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
October 6, 2019, this coming Sunday, marks the centennial of the Icelandic Law on the Supreme Court of October 6, 1919 (Lög om hæstarjett Nr. 22 af 6 okt. 1919), which provided for the establishment of a Supreme Court in Iceland. The Supreme Court replaced the National Court (Landsyfirréttur), whose decisions could be appealed to the Supreme Court of Denmark. […]
One perfectly ordinary, sunny Tuesday morning at the end of summer, four planes headed out on trans-U.S. flights; they never made it to their intended destination. Like the attack on Pearl Harbor and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy, every American beyond primary school age at […]
Today’s Pic of the Week is another in an occasional series featuring odd and/or outdated library equipment. We found the above-pictured object in the deep recesses of a supply cabinet. Unfortunately as is often the case, I am the last remaining Law Library staffer to have seen or used this item. It harks from the dark […]
Our picture of the week is Wheatland, the home of President James Buchanan. President Buchanan is not rated highly by historians due to his inability to prevent the Southern states from seceding from the Union, but he came to the office with impressive credentials, having served as a lawyer, Secretary of State, Minister to the […]
On Tuesday, May 21, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Bulgaria to the United States of America Tihomir Stoytchev, presented two copies of the commemorative reprint of Bulgaria’s Tarnovo Constitution to the Library of Congress. Adopted on April 16, 1879, the Tarnovo Constitution remained fundamental law of Bulgaria until 1947. Ambassador Stoytchev […]
The following is a guest post by Mirela Savic-Fleming, Special Assistant to the Law Librarian of Congress. Every day on my way home, I walk past the two-and-a-half story Georgian Revival Petworth Neighborhood Library. With the cherry blossom season recently ending, I somewhat nostalgically decided to share a photo that I took in April. The library […]
If you are visiting in Pennsylvania, you should make a stop at Eisenhower Farm in Gettysburg. President and Mrs. Eisenhower gave the house, the farm and the grounds to the United States government in 1967, and after their deaths, the National Park Service opened the site for visitors. President and Mrs. Eisenhower bought this farm […]
To celebrate National Library Week, I thought it would be great to highlight a library that I recently visited. I love seeing all of the libraries that people visit and share on In Custodia Legis. There has been such a wide range of institutions, including the New York Public Library, the New Mexico Supreme Court Library, […]
Born into slavery at a plantation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and provided with no formal education, Frederick Douglass escaped slavery and defied his humble origins to become a world renowned advocate for equal rights, author, publisher, orator, and statesman, traveling across the world to raise awareness about the evils of slavery. In later […]