Laureation address: Professor The Right Honourable Sir David Edward

Monday 30 November 2015


Laureation by Professor Anthony Lang
School of International Relations

Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present Professor The Right Honourable Sir David Edward for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

Born in Perth, Sir David travelled down south to read Classics at Oxford, but soon returned to Scotland to study law and was called to the bar in 1962, before becoming a QC in 1974. In a distinguished legal career, which included appearances before the House of Lords and the European Court of Justice, Sir David was involved in a number of high profile cases in Scotland, England, and Europe. In 1985 he was appointed as the Salvesen Professor of European Institutions at the University of Edinburgh where he also directed the Europa Institute. In 1989, he became a judge on the Court of First Instance of the European Communities followed by an appointment to the European Court of Justice in 1992 where he sat for 12 years. After leaving the ECJ in 2004, he sat on the Court of Session in Edinburgh until 2009. His CV lists an extensive number of publications across a range of different topics, including the professional role of the lawyer, the history of law and constitutionalism, and the institutions of the European Union.

He has served civil society extensively both in Scotland and in the wider European context. His service on the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, both as Chairman and Trustee, and his current appointment as a Trustee on the Council for the Defence of British Universities, demonstrates his commitment to improving our institutions of higher education. He is the recipient of a number of honours and degrees, including from the three other ancient universities of Scotland – Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. One might assume that because the University of St Andrews does not have a law school, we took longer than our sister institutions in presenting Sir David an honorary Doctor of Laws. But I think our decision reflects something more than his service to the world of law, for which of course we honour him here as well. I think we wish to honour his service in realms where society, law and politics intersect, realms that require more than simply fidelity to the law but imaginative suggestions for the creation of new political realities.

Let me give you two examples. From 2008 to 2009, Sir David served on the Commission on Scottish Devolution, more commonly known as the Calman Commission. This report, as those familiar with it will know, declared devolution to be a success and proposed ways in which it might be enhanced. It did not please some, but its suggestions were an effort to creatively address the dilemmas that faced and continue to face this country. From 2011 to 2012, Sir David served on the UK Commission on a British Bill of Rights. This topic has, in recent months, become a political shibboleth by which some have sought to bludgeon the United Kingdom into leaving the European Union. But the commission suggested one of its aims is ‘to release from the fog of political banalities the shared fundamental convictions which we genuinely hold.’ It is a nuanced and imaginative analysis of the intersection of rights in British and European politics and law.

I would guess that Sir David is too prudent to reveal to us his precise contributions to these two commissions. But his role on them undoubtedly reflects his political acumen and measured judgment. Indeed, that acumen was made manifest when, after we had invited him to speak here at the University about the constitutional ramifications of an independent Scotland, he gently suggested that he speak after the referendum. I think we all benefited from that decision, as his lecture was able to address some of the most important issues that Scotland must now face, and will face in the years to come.

An even more important political virtue, one that can be found in the reports of these two commissions and in the work and writings of Sir David, is that of political imagination. In his lecture here at St Andrews, he did not simply list the commonplace dilemmas facing Scotland, but proposed new and innovative ideas for how we might govern ourselves. To quote him: ‘We must be prepared to show political imagination. We must not get lost in a dusty desert of abstractions, searching for perfect fairness or equality, or arguing about the meaning of our political vocabulary. We must get out of our isolated world of constitutional self-righteousness and be prepared to consider the merits of political institutions that have proved their worth in other countries comparable to ours.’ I can think of no better description of how we as scholars and students ought to think about law, politics, and ethics in an increasingly complex world.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his major and imaginative contributions to the law and politics of Scotland, the United Kingdom and Europe, I invite you to confer on Professor The Right Honourable Sir David Edward the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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