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Tag: scots law

The case for digital assets legislation in Scotland

by David Fox, Professor of Common Law, University of Edinburgh

The England and Wales Law Commission has recently published its final report on Digital Assets (Digital assets – Law Commission).[1]  The report comes after an exhaustive study of the way that existing principles of private law in England and Wales would apply to this emerging class of assets.  It is of great significance since digital assets are fast becoming mainstream vehicles for carrying out financial transactions as conventional forms of financial securities are adapted to work on blockchain technology.  The report acknowledges that private law is as relevant to digital assets as the specialist regimes of financial services regulation that were the main focus of attention in the early days of their development.

The Law Commission report is relevant to Scotland which has an important fintech industry of its own but where the application of fundamental principles of Scots private law to digital assets remains obscure.  Any new clarification of the legal rules in Scotland would need to allow for the subtle similarities and differences between English and Scots property law and for the divergent patterns of legal development in each jurisdiction.

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James Wood of Wallhouse and the Law of Contractual Misrepresentation: Woods v Tulloch (1893)

by Professor Hector MacQueen, Emeritus Professor of Private Law, Edinburgh Law School*

Back in 2012 I was honoured to be asked to deliver that year’s James Wood Memorial Lecture in Glasgow University Law School. My title was “Private Law, National Identity and the Case of Scotland”. But I thought that before I started on the substance, I should say a few words about James Wood. No previous lecturer appeared to have done so and before the invitation I did not know anything about him. The life and remarkable business career of James Wood of Wallhouse in Torphichen, West Lothian are however well set out in the Dictionary of Scottish Business Biography.[1]  Born in Paisley in 1840, from his early 20s he was a coal merchant and mine-owner around the greater Glasgow area. In 1871 Wood expanded his mining interests into, first, Armadale (West Lothian) and then other places in the county such as Bathgate. His business activities in the area extended in due course to gas, brickworks, steel works and the shale oil industry as well as coal-mining. The business, which was run in partnership with his brother William, came to have offices in London and New York, as well as Glasgow. William looked after sales and merchanting while James concentrated on colliery development and operations. Having been chairman of the Pumpherston Shale Oil Company from the mid-1880s, James became a more or less professional company director after 1900, working in a wide variety of Scottish companies. As his biographer remarks, “his experience and expertise in the business world made him a much sought-after figure to serve on company boards.”

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Kinghorn v Wood and the origins of trusts in Scotland

by León Carmona Fontaine, PhD Student at Edinburgh Law School*

If there was a Scottish case from the 1620s in which a Scottish court had decided that there was a sham trust, it would be surprising and significant for both historical and comparative reasons. For a start, Scots lawyers usually consider that a distinct institution known as a trust appeared in Scotland in the late 17th century, and more decisively in the 18th century.[1] Second, sham trusts are usually seen as a recent English legal development. The term ‘sham’ gained a defined legal meaning in England between the late 19th century and the second half of the 20th century (Snook v London and West Riding Investments Ltd [1967] 2 QB 786, 802),[2] and the first case in which an English court found a declaration of trust to be a sham dates from the last decade of the 20th century (Midland Bank plc v Wyatt [1997] 1 BCLC 242). Finally, Scottish courts have occasionally applied the doctrine of sham transactions, but usually by reference to modern English authorities rather than Scottish ones.

Yet, Kinghorn v Wood (1626) Mor. 5072 seems to suggest that both trusts and sham trusts existed in Scotland as early as the early 17th century. Naturally, the trust in question did not go by the name of ‘trust’, and the ‘sham’ was not yet named ‘sham’.  The word ‘trust’ started to be used in Scotland only in the course of the 17th century,[3] and the word ‘sham’ had not yet originated in the English-speaking world.[4] In substance, however, the court found an arrangement that we would nowadays call a trust to be a sham as that term has come to be understood.

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Unjustified Enrichment in Scots Law: Time for Consolidation, not Reappraisal?*

By Niall Whitty, Honorary Professor of Edinburgh Law School

1. 1961-1990. I must confess I have been fascinated by the Scots law of unjustified enrichment for over 60 years. My first contact with it occurred in autumn 1961 – in my first year at Edinburgh University Law Faculty.[1]

At that time, the English law of restitution, with its imputed contract theory of quasi-contract[2] and its Coronation cases,[3] (rejecting restitution after frustration of contract) was held up to students in the Civil Law class as evidence that the English law of obligations, while rich in detail, was poor in principle. By contrast, Scots enrichment law, with its obediential obligation theory and civilian Cantiere San Rocco case,[4] was said to be much superior as indeed in some respects it plainly was. In the next three decades, however, the condition and status of unjust enrichment in English law was completely transformed,[5] while the Scots law, starved of research and the stimulus of comparative law, tended to stagnate and sometimes took wrong turnings.[6] The reason was not so much complacency as the fact that the academic branch of the Scottish legal profession, though growing, was still relatively small and over-stretched.[7]  Probably more has been written on our enrichment law in the past 30 years than in the previous 300 years.

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