron’s proposal was put to the other fifteen countries of which our Queen, Elizabeth II, is head of state at the 22nd Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia, in October 2011. In a collective accord now known as the Perth Agreement, the changes were unanimously accepted by all of the Commonwealth realms – a requirement that had to be met in order for a reform to be made as, under the Statute of Westminster (1931), all sixteen countries must consent to any changes to the laws of succession.

On December 3rd 2012 it was announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were expecting their first child and on December 13th, just ten days later, the UK’s proposed legislation was introduced to parliament as the Succession to the Crown Bill. It was passed by the House of Commons on 28th January 2013 and the Act received royal assent on 25th April, but a date of commencement has not yet been set.

There is no particular rush, however, as – somewhat ironically – the royal baby turned out to be a boy. Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambride was born on July 22nd of this year, meaning that it will be a long time before these new laws will have any bearing on our monarchy. Quite an anti-climax after all that!

Prince George with his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Image courtesy of Vanity Fair

Prince George with his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
Image courtesy of Vanity Fair

The Succession to the Crown Act (2013) and its related Bills can be viewed in various ways:

In the Law Bod itself, printed copies can be found in The General Public Acts and Measures (Cw UK 10), which is the official series of statues produced by the Stationary Office, and in Volume 10 of Halsbury’s Statutes (Cw UK 030 H196a4).

A digital version can also be consulted via legal databases such as Westlaw and Lexis®Library, which can be accessed either by searching directly in Solo or by going through the Law Bod website using the following route: homepage > popular links > legal databases. The process for locating legislative material is the same in both Westlaw and Lexis®Library: simply select the ‘legislation’ tab, then search by the name of the Act required.

Finally, all UK legislation can be viewed on the Parliament website. The Succession to he Crown Act (2013), for example, can be found here.

If you’re interested in this area, you might also want to take a look at the corresponding LibGuide (main law LibGuide > ‘Resources for Jurisdictions’ tab > United Kingdom Law > ‘Legislation’ tab). This includes a general introduction to UK legislation, a list of useful printed sources held in the library and information to help you find them, a guide to understanding a UK Act, and direct links to online sources such as key legal databases and government websites.

That’s it for my attempt at writing a legal post about the carol of the Three Kings! Donkeys tomorrow, I believe…