‘Tales of the Living Dead’

When we first presented our project at the British Legal History Conference 2019, we were also lucky enough to hear Elizabeth Papp Kamali’s paper on doubt in medieval English law. The paper, now published in Speculum, focuses on doubts about death: how did medieval English lawyers react when a person disappeared in mysterious circumstances, perhaps when travelling overseas on a pilgrimage or crusade? Papp Kamali considers how the ‘extreme uncertainty’ in such cases was dealt with by the law of homicide and in relation to entitlements to land. Presumptions might be used to resolve the dispute, the parties might reach a compromise, or the case might be delayed in the hope of new evidence. These are all tactics that we have seen in other areas of law within our project, and Papp Kamali’s paper is a fascinating discussion of legal responses to factual uncertainty in the Middle Ages.

Ad hominem rules of construction – Known Unknowns Symposium Extract

This is a recording from one of the sessions at our research symposium in April 2021. It explores problems of intractable uncertainty about the meaning of contract terms, and special rules of interpretation that the law might provide for their resolution. The speaker is Joanna McCunn.

Stasi Zersetzung; political persecution and compensation

We were interested to see the following news article looking at the difficulties experienced by victims of Stasi activities in East Germany in terms of proving the harms suffered and the causation of those harms. This raises questions of known unknowns pertaining where by design, by virtue of often subtle secretive interferences, there will inevitably be minimal evidence that can ever surface. This is then of course exacerbated by the mountains of paperwork, or the loss or destruction of those files, as well as by the claim being directed against a successor state with no better information to bring to the table – it is harder to resolve uncertainty problems firmly against one party where that party is not in an obvious sense at fault.

Suggestions made in resolving the problem here evidently include a reversal of the burden of proof and tying the specific compensation framework in play to evidence of less than might otherwise be demanded by an authority or court in order to permit a claim.

Cf. also: in re the role of archives of transitional justice in dealing with missing persons and forced disappearances after a regime change.

Commorientes – Known Unknowns Symposium Extract

This is a sample recording from one of the sessions at our research symposium in April 2021. It deals with commorientes problems – where the law must confront problems relating to (uncertainty as to) the sequence of multiple deaths. This is important, in particular, in applying the rules of succession to disputed property and the answer can significantly alter who ultimately benefits from an inheritance. The speaker is Andrew J. Bell.