Society of Public Teachers of Law (now Society of Legal Scholars) Archive


Address at time of writing c/o Mrs. S J Thomson, Administrative Secretary, Society of Legal Scholars, School of Law, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ, United Kingdom, Tel: +44 (0)23 8059 4039, Fax +44 (0)23 8059 3024, e-mail: The Society's website is The Society regularly publishes a Directory which lists current officers of the Society and their addresses.

Extent and form: 30 volumes, 69 boxes

Access: all records over 10 years old are open, other than printed material which is open immediately, or items containing personal data which are closed under the terms of Data Protection legislation. Where some items within a series are closed this is noted with the series description and the date at which the item becomes open for research is indicated at item level.

Administrative history: the Society of Public Teachers of Law (SPTL) was founded in 1909 by Dr Edward Jenks, the then Principal and Director of Studies of the Law Society.  Rule 2 of the Society states that "The objects of the society shall be the furtherance of the cause of legal education in England and Wales, and of the work and interests of public teachers of law therein by holding discussions and enquiries, by publishing documents, and by taking other steps as may from time to time be deemed desirable" (see SPTL 6: List of Members and Rules 1910 p.9).

The Society was to consist of a) ordinary members (any public teacher of law in England and Wales) and b) honorary members (any past teacher of law, overseas teacher of law or person who has "conferred important benefits on the Society or on legal education") (Ibid. Rule 6, p.11).

The Society's affairs were to be managed by a General Committee, whose officers were to consist of a President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Honorary Secretary.  Other Committee members were to comprise one member for each university conferring degrees in law, and one member for each body conferring professional qualifications in law.  Thus all branches of legal education would be represented.

Since its inception, the SPTL has acted to improve the quality of legal education and research through publishing reports, setting up working parties, putting forward submissions, holding conferences and producing journals and newsletters on matters relevant to legal education.  Its representation on the different law teaching bodies in England and Wales has meant that it has operated with great effectiveness as a pressure group for change.

In 2002 the Society of Public Teachers of Law was renamed as the Society of Legal Scholars.

Further information about the Society can be found in Fiona Cownie and Raymond Cocks. “A Great and Noble Occupation!”: The History of the Society of Legal Scholars. Hart Publishing, 2009 (available in the IALS Library and as SPTL 25/10)

Archival history: prior to 1997, SPTL officers had employed no consistent or coherent records management policies; each officer presumably made his own decisions to dispose of records according to his own interests. A considerable quantity of early records dating from the Society's inception has been preserved, as has very recent material, but there are large gaps in holdings, particularly for the 1950s, plus evidence of ad hoc destruction, weeding and later re-arrangement of material into subject groups, destroying any original order. At some stage SPTL records were transferred to IALS, but the circumstances of the transfer or transfers are unknown. From the late 1980s a more coherent, if less prolific, policy of transferring SPTL publications was instituted, and in the 1990s regular transfers of minutes, programmes and printed papers began.

More formal filing procedures were implemented after the post of Administrative Secretary was created in 1997 and transfers of records to the archive held by IALS became more systematic.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer: more recent transfers of SPTL material have included regular transfers of minutes and related papers, copies of SPTL publications, and papers donated by Professors William Twining, James Read, Fiona Cownie and John Bell relating to their time as officers of the Society. Professor Read has also donated some copies of the Directory and Newsletter. A further collection of papers has been passed to the Archives by Mr. Barry Hough dating from his period of office as Assistant Secretary from 1985-1990; the papers primarily comprise copy minutes, which have been added to existing holdings, and printed material.  

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information: in 1995 an archivist was appointed to sort and list the archives of the SPTL as part of a project to identify records relating to legal education and research and to establish a legal education archive at IALS.  The archive was appraised, weeded and sorted by the RLEA Archivist and an assistant in the same year.

In 2009-2010 and again in 2014 a project archivist was appointed to integrate later accessions of material into the existing catalogue.  This new material was appraised, weeded and sorted accordingly.

Scope and content: the archive of the Society of Public Teachers of Law comprises:

Minute books and correspondence of the Council, General Committee, sub-committees and special committees
General correspondence and subject files
Papers of annual conferences and meetings and annotated papers presented at SPTL meetings
Registers, directories and lists of members and rules
Financial records
Printed material including the Journal of the SPTL/Legal Studies and SPTL Reporter
Correspondence and papers of individual officers of the Society.
Records of officers of the Society.
Conference and seminar records

Accruals: further accruals are expected.

Arrangement: the archivist appointed to sort and list the archives of the SPTL in 1995 found that the material had been transferred ad hoc, with no covering lists identifying individual documents or classes of records. The piecemeal weeding, destruction and reclassification which had been carried out from time to time, either before or after transfer, made it impossible to establish genuinely representative and coherent record classes without imposing yet another arrangement of records and physically removing items from the series into which they had been placed. As a result the records have been left in their existing arrangement but given new archival series reference numbers, and detailed cross references have been made to records in different series covering the same functions. The original classification numbers allocated during the earlier listing attempts described above have been retained alongside the new series numbers and noted in bold type.

In 2009-2010 and in 2014 second and third stages of work were undertaken to catalogue accruals to the collection.  Where appropriate, material was added to existing series.  However, as noted above, the arrangement of the existing catalogue reflected the specific circumstances and records arrangement found in 1995.  Therefore a number of new series were created to accommodate the new material.

Finding aids: An index to SPTL papers by series number was created during the initial cataloguing in 1995, when the catalogue was only available as hard copy document and therefore not searchable electronically.  This index has been amended during the cataloguing of the second tranche of material in 2009 - 2010.

Copyright: copyright held by Society of Legal Scholars, expect where held by third parties.

Page last updated: 20th July 2020

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