Professor Paul O'higgins
Ewing, Keith, The Independent (London, England)
Innovative scholar at the forefront of studies in British labour law
Paul O'Higgins was an innovative teacher and scholar who helped to nurture several legal disciplines, becoming an authority in labour law, civil liberties, and social security law.
His greatest contribution was in the field of labour law, which he taught at Cambridge University from the early 1960s, until he left to become Regius Professor of Laws at Trinity College, Dublin in 1984. At Cambridge, O'Higgins forged what was at the time one of the most productive partnerships in British legal academic life. With Bob Hepple, he created the Encyclopaedia of Labour Relations Law (1972), and in a notably fertile year - 1971 - he and Hepple wrote two important books: Public Employee Trade Unionism in the United Kingdom and Individual Employment Law. A few years later, Hepple and O'Higgins combined with Judith Neeson to produce the much- needed Bibliography of the Literature on British and Irish Labour Law (1975).
O'Higgins played a leading role in expanding the horizons of fresh generations of labour lawyers, drawing attention to the significance of international labour standards and the work of the International Labour Organisation. The most recent of his several seminal papers on the subject (published in The Future of Labour Law, 2004) provides a hard-hitting yet realistic assessment of the future prospects for such standards in the current global economic and political climate.
Otherwise, O'Higgins was at the forefront of an innovation in legal teaching and scholarship, which encouraged lawyers to appreciate how law worked in practice, and to reflect on the social context of the legal rules they examined. And without flag-waving, he was in the vanguard of another innovation, highlighting the responsibility of academics to the wider community.
O'Higgins thus played a crucial part in working with bodies such as the Workers' Educational Association, and with trade unions (notably the National Graphical Association, as it then was) to develop shop-steward and chapel-officer training courses, which he also presented. An individual with a vivid recollection of this training remembers O'Higgins as being one of only a small band of eminent lawyers "capable of communicating effectively with trade- union officials at all levels".
The value of such work was impressed on the countless number of PhD students attracted to Cambridge in what was truly a golden age for the study of labour law. Much of the output of that postgraduate research found expression in the Studies in Labour and Social Law series, which O'Higgins edited jointly with Hepple between 1978 and 1985. This was especially impressive given that it was a time when it was very difficult to persuade publishers to take on legal monographs.
Many of these students in that vibrant research community were to become distinguished scholars, legal practitioners and judges in their own right, but few forgot the friendship, support and kindness supplied by O'Higgins. It was a mark of the very warm affection …
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Publication information: Article title: Professor Paul O'higgins. Contributors: Ewing, Keith - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: April 9, 2008. Page number: 32. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.