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Personal profile


Hector MacQueen was a member of the Edinburgh Law School staff from 1979 to 2021, having also taken his LL.B and Ph.D at Edinburgh. Appointed to the Chair of Private Law in 1994, he was Dean of the Law School 1999-2003, and Dean of Research and Deputy Head of the College of Humanities and Social Science in the University 2004-2008. He was on leave of absence January 2010-September 2017, having taken up an initially part-time appointment as a Scottish Law Commissioner on 29 September 2009. Between October 2017 and March 2018 he split his time between completing his Commission projects and teaching in the Law School. After a spell back full-time at the latter, he retired on 31 August 2021 and became Emeritus Professor of Private Law. He continues to teach some undergraduate courses.

Professor MacQueen previously held visiting appointments at Cornell University in the USA, the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, and Stetson University College of Law (‘Florida’s first law school’). He has been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh since 1995 and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2006. He chaired the Law section of the Academy 2016-2020, and is also a cross-member in Medieval Studies. Professor MacQueen was President of the Society of Legal Scholars 2012-2013 and Vice-President (Humanities) of the RSE 2008-2011.

Professor MacQueen wrote the 1989 centenary history of Heriots Cricket Club, a work enthusiastically reviewed by no less than Alexander McCall Smith in chapter 6 of his novel, Love Over Scotland (2006).  He received the CBE for services to legal scholarship in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in June 2019.

Research Interests

Professor MacQueen's research and teaching focus on three major areas: (1) the history of law; (2) the private law of obligations; and (3) intellectual property. His work is generally centred on Scots law, but emphasises the significance of the comparative and especially the European context for a full understanding of the ‘mixed’ Scottish system and its future as well as its past development. It also argues that ‘mixed systems’ can help us understand the likely trajectory of European private law in the future.

In the history of law, Professor MacQueen has worked mainly on the medieval period. His doctoral research led ultimately to Common Law and Feudal Society in Medieval Scotland (1993, reprinted in 'classic' edition with preface and critical introduction 2016). He has continued to build on that foundation since in a series of articles. Where the 1993 book focused most on the period 1250-1500, subsequent specifically medieval work has gone further back into the 12th century, highlighting the significance of canon as well as English law in Scottish developments, and considering links between royal and purely local justice in ever greater depth. The intention is finally to produce another book entitled Law, State and Legal Consciousness, interpreting the pre-1250 period in detail as well as developing a deeper analysis of the 14th and 15th century developments. It will be published by Brill in 2023. An interim publication will be Law, Lordship and Tenure: The Fall of the Black Douglases, co-written with Dr Alan Borthwick of the National Records of Scotland, and to be published in 2022 by Strathmartine Press, St Andrews. Also forthcoming in 2022 is a collection of the late David Sellar's legal history articles, to be published by Edinburgh University Press under the title, Continuity, Influences and Integration. This will be followed by a further collection of Sellar's writings on Highland history, to be published by Birlinn. 

Also springing from the medieval research is an interest in how the period is treated in post-medieval times, with a central theme being its contribution to Scottish perceptions of legal distinctiveness (Scottish legal nationalism). A series of articles has highlighted in particular the contribution of Lord Cooper of Culross in the mid-20th century. A short book on Scottish legal nationalism is planned for 2024, pulling together the articles already published and adding to them the results of further research.

Professor MacQueen’s legal history work has also encompassed the Literary Directorship of the Stair Society (1999-2016) and he was elected as the Society's Vice-President in 2017. He was Chair of the Scottish Medievalists Conference (2007-2011) and of the Scottish Records Advisory Council 2001-2008, and is a Vice-President of the Scottish Text Society (Council member since 1993). He is a Corresponding Fellow of the American Society for Legal History, and a member of the Law School’s Centre for Legal History.

Professor MacQueen’s work in obligations is mainly concerned with the law of contract and unjustified enrichment. He is the author or co-author of standard student texts on these subjects (Contract Law in Scotland, 5th edition 2020; Unjustified Enrichment Law Basics, 3rd edition 2013), and was the Scottish editor of Atiyah’s Sale of Goods (10th, 11th, 12th and 13th edns, 2001, 2005, 2010, 2016). Professor MacQueen also recast the relevant chapters of the general textbook Gloag & Henderson’s Law of Scotland (14th edn, 2017) (of which he has been a General Editor since the 11th edition). The 15th edition, of which Professor MacQueen remains general co-editor with Lord Eassie, will be published in 2022.

