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Dr Rory Gregson: understanding the law of subrogation

Dr Rory Gregson describes his research interests in Law in a Junior Research Fellow Q&A.   

Dr Rory Gregson

What are your research interests?

My recent work is in private law. Private law governs the relationship between citizens. It is therefore contrasted with public law, which governs the relationship between citizens and the state. I have broad interests within private law: the law of obligations, the law of property, and commercial law. I also maintain an interest in administrative law, an aspect of public law which governs the legality of government actions.

So there’s little that I’m not interested in! The common theme is that my work tends to be doctrinal: I engage with judges’ reasoning in individual cases to work out what justifies an area of law, and then evaluate how the law should develop in light of its justification.

Your thesis was on the law of subrogation to extinguished rights. What does that mean? 

Subrogation is a legal rule which allows one person to pretend to be another and rely on the latter’s rights against a third party.  That’s as strange as it sounds and subrogation often generates controversy in the courts. Here’s a diagram to show how subrogation works.

Diagram: Rory Gregson

My thesis asks whether there’s any good reason for the law to do this crazy thing. I think there is. In fact, I think there are two different justifications for subrogation, each of which is sufficient on its own.

This has implications for how courts should decide subrogation cases. There are two different justifications for subrogation and so two different tests for when subrogation should occur. This explains why different subrogation cases apply apparently contradictory rules. However, some cases in which courts awarded subrogation cannot be explained by either justification and so these cases are wrongly decided.

There’s also implications for other areas of law. For instance, the question of whether subrogation is a remedy for unjust enrichment has divided the UK Supreme Court in four decisions in the last six years. My thesis argues that subrogation is not a remedy for unjust enrichment. It shows that subrogation is governed by different rules compared to other remedies for unjust enrichment.  Furthermore, once the justifications for subrogation are properly understood, ideas of unjust enrichment are a distraction.

You’re also the custodian of the OSCOLA LaTeX template – what’s that?

LaTeX is an alternative to MS Word.  It’s popular amongst scientists and I’ve found it has at least three advantages over MS Word.  First, it automates many tasks which are time-consuming in Word. LaTeX automatically formats your references, updates your cross-references, and generates a bibliography and tables of cases and statutes. Second, in LaTeX your content is separated from how it’s presented, so you can focus on substance and form separately. Finally, LaTeX is smoother when handling a large document like a doctoral thesis.

The OSCOLA LaTeX template is for lawyers looking to get started with LaTeX. It uses Paul Stanley QC’s excellent BL-OSCOLA package to format the references using the Oxford Standard for the Citation Of Legal Authorities. As custodian of the template, I update the code and answer queries from a growing number of users from around the world. I’m always happy to help lawyers who want to use LaTeX.

What are you up to this summer?

Amongst other things, I am the Coordinator for the University of Oxford Law Faculty’s contribution to the Opportunity Oxford access programme. To my mind, the purpose of Oxbridge is educate the best and brightest, whatever their background. I’ve been lucky to work with fantastic colleagues from around the world, who constantly challenge and improve my thinking. However, the data shows that many groups remain under-represented in Oxbridge. We are all biased (consciously and unconsciously, individually and institutionally) and we need to do more to encourage diversity and equal access to higher education.

Opportunity Oxford is the University of Oxford’s new flagship access programme. It’s a summer programme for students who are about to start their law degree, and who are from backgrounds which are under-represented in Oxford. I’ve been the Law Faculty’s Opportunity Oxford Coordinator for the first two years of the programme. Setting up a brand-new access programme in the middle of a pandemic was a challenge, but the students made it all worthwhile. They were a pleasure to teach: enthusiastic, sharp, and hard-working. I’ve really enjoyed organising the programme and I’ve learned a lot about University administration in the process.

You can learn more about Opportunity Oxford.

What are you looking forward to most about your Fellowship at Trinity?

Time is a scarce and valuable resource. Having four years to think deeply about the law, develop my ideas, and write is a fantastic opportunity which I couldn’t pass up. The freedom to spend this time researching whatever I want is such a privilege.

I completed my undergraduate degree in Cambridge so I know that my new colleagues are outstanding and I’ll learn a lot from them.  They’ve also been extremely welcoming, and that convinced me that the position would be a perfect fit. In particular, I want to give a special thanks to Dr Ben Spagnolo, one of the Law Fellows at Trinity, for helping me settle in.

Finally, I’m looking forward to continuing teaching, having taught across the full range of private law papers in Oxford. I always learn something from teaching – I’ll teach the same topic to ten different groups and have ten different conversations!

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