Friday, January 13, 2012

A Tour of Eight Famous Cases

Canadian law professor Allan C. Hutchinson tells the stories of eight cases in Is Eating People Wrong? Great Legal Cases and How they Shaped the World (K370.H88 2011 at Classified Stacks). His big theme is the development of the common law through particular cases. Along the way, he offers more complete stories about some famous cases than you will ever find in a casebook or appellate opinion.

He opens with a case from Britain that actually begins in a lifeboat on the Atlantic ocean: The Queen v. Dudley and Stephens, 14 Q.B.D 273 (1884) (link). (The book draws its title from this chapter, if you want a hint about what the case is about.)

Hutchinson's selection is eclectic, spanning criminal law, torts, contract law, property law, and constitutional law  – most of a typical first-year course line-up. He draws from four common-law jurisdictions: U.S., Canada, Australia, and U.K. The cases are:
  • Roncarelli v. Duplessis,  [1959] S.C.R. 121, link  (S.C.C.) (abuse of power by the premier of Quebec)
  • Pierson v. Post, 3 Cai. 175, link (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1805) (ownership of a hunted fox)
  • Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, link (1954) (Brown I) and 349 U.S. 294, link (1955) (Brown II)(segregated schools)
  • Donoghue v. Stevenson, [1932] A.C. 562 (H.L.) 562, link (bottler's liability for snail in ginger beer)
  • Mabo v. Queensland, (1988) 166 C.L.R. 186, link (Mabo I) and  (1992) 175 C.L.R. 1, link (Mabo II) (aboriginal title in Australia)
  • Hadley v. Baxendale,  9 Exch. 341, link (1854) (damages for contract breach)
  • Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, link (1966) (accused's rights during interrogation)
You can read the book for Hutchinson's observations about the common law as "a messy, episodic, and experimental effort to respond and adapt to the contingent demands that the society brings forward." (p. 11) Or you can dabble in it to read the colorful stories about the unfortunate cabin boy, the contested fox, the mill's broken shaft, and more.

The publisher's page about the book is here. The WorldCat record (with links to other libraries) is here.

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