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Tuesday, 21 June 2016
Death of John Collier 1933-2016
John Collier in 2001
Photograph by Malcolm Clarke.


John Collier, MA, LLB, a leading figure in the Faculty of Law for many years, died on 18th June. Invariably 'JC' to his students and colleagues, he was a University Lecturer in Law and a Fellow of Trinity Hall, lecturing and supervising principally in the Conflict of Laws until his retirement in 2001.

Building on foundations laid by Kurt Lipstein, John Collier made the Conflict of Laws a pre-eminent Tripos subject, ever popular with those many undergraduates who valued his scholarship, formidable but lightly worn, and the humour and robust good sense be brought to his teaching. The author of numerous articles, and noted for his trenchant case notes in the Cambridge Law Journal, his Conflict of Laws is now in its Fourth edition. Still a Cambridge book, written by Pippa Rogerson, this remains the leading student textbook in the field, renowned for its acuity and for its luminously clear exposition of a notoriously complex subject. He also published The Settlement of International Disputes (with Vaughan Lowe) in 2000, an innovative attempt to treat in one volume hitherto separate aspects of international dispute resolution. He was case note editor for the Cambridge Law Journal for many years, using his formidable skills as an editor to improve and clarify submissions, making the CLJ’s notes invaluable for understanding difficult cases. He was generous to younger colleagues and gentle with his advice on improving their writing.

John Collier’s knowledge of disparate areas of law was vast and deep. He supervised many subjects including Constitutional Law, Commercial Law, the Law of Contract, and even (when a supervisor fell ill) Roman Law. A gifted and inspiring teacher, he was most at home in the intimacy of the supervision, guiding and coaxing students (often with faux exasperation), willing them on to give of their best. Generations of Cambridge lawyers, many of whom achieved distinction in the Law, recall with gratitude how he made the difficult seem easy, and gave them the confidence to trust themselves.

He was a longtime Bencher of Gray’s Inn and door tenant at 20 Essex Street. Although he never formally practiced, he was often called upon by past students for advice on complex areas of public and private international law. He developed an expertise in the Hague Child Abduction Convention at a time before such disputes in family law were common.

Never the cloistered academic, it is difficult to know whether football or opera was John Collier’s first love. Enormously knowledgeable about both, he vowed on his retirement to spend his pension on tickets to Covent Garden – a more comfortable proposition than watching his beloved Aston Villa from the stands. Despite increasing ill-health he remained passionate about sport and music. His family, especially his numerous grandchildren, was a delight to him and source of great joy in his later years.

John Collier was one of a remarkable generation who shaped and defined the Cambridge Law Faculty for many years and embodied its values. A legal polymath with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Conflict of Laws, he served Trinity Hall, the Faculty and (above all) his students with selfless devotion throughout his long career at Cambridge.