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Reviewed in the United States on February 17, 2020
‘A LAW UNTO ITSELF’: A SINGLE SOURCE OF GUIDANCE ON FIDUCIARY PRINCIPLES
An appreciation by Elizabeth Robson Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers and Phillip Taylor MBE, Head of Chambers, Reviews Editor, “The Barrister”, and Mediator
Over an extremely wide spectrum of law — almost endless in fact — you will encounter matters to which principles of fiduciary law must inevitably apply. The very word ‘fiduciary’ refers of course to — if you’ll pardon the expression — money! It’s obvious then, that fiduciary principles operate across both public and private law, from the highest levels of government and corporate activity, to everyday business matters and personal relationships in which financial issues loom large.
As pointed out by the erudite editors of this stunning new Handbook from the Oxford University Press, ‘fiduciary principles have become the subject of front-page news, high stakes litigation and vigorous political debate.’ Indeed, such principles ‘govern the workaday relationships that shape our daily lives.’
But should fiduciary law, which spans all legal disciplines, be regarded as a discipline in itself? The answer, as many might agree, should be a resounding ‘yes’, hence the timely publication of ‘The Oxford Handbook of Fiduciary Law.’
The idea for such a handbook apparently sprang from a conference at Harvard Law School in November 2017 at which the Handbook’s fifty-three contributors foregathered to discuss the theme of ‘Fiduciary Law: Charting the Field.’ Tribute here has been duly paid by Professor Tamara Frankel who introduced the notion that ‘fiduciary law should be understood as a cohesive field of study.’
The Handbook ‘arrives at an opportune moment,’ say the editors, 'for the study and practice of fiduciary law’ having as its purpose, the provision of ‘a single source to which readers can turn for guidance on fiduciary principles across a host of substantive fields, jurisdictions and epochs.’
It’s further stressed that in its ‘breadth and depth of coverage’ produced by ‘a community of scholars,’ the Handbook ‘stands alone as ‘a uniquely authoritative guide to the current state of the law and scholarship in (this) field.’ Charting fiduciary law as a field, however, does require an understanding of why the law designates certain relationships as ’fiduciary’, whether fact-based (i.e. standards) or status-based (i.e. rules).
The Handbook’s forty-eight articles cover an amazingly broad range of topics. Coverage, for example, includes such areas as principles and duties, including duty of loyalty and duty of care. Part III of the Handbook examines fiduciary law across history and across legal systems, including English Common Law, Canon law, Roman Law, Classical Islamic Law, Classical Jewish Law, Chinese, Indian and Japanese law and a lot more. There’s much to contemplate here.
Of particular interest to practitioners (on either side of the Atlantic) is the Handbook’s Part IV in which the focus shifts to the future of fiduciary law and theory, including the economics of fiduciary law, its philosophy, its social and moral norms and ultimately, ‘new frontiers in both private and public fiduciary law.’ Clearly, the transatlantic orientation of this Handbook effectively broadens its scope and there can scarcely be a lawyer or legal scholar anywhere who wouldn’t benefit by acquiring it.
The date of publication of this hardback edition is cited as at 27th May 2019.