International legal scholar visits Waikato University

16 August 2016

International legal scholar, Professor Graham Virgo visited the University of Waikato to give a public lecture titled “Conscience in Equity – a new Utopia” on 16 August in the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts.

Hamilton legal practitioners, members of the judiciary, university law students and staff attended the event.

During his lecture, Prof Virgo argued that equitable jurisdiction was founded on conscience. “It is a jurisdiction which remains of profound practical importance in England and New Zealand,” says Prof Virgo. “But, as the jurisdiction has developed, and although the language of conscience and unconscionability remain the touchstone for equitable intervention, judges and commentators have lost sight of what conscience and unconscionability actually mean.”

He says that by tracing the historical development of conscience, it is possible to identify the theoretical structure which justifies the equitable jurisdiction and shows how it should develop in the future.

“Even though some commentators have predicted the death of Equity, by refocusing on the essence of conscience, the equitable jurisdiction can be reinvigorated and lead us to a new legal Utopia,” says Prof Virgo.

“This is relevant to all of us, regardless of our areas of expertise in law. We as lawyers need to ensure that our law is as principled as it can be.”

“The reasoning of a judge needs to be structured and defensible. The language of conscience and unconscionability can do this, but only if we are clear as to what they mean and why we are using them.”

Prof Virgo will be continuing to tour law schools throughout the country, giving staff seminars and public lectures until 24th August.

The professor of English private law at the University of Cambridge, writes and researches in the fields of Criminal Law; Equity and Trusts and the Law of Restitution. He has been a Fellow of Downing College since 1989, where he read Law as an undergraduate.

His visit is part of the New Zealand Law Foundation’s distinguished visiting fellow award. Each year the Law Foundation provides up to $40,000 towards the visit of the distinguished visiting fellow.