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Personal profile


A graduate of the University of Edinburgh, Professor Cairns served as a Lecturer in Jurisprudence at the Queen's University of Belfast before returning to Edinburgh to hold the posts of lecturer, senior lecturer and reader before appointment to the Chair of Legal History. He has also worked as a Visiting Professor at the University of Miami (1988, 1991, 1995) and Southern Methodist University (1986). He held the office of Associate Dean (Postgraduate)/Director of the Graduate School in Law from 2000-2003. From 1996-2003 Professor Cairns was Book Review Editor of the Edinburgh Law Review. He has served on the Editorial Board of the Law and History Review and the Editorial Committee of the Journal of Legal History, now serving on the honorary Editorial Board of the latter. From 1998-2015 he served as Chairman of the Council of the Stair Society. From 2006 to 2008 Professor Cairns served as president of the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society for a two-year term; he continues on its Board. In 2008, he became a founding member of the Advisory Board of the Alan Watson Foundation.  In the Spring of 2017, he spent a month as a Professeur invité at the École normale supérieure, Paris.

After early research on the comparative legal history of Louisiana and Quebec under the supervision of Alan Watson, Professor Cairns has devoted himself to the study of the legal literature of Scotland and England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and to a long term research project on the relationship between legal thought and legal education in the Scottish enlightenment. He has published extensively in those fields in Britain, North America, continental Europe and Japan. He is currently researching law and slavery in eighteenth-century Scotland and he talks about this research here: http://www.nutshell-videos.ed.ac.uk/john-cairns-slavery-in-scotland/ . His inaugural lecture for the Chair of Civil Law may be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFmP8QCBxaQ .

Current Research Interests

He welcomes inquiries about postgraduate research in Scottish legal history, European legal history, eighteenth-century legal studies, and slavery and law.

He is currently supervising in Edinburgh:

Ph.D. “Legal reasoning and witchcraft and at the Justiciary Court of Edinburgh, 1628-1634”

Ph.D. "Regality Court of Grant"

Ph.D. "Principe de consensualisme and causa: A Historical Comparative Approach in the Civil Law and Common Law of Obligations"

Ph.D. "Excludionary Rights in Scots Law"

Ph.D. "Canon-Common Law Jurisdictional Relations; Royal Authority, Sanctuary and Conservative Clergymen, 1485-1540"

LL.M. by Research "Origins of the Scottish Legal Profession"

LL.M. by research "Dutch Influence on the Reception of Roman Law in the Scottish Legal System: A Case Study of the Newhailes Library, 1700-1800

Recently completed and successfully examined research student work under his supervision:

LLM (by research)  "Jacobitism and the Faculty of Advocates, 1700-1715" (degree awarded with distinction)
Doctorate, University of Amsterdam, "Ulrik Huber's Dialogus de docendi et discendi iuris" (co-promotor)
LL.M. (Research) "Civil Jurisdiction in Equity in the Scottish Legal System"
Ph.D., "The Court of the Commissaries of Edinburgh: Consistorial Law and Litigation, 1559-1576" (Divinity - Second Supervisor)
LL.M. (Research) "A Lawyer and his Clients: David Erskine and the Stirlings of Keir" (degree awarded with distinction)
Ph.D. "Viscount Stair's Sources and Citations in a Humanist and Natural Law Context

Ph.D. "The Library of Charles Erskine (1680-1763): Scottish Lawyers and Book Collecting, 1700-1760

Ph.D.  "The Emergence of the Will Theory in Scots Law"

LL.M. (by research) "The Authority of the Civil Law in 18th Century Scotland: The Approach of William Forbes, Advocate and Professor" (degree awarded with distinction)
LLM (by research) "Law, Lawyers and the Association of Operative Weavers, 1812-1814" (degree awarded with distinction)

LLM (by research) "Regality Court of Grant"

Ph.D. "Reception of the French Civil Code in Quebec, Louisiana and Francophone Swiss Cantons: a Socio-legal Study"

Ph.D.  "The Use of European "Jus Commune" in the Scottish testamentary jurisdiction in 1532-1707"



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