Professor Michael Lobban

Professor Michael Lobban

Professor of Legal History

LSE Law School

Room No
Cheng Kin Ku Building 6.13
English, French
Key Expertise
The history of English legal thought and practice since 1700

About me

Michael Lobban is Professor of Legal History, having joined LSE Law School in 2013. After finishing his doctorate at Cambridge University, he held a Junior Research Fellowship at St. John’s College, Oxford. From 1991 to 1996, he taught in the department of law at the University of Durham, before moving first to Brunel University (1997-2000) and then to Queen Mary, University of London.

Administrative support:

Research interests

My research focuses on two main strands: the history legal thought in the common law tradition, and the history of English law, particularly since 1700. My recent work has focused on the history of private law in England, exploring the nature and development of the law of contract and torts, as well as bankruptcy and insolvency. .

External activities

Michael Lobban is co-editor of the American Society for Legal History’s book series Studies in Legal History, and is Secretary of the Selden Society. He is also a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Legal History.


Imperial Incarceration: Detention without Trial in the Making of British Colonial Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2021)

For nineteenth-century Britons, the rule of law stood at the heart of their constitutional culture, and guaranteed the right not to be imprisoned without trial. At the same time, in an expanding empire, the authorities made frequent resort to detention without trial to remove political leaders who stood in the way of imperial expansion. Such conduct raised difficult questions about Britain’s commitment to the rule of law. Was it satisfied if the sovereign validated acts of naked power by legislative forms, or could imperial subjects claim the protection of Magna Carta and the common law tradition? In this pathbreaking book, Michael Lobban explores how these matters were debated from the liberal Cape, to the jurisdictional borderlands of West Africa, to the occupied territory of Egypt, and shows how and when the demands of power undermined the rule of law.

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Henry Home, Lord Kames, Principles of Equity (ed. Lobban) (Liberty Fund, 2014)

Principles of Equity was first published in 1760 is Kames most lasting contribution to jurisprudence. He sought to explain the distinction between the nature of equity and common law and to address related questions, such as whether equity should be bound by rules and whether there should be separate courts of law and equity. The Principles is divided into three books. The first two, “theoretical,” books examine the powers of a court of equity as derived from justice and from utility, the two great principles Kames felt governed equity. The third book aims to be more practical, showing the application of these powers to several subjects, such as bankrupts.

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The Oxford History of the Laws of Englandvols XI-XIII (Oxford 2010), co-authored with W.R. Cornish, J.S. Anderson, R. Cocks, P. Polden and K. Smith

The Oxford History of the Laws of England is the first full-length history of the English law that takes unpublished sources into account. The thirteen volumes provide not merely a history of law, but also a history of the impact of law on English society. Given its unprecedented scope and coverage, this series will be an indispensable resource for law and history libraries.

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A History of the Philosophy of Law in the Common Law World, 1600-1900 (Springer 2007), vol 8 of A Treatise of Legal Philosophy and General Jurisprudence (ed. E. Pattaro)

A Treatise of Legal Philosophy and General Jurisprudence is the first-ever multivolume treatment of the full spectrum of issues in legal philosophy and general jurisprudence, from both a theoretical and a historical perspective. Volume 8 in the series traces the history of the ‘common law mind’ from the early modern period to the turn of the twentieth century. It examines, among others, the legal theory of Sir Edward Coke, John Selden, Sir Matthew Hale, Sir William Blackstone, Lord Kames, the Federalists, Jeremy Bentham, John Austin, Sir Henry Maine and Oliver Wendell Holmes

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White Man's Justice: South African Political Trials in the Black Consciousness Era (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996)

