skip to content
Dr Coel Kirkby's picture


Faculty Contact Details

Room: S11

Smuts Visiting Research Fellow in Commonwealth Studies


Comparative constitutional law and its imperial legacies. Legal history of empire and jurisprudence, especially the relationship between civil and customary law.

CV / Biography

I am both a historian of the legal thought and practice of British imperialism, and a comparative constitutional scholar concerned with its legacies in postcolonial Commonwealth states—including the United Kingdom.

My PhD dissertation was completed under Professor Paul McHugh in the Cambridge Faculty of Law. It examined the politics and practice of native rule in Canada and the Cape Colony in the late nineteenth century. I have since expanded this study into a monograph entitled The Birth of the Native and the Reconstitution of the British Empire focused on India, Jamaica and the settler colonies across the Victoria era.

As the Smuts Fellow, I am beginning a new project entitled The Barbarian and the King. It examines how modern jurisprudence both shaped the evolving practice of colonial rule and revised itself by drawing upon the sociological knowledge created by those colonial practices. Through genealogies of dominant Anglo-American legal theories from c. 1800-1970, I examine how key concepts of jurisprudence were shaped and reshaped by fundamental distinctions between primitive law and modern law.

I am also a scholar and practitioner of contemporary comparative constitutional law. I have worked on constitution-making and revision in Fiji and Tuvalu, as well as the Indigenous treaty-process in the Australian state of Victoria.