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Book reviews

17 March 08

Review of Delict (ed Thomson)

by Douglas Bain

Contributing editor: Joe M Thomson
PUBLISHER: W Green
ISBN: 0 414 01694 1
PRICE: £165 including VAT;
excluding releases

Delict is the latest title to carry the Scottish Universities Law Institute (SULI) imprimatur. It is a multi-authored work, compiled under the superintendence of Professor Joe Thomson. It is also something of an experiment for SULI, inasmuch as it has been produced in looseleaf format, with the text being published in three tranches.

Professor Thomson indicates that this approach came about from an acceptance that the law of delict is no longer susceptible to treatment as a single homogeneous body based on a general underlying principle, such as reparation for culpa or fault (characterised as the “paradigmatic” model, based on personal injuries cases). An updated approach recognises that different interests are protected in different ways, making it “unlikely that a single person would have the expertise to write a text which would cover the whole of the subject at the level expected of a SULI book”. The exigencies of the Research Academic Exercise (RAE), which required that “output” of the academic authors be published by 31 December 2007, also contributed to the decision to publish looseleaf.

Early purchasers of Delict will acquire, for £165, an “incomplete” (but nevertheless substantial) text – the first tranche – and will have the opportunity to purchase the additional topics in the second and third tranches as they are published. Thereafter, the question of ongoing updating rests with the SULI council.

Though the form of the book has been dictated by necessity, we find here considerable virtue in necessity, the scope and treatment of the book being certainly large enough to justify the mode adopted. The finished publication will have 22 chapters grouped around three main headings: General; Protected Interests; and Specific Forms of Liability.

The first release consists of 11 chapters, with all nine of the panel of authors bringing at least one item to the feast. The editor indicates that care has been taken that the individual chapters are as self contained as possible, though the book does not come across as a patchwork assemblage. The organisation and flow of the text is logical and the content comprehensive. For example, the “to be included in a future release” chapter on employers’ liability excludes vicarious liability. This is however extensively covered in chapter 4 in some 49 pages. The question “who is an employee?” is considered in some detail, and the various “tests” (control, mutuality of obligation, integration etc) examined and appropriately dissected.

I turned to the section on vicarious liability to see how the book treated the well-known case of Williams v Hemphill Ltd (the lorry accident and Boys Brigade camp case), and there noted what might be a teething issue. The case has its rightful place in the text, but is not listed in the Table of Cases. Spot checking uncovered other gaps in the table. Furthermore, the Contents indicate that chapter 5, “Delictual Liability at Common Law”, is for a future release. That chapter is however present, and properly indexed. It seems likely that the rush to meet the RAE deadline was a factor in this respect, though the chapter, the Contents pages and the Table of Cases all bear the date February 2007.

The Table of Statutes shows that the volume goes up to the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 and the Compensation Act 2006. It however misses the Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Act 2007, which received Royal Assent on 26 April 2007, five months ahead of the book’s publication date, and which was commented on by Lady Paton in Dow v West of Scotland Shipbuilding as early as 5 April 2007.

However, this is nitpicking. Delict is a work in progress. Having roadtested it, I can easily commend it as a book which a wide readership will be able to make good and frequent use of, and which should quickly become an indispensable office library resource. It is accordingly to be hoped that the SULI council will decide in favour of ongoing general updating. If so, Delict will surely become, in its field, as necessary and authoritative a text as, for example, Renton & Brown is to criminal law practitioners.

Douglas Bain, Research student, University of Aberdeen School of Law,