Last month I listened to oral arguments of two cases being appealed before the U.K.’s Supreme Court. The cases, one an appeal from England and Wales and the other an appeal from Scotland,dealt with the U.K. prime minister’s August 2019 decision regarding the prorogation of Parliament.
I noticed that the lawyers presenting the cases referred on several occasions to a gentleman named Erskine May. Erskine May appeared to be extremely knowledgeable on parliamentary procedure – a walking encyclopedia one might say. I wondered if perhaps he was an aide to the Speaker of the House of Commons. However, upon inquiry, I discovered that the Erskine May being referenced is in fact a book about parliamentary procedure: Erskine May’s Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament.
I decided to do some research on the eponymous Erskine May. To my delight, he began his career in 1831 as an assistant librarian in the House of Commons. While still in this position, he published the first edition of his treatise on parliamentary procedures in 1844. He continued to work in the House of Commons, and from 1871 to 1886, he was the Clerk of the House of Commons. He died in May 1886, shortly after his retirement and being made Baron Farnborough.
It is important to note that Erskine May’s 1844 treatise on parliamentary procedure was not the first. One of his predecessors as Clerk of the House of Commons, John Hatsell, authored a work in 1781 titled Precedents of the proceedings in the House of Commons, with observations. However, throughout his career as a civil servant in Parliament, May continued to produce new editions of his work on a regular basis and even after his death his name has continued to be associated with this definitive work on parliamentary procedure in the U.K.
Photo by Beth Osborne
The following is a guest post by Anna Price, a legal reference librarian at the Law Library of Congress. This edition of Research Guides In Focus covers another frequently-accessed Law Library guide – U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs. I regularly direct patrons to this guide, and rely on it for quick answers to Supreme […]
Today’s interview is with Peter Quinn, a Writer-Editor in the Global Legal Research Directorate of the Law Library of Congress. Describe your background. I was born in New York City but spent most of my childhood on the south shore of Long Island in the village of Bellport. It’s a waterfront community that survives on revenue from […]
On October 14, 2019, the Library of Congress is holding its semi-annual Main Reading Room open house. Starting at 10:00 a.m., attendees can tour the Main Reading Room, which is usually closed to the general public for touring, and learn about many of the divisions of the Library of Congress. Representatives from the Law Library of Congress, Science, Technology & […]
Today’s interview is with Jonathan Donovan, a library technician in the Global Legal Research Directorate of the Law Library of Congress. Describe your background. I grew up in Pennsylvania and moved to North Carolina for college. Since then, I’ve lived and worked in Delaware, Maryland, and the Philadelphia area. Growing up, my parents often took me to […]
Have you tried the Law Library of Congress Chatbot lately? The chatbot provides answers to frequently asked legal reference questions through Facebook Messenger. You can interact with it by clicking through a series of menu options or you can type in a natural language question. The chatbot debuted in October 2017, and since that time we […]
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The following is a guest post by Tariq Ahmad, a foreign law specialist in the Global Legal Research Directorate of the Law Library of Congress. Tariq has previously contributed posts on The Constitution of India – Pic of the Week, Islamic Law in Pakistan – Global Legal Collection Highlights, India’s Regulatory Approach to Uber, Sedition Law in India, […]