Examines the use of political trials by the apartheid regime in South Africa against its opponents in the 1970s, the decade when the ideology of apartheid was reaching its apogee. After tracing the early history of the South African Students Organization and the Black People's Convention, it shows how the state reacted to the threat posed by the black consciousness movement by launching a major trials of ideas, using the notorious Terrorism Act. It examines how, at the same time, the authorities sought to crack down on white dissent by prosecuting the leaders of the National Union of South African Students. By making a detailed study of trial transcripts in addition to other materials, it explores how the state sought to infiltrate and crush nascent ANC and PAC structures which were re-emerging in the mid 1970s within South Africa. It shows how the prosecution policy and the legal stategy of the state changed during the decade as the nature of the threats it faced altered, culminating in the trial of the leaders of the Soweto Students Representative Council in 1979 for sedition. Arguing that the political trial was perhaps the only venue where white ideology had to engage directy with black protest, this original and thought-provoking account demonstrates how the trials became platforms for competing views of society and politics, which give a unique insight into the conflict between the political ideals held by blacks and whites in this era. It also reveals how large a part politics played in securing the conviction of many dissenters, and how large a part events beyond the courtroom played, in the detention and torture of many activists.

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The Common Law and English Jurisprudence, 1760-1850 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991)

In this book, Michael Lobban argues that a proper understanding of English law and jurisprudence in the period is needed to clarify the nature of common-law practice and the way in which it was envisaged by its practitioners. He questions some commonly-accepted views of the nature of the common law itself and argues that attempts - notably those by Blackstone and Bentham - to expound or to criticize common law in essentially theoretical terms were mistaken. His approach is not a philosophically-based one, but he is concerned with the evolution and spread of judicial ideas which were grounded upon the work of moral and political philosophers, and makes a valuable corrective contribution to our historical understanding of a critically important period in legal history.

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The Impact of Ideas on Legal Development, vol. 7 of Comparative Studies in the Development of the Law of Torts in Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2012), co-edited with Julia Moses

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Legitimacy and Illegitimacy in Nineteenth Century Law Literature and History (Palgrave MacMillan 2010), co-edited with Margot Finn and Jenny Bourne Taylor

This innovative collection of essays by prominent scholars from the disciplines of literary studies, history and law explores the many ways in which notions of legtitimacy were shaped and contested in Georgian and Victorian Britain. It probes the difficulties of drawing boundaries between the legitimate and the illegitimate which continued to trouble Victorian society and which were explored in novels such as Charles Dickens's Bleak House and Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White.  The essays in this collection show how dilemmas over legitimacy unsettled families by challenging clear lines of inheritence; they also unsettles society, as forgers and imposters defrauded individuals, estates and institutions through widely publicised social performances which fascinated both contemporary culture and called into question the idea of legitimacy itself.

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Law and History: Current Legal Issues vol 6 (Oxford 2003), co-edited with Andrew Lewis

Law and History contains a collection of essays by prominent legal historians, which explore the ways in which history has been used by lawyers past and present to answer legal questions. In common with earlier volumes in the Current Legal Issues series, it seeks both a theoretical and methodological focus.  This volume covers a broad range of topics, from a discussion of the nature of norms in the middle ages to the role of war crimes trials in the twentieth century. It includes wide-ranging historiographical discussions, which examine the nature and aims of the legal historian, as well as contributions which explore the methodology and aims of writers such as Coke, Maine, Weber, Montesquieu, and Kames, who sought to use historical models to explain law. A number of contributions examine developments in legal doctrine, particularly in the nineteenth century, including developments in the law of contract, administrative law, and perjury. These raise important questions about the nature of the legal categorizations which developed in that era. Law and History also includes a collection of contributons on the use of history in twentieth century trials, including the Nuremberg trials, the trial of the Gang of Four, and trials arising from the events in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

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Communities and courts in Britain, 1150-1900 (Hambledon Press, 1997) co-edited with Christopher W. Brooks

The essays in this volume reflect the wider concept of legal history - how legal processes fitted into the social and political life of the community, and how courts and other legal processes were used by contemporaries - rather than the more traditional but narrower study of internal procedural development interpretation. In doing so, they both aim to justify the study of legal history in its own right and to show how legal records, including those of a variety of central and local courts can be used to further the understanding of a range of social, commercial, popular and political history.