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Keith Forum on Commonwealth Constitutionalism

The central objective of the Keith Forum on Commonwealth Constitutionalism is to harness the reservoir of comparative ideas from the Commonwealth for current UK constitutional debates; and conversely, to benefit Commonwealth states facing similar challenges, from a closer engagement with constitutional developments in the UK. 

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Conjoining multidisciplinary approaches from History, Politics, and Law, and confronting challenging diversities within a historical unity provided by Commonwealth traditions, this project encompasses public events, scholarly outputs, and in particular, the establishment of a research network. It revitalises Commonwealth scholarly approaches to constitutional and political comparativism that once flourished globally, by deploying contemporary techniques, collaboration, and knowledge exchange to address enduring concerns of democratic development.

The project’s outputs are aimed at producing a coherent body of comparative constitutional knowledge that can be called ‘Commonwealth Constitutionalism.’ Edinburgh was once the centre of this scholarship through the work of Arthur Berriedale Keith. This project places Scotland at the heart of this global intellectual re-engagement.

The project builds on existing constitutional and policy debates within the Commonwealth that are often the product of the unique but shared characteristics of Commonwealth constitutions, and aims to open fresh avenues of comparative and interdisciplinary constitutional scholarship. However, no scholarly research school exists to provide a holistic approach to this fertile comparative complexity, let alone one alive to the benefits of doing so in a partnership between law, politics and history. By exploiting the inherent strengths of Edinburgh University’s and Scotland’s longstanding connections to the Commonwealth, the project addresses this gap by providing an institutional home for the necessary academic and policy network, opportunities for regular interaction within the network, knowledge exchange between the academic network and the wider world, and developing new teaching programmes.

The project is founded on two firm convictions, both of which are critical to scholarship in an age of unravelling certainties. First, the value of interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-fertilisation between scholars of history, law, and politics in relation to major theoretical, doctrinal, and institutional debates that are shared between these disciplines, at the heart of which is the protean nature of forms of constitutional organisation. Second, the value of comparativism in understanding constitutional orders and political institutions across jurisdictions, cultures, and histories. It might be added, thirdly, that in bringing the hitherto neglected Commonwealth – understood as an historically shared intellectual and cultural sphere – to the fore, the project aims to complement other perspectives serving current constitutional debates, in particular American and European influences.

The empirical field of Commonwealth Constitutionalism is defined by ideal conditions of unity and diversity for interdisciplinary comparative scholarship. Commonwealth member-states share traditions of parliamentary government and common law, and increasing normative convergence around principles of democracy and human rights. Conversely, the Commonwealth is a community of countries representing every continent and over 2.5 billion people full of social, political, economic, and cultural diversities. This combination of unity and diversity promises much for comparative enquiries into central questions of contemporary constitutionalism, including heuristic models of constitutionalism and institutional design; legitimacy, rights, and the relationship between law and politics; the negotiation of territorial, societal, and value pluralism; the relationship between tradition and modernity, and the meaning and relevance of both; and modes and methods of constitutional change.

The project is convened by Dr Asanga Welikala (Edinburgh Law School, University of Edinburgh) and Dr Harshan Kumarasingham (School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh).

The signature event of the project is the annual Arthur Berriedale Keith Lecture and the Keith Forum on Commonwealth Constitutionalism.

The Lecture, evoking the life and work of Arthur Berriedale Keith (1879-1944), Regius Professor of Sanskrit and Comparative Philology and Lecturer on the Constitution of the British Empire at the University of Edinburgh, will be a public event. The lecturer will be an eminent person with public recognition for distinguished services to academia, law, politics, public administration, entrepreneurship, literature, or culture.

The Forum will have a particular theme each year and will bring together relevant members of the network to present papers, and selected papers will be annually published.

Previous events

Inaugural Arthur Berriedale Keith Lecture and Keith Forum 2018