Professor Antony Allott, who has died aged 77 June 3 2002 , was the founder
of African law as an academic discipline and spent his long career at the School of
African and Oriental Studies in the University of London, where he held the chair of African
Law. His contribution to its scholarship was immense. He also introduced the law degree
at SOAS, where he was head of the law department, and was the founder, in 1957, of the
Journal of African Law, which he edited for many years.
Born in Jump, near Barnsley, and educated at Downside school, Allott developed
an interest in Africa from his wartime service with the King's African Rifles. A
posting to Kenya in 1944 gave him the opportunity to learn African languages and
began his lifetime association with the continent. In 1946 he returned to New
College, Oxford, where he finished his degree, taking a first in jurisprudence
in 1948. In the same year he took up the new post at SOAS; he then became the
first holder of the readership (1960) and of the chair in African law (1964),
from which he retired in 1986.
His first book, Essays In African Law (1960), was a pioneering attempt to assess
the impact of the reception of European laws on local legal systems; New Essays
In African Law was published in 1970. However, the book of which he was perhaps
most proud is The Limits Of Law, which he wrote after stepping aside from his
role as departmental head. In this highly original contribution to comparative
jurisprudence, he discusses not what law can do (on which, in the African
context, he had spent a lifetime of investigation) but what law cannot do.
His academic life did not encompass all. His legal career had a practical
application through service in the lay magistracy. First appointed in 1969, he
served for many years, and was chairman of the Middlesex bench from 1982 to
1986. His concern for the administration of justice in the wider context was
reflected in his work for the Commonwealth Magistrates' and Judges' Association
(as it now is), particularly in the sphere of training. In recognition of his
long years of distinguished service to the association, he was made honorary
life vice-president in 1997.
He was also a governor of St Bartholomew's Medical School and contributed to his
local community, both in Finchley, north London, and then in and around Banbury,
Oxfordshire, where he retired. His services to the church as a devoted Catholic
were acknowledged by his appointment as a papal knight.
From the A-NET: 1996-2001
Google Scholar Entries