Three inter-related strands have developed his research in obligations: (1) membership of, first, the Lando Commission on European Contract Law (1995-2003) and then the Co-ordinating Committee of the Study Group on a European Civil Code (SGECC) from its inception in 1999 to its conclusion in 2008, which in turn led to involvement in the Co-PECL Common Frame of Reference project on European patrimonial law (here he worked especially on sales and services contracts as well as mandate, trusts and donation); (2) engagement with the law of other ‘mixed’ jurisdictions, notably South Africa and Louisiana; and (3) consideration of the impact of human rights on private law as a result of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Scotland Act 1998. The work also draws on historical and comparative approaches, especially in collaborations with David Sellar.  Professor MacQueen’s standing in comparative studies led to his election as a Vice-President of the World Society of Mixed Jurisdiction Jurists in 2002.

As a Scottish Law Commissioner, Professor MacQueen led the Commission’s review of Scottish contract law.  This has led so far the Legal Writings (Counterparts and Delivery) (Scotland) Act 2015 and the Contract (Third Party Rights) (Scotland) Act 2017, plus the following Commission Discussion Papers and Reports (of which he was the principal author):

Discussion Papers on Interpretation (2011), Formation of Contract (2012), Third Party Rights in Contract (2014); Penalty Clauses (2016); and Remedies for Breach of Contract (2017)

Reports on Execution in Counterpart (2014), Third Party Rights in Contract (2016); Formation, Interpretation, Remedies for Breach of Contract, and Penalty Clauses (2018). 

Joint projects with the Law Commission for England & Wales led to the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Act 2010, the Consumer Insurance (Disclosure and Representations) Act 2012, the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Regulations 2014, the Insurance Act 2015, Parts 1 and 2 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, Part 5 of the Enterprise Act 2016, and the Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Act 2017.  

In intellectual property Professor MacQueen is now focusing mainly on the legal history of the subject in Scotland since 1707, particularly copyright.  Previously copyright and design law were his principal areas of interest in contemporary law, although he also carried out research on common law aspects of the subject such as passing off and breach of confidence. He was the first Director (2002-2007) of the AHRC Research Centre in Intellectual Property and Technology Law (SCRIPT). With Centre colleagues Charlotte Waelde, Graeme Laurie and Abbe Brown, Professor MacQueen helped to produced the first two editions of the innovative student text Contemporary Intellectual Property: Law and Policy (2007, 2010; now in 5th edn 2019). Research on copyright concentrated mainly on the development of the law in the digital environment, criticising the apparent expansion of exclusive rights but also considering the extent to which copyright could or should be replaced by contract in this context. His best-known work on design law is Copyright, Competition and Industrial Design (2nd edn, 1995).  

Many aspects of Professor MacQueen’s interest in legal history, the law of obligations and intellectual property came together thanks to collaboration in and beyond the SCRIPT Centre in work on the protection of privacy as an aspect of personality rights.  Professor MacQueen’s expertise in intellectual property was recognised, not only in his membership from 1985 to 2017 of the Law Society of Scotland Working Party on the subject, but also in his service on the DTI Intellectual Property Advisory Committee (2003-2005), as Scottish Representative on the UK Justice Ministry Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information (2004-2011), and as a member of the Intellectual Property Institute Advisory Council of Experts (1999-2009), the Legal Advisory Board of Creative Commons UK, and Intellectual Property Specialist Accreditation Panel of the Law Society of Scotland (1998-2017). Professor MacQueen was an invited member of the RSA group which produced the Adelphi Charter on Creativity, Innovation and Intellectual Property in 2005, and played a leading role in the British Academy Review of Copyright and Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (2006).


Professor MacQueen has successfully supervised numerous doctoral students in all his areas of interest (especially copyright): 21 have gained their PhDs. He is not taking on any new supervisions. Professor MacQueen has examined 23 PhDs at other universities in the UK and abroad, as well as numerous Masters research theses. He has been an external examiner of taught undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at Dundee, Strathclyde, Aberdeen, Glasgow, the National University of Ireland, Sheffield, London School of Economics, Robert Gordon’s Aberdeen, Queen’s University Belfast and Manchester.

At undergraduate level Professor MacQueen teaches courses in contract and unjustified enrichment.  He took an active interest in legal education research, and wrote an introductory guide to the study of Scots law, now in its 5th edition edited by Megan Dewart (2016). He was examiner in Contract, Quasi-Contract and Delict in the Faculty of Advocates (1997-2016). He has been an invited external assessor of teaching and research quality at the Universities of Cork (2006) and Luxembourg (2008) and at the City University of Hong Kong (2018), and was a member of the Law Society of Scotland Law Schools Accreditation Panel (2001-2009).


Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Pleadable brieves and jurisdiction in heritage in medieval Scotland, University of Edinburgh

1 Oct 19782 Jul 1985

Award Date: 2 Jul 1985

LLB Honours, Bachelor of Laws


Award Date: 30 Jun 1978

External positions

Scottish Law Commissioner

29 Sept 200931 Mar 2018

Scottish Law Commissioner


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