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Many former imperial powers, including the United Kingdom, have forgotten their imperial histories. Although imperialism provided the foundation for modern society, structuring our legal and social frameworks, lawyers, academics, and policy makers are only slowly beginning to acknowledge this influence. Contemporary constitutional law is often understood and taught without reference to this imperial past. 

Is this focus on the present justifiable, a recognition that the study of constitutional law and constitutional history are distinct, if related, activities? Or is this a form of wishful amnesia, a failure to engage with a past that continues to shape our constitutional concepts and institutions? This workshop brings together those working on empire and those working on public law, and seeks to bridge the divide between these two disciplines.  The workshop will explore how our imperial past continues to shape our current constitution, public law, citizenship, constructions of borders and jurisdiction and constitutional thinking more generally.  Scholars of Constitutional, Administrative or Migration Law are invited to reflect on these aspects from the standpoint of their research and beyond. The project aims to inform and shape our research agendas, and, more specifically, will consider the teaching of constitutional law in British universities, both what is covered (and what is silenced) and how it is taught.


  1. Welcome Note (9.20 – 9.30 AM)
  2. Imperialism and British Constitutional Identity (9.30 AM – 11:30 AM)

Constitutional identity is shaped both by the constitutional form taken by the state and by the interplay between the state and its people. Each of these elements has been affected and shaped in response to British imperial governance and the relations between the metropole and its colonies. The dissolution of empire left new, post-colonial, polities constructed in the form of, or in reaction to, the structures of the old imperial power: these polities took the form of states, and many adopted the Westminster model. This exportation of British constitutional concepts, legal infrastructure and thinking has led to tangible social impacts. Imperialism shaped the governance, law, and legal epistemology in the metropole. In this first block, we aim to set the scene of this workshop with talks introducing various perspectives to the shaping of British constitutional law.

Chair: Signe Larsen (Oxford)


Timothy Endicott (Oxford) – Empire and the British Constitution

Kojo Koram (Birkbeck) – Uncommon Wealth (Britain and the Aftermath of Empire)

Vidya Kumar (SOAS) – A Revolutionary Introduction to UK Public Law: Imperialism, Race and Injustice


  1. Core Public Law Concepts as Infrastructure of Colonial Power (11:50 AM – 1:20 PM)

Core contemporary public law concepts such as the rule of law, sovereignty, and rights, developed during the period of empire and were shaped by, and used in, the imperial rule.  Drawing from the foundational doctrinal distinction between private and public, this block explores the imperial roots of these ideas and considers how imperialism shaped and naturalized their functions. The idea of a divide between the public and the private created a gap between the governing realm and the social world. In each case, the forms and divisions bequeathed by empire have sometimes proved problematic, or even exploitative or harmful – and were perhaps less inevitable than might have seemed from the legal discourse.

Chair: Nicole Stybnarova (RSC)


Tanzil Chowdhury (QMUL) – Executive Robbery: UK Public Law, ‘Race’ and Primitive Accumulation in the Chagos Archipelago

Michael Lobban (Oxford) – Rule of Law and the Imperial Constitution

Tom Frost (Leicester University) – Emergency Powers in the Empire and the Metropolis


  1. Borders of the Empire: The Construction of Citizenship (2:30 PM – 4:30 PM)

The modern construction of citizenship seems far removed from the imperial period, but many of the categories and modes of acquisition of citizenship have an imperial lineage.  The modern law of citizenship, with its vast array of distinctions and qualifications, may have been shaped by, and, indeed, may carry forwards, the aims of empire. This comes with impacts that traditional public law thinking often disregards, such as structural racial exploitation and accumulation of wealth in the metropole.

Chair: Cathryn Costello (RSC)


Devyani Prabhat (Bristol University) – The Chaos Theory and Racialised Legal Categories of Non/Citizenship

Jo Shaw (Edinburgh University) – Citizenship and Indigenous Peoples After Empire

Zainab Naqvi (Manchester University) – Citizenship Deprivation and the Politics of Belonging in English Law – A Critical Postcolonial Perspective


  1. Teaching Constitutional and Public Law (4:45 PM – 6:15 PM)

The recognition of the significance, indeed, the continuing significance, of the imperial past for the constitution and the legal constructs operating under the auspices of constitutional law calls for a response. What are the moral implications of our imperial past for our constitutional future? And how should this affect how we teach and study constitutional law?

Chair: Tarunabh Khaitan (Oxford)


Nick Barber (Oxford) – Strengths and Weaknesses of the Current Public Law Curricula in the UK

Ngoc Son Bui (Oxford) – Teaching Asian Constitutionalism

Mosopefoluwa Sarah Akintunde (Oxford, Co-Chair of OX CRAE) – Studying Public Law at Oxford: Legal Curriculum and Racism

Farnush Ghadery (London South Bank University) – Teaching Law Through the Prism of Decolonial Feminism

Suhraiya Jivraj (Kent University) – Decolonization as Practice: Towards an Anti-racist Legal Pedagogy


This event will take place at the Sir Joseph Hotung Auditorium, Bonavero Institute of Human Rights.

If you would like to attend, please email with the subject line - 'Attendance: Public Law as Infrastructure of Imperial Governance'

See the event on the Law Faculty website here

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Saturday, 20 July 2024, 2pm to 3pm @ The Crypt Cafe, St Peters Church, Northchurch Terrace, London N1 4DA