Patrick McAuslan obituary | Law | The Guardian

Patrick McAuslan obituary | Law | The Guardian

The legal scholar Patrick McAuslan, who has died aged 76,
promoted land reform throughout English-speaking Africa. By
strengthening the protection of traditional land tenure, these reforms
overthrew the old colonial structures that had been retained at
independence. They empowered millions of ordinary citizens by giving
them the right to participate in land-use decisions, enhancing the
security of their land rights, and legislating to ensure women's rights
both to acquire land and participate in communal decision-making.

1996 Patrick was commissioned to convert Tanzania's ambitious, but also
ambiguous and contradictory, national land policy into legislation.
This massive exercise, resulting in two Acts of more than 800 pages, was
completed with great efficiency, becoming a model that was later
adopted in Uganda and South Sudan.

The reforms placed the
management of rural lands in the hands of 11,000 village councils that
form the backbone of Tanzanian society and granted women equal rights in
those councils. It significantly reduced corruption in land
transactions and considerably enhanced the protection given to forestry
and game reserves. However, Patrick was well aware that the
technicalities of drafting of these reforms could never be entirely
separated from the contentious politics of land rights in the
post-colonial world.

He had first arrived in Tanzania in 1961 as a
newly graduated lecturer helping to establish a law school at the
University of Dar es Salaam. This early experiment in developing an
indigenous, socially relevant programme of legal education for the newly
independent country opened his eyes to the limitations of his own legal
education at Oxford. He was to carry this experience with him on his
return to the UK, playing a leading role in founding new law schools at
Warwick University and Birkbeck,
the University of London's provider of evening courses, shaping the
distinctive character of each through his commitment to the promotion of
social justice through law.

After a brief period as a lecturer at the LSE (1966-68), he was enticed to Warwick by the prospect of helping to create a law school dedicated to breaking with tradition
and teaching law in its social and economic context. Promoted to
professor in 1974, he stayed there until 1986, by which time he had
transformed teaching and scholarship in the fields of land, property and
planning law. Students were encouraged to view land law through the
lens of deprivation and disadvantage. Warwick's challenging and radical
curriculum helped shape a new type of law graduate, one that might want
to work in law centres rather than in big City firms.

editorship of a new series of legal monographs (Modern Legal Studies)
and a new journal, Urban Law & Policy, providing the showcase for
this new approach. In 1980, Paddy Mac, as his students called him behind
his back (a name that could not have suited him less), published his
landmark monograph, The Ideologies of Planning Law.

maintained that, far from being a neutral medium for policy
implementation, the law might be used to promote various competing
objectives. Through wide-ranging studies on slum clearance, city-centre
redevelopment, major infrastructure projects and countryside protection,
Patrick showed how the philosophy of private property protection tended
to prevail over the advancement of public interest and how the aim of
promoting public participation was invariably marginalised.

1986, Patrick took up the chair of public law chair at LSE, but he never
really settled. He was uncomfortable with the prevailing political
culture in Britain, and when the opportunity came to take a senior role
in the UN-Habitat Urban Management Programme in Nairobi (1990-93) he
jumped at it.

He had always advocated the need for post-colonial
land reform and from the late 1980s this became his primary purpose. For
this reason he left LSE but retained an academic link first with
University College London, and then in 1993 at the newly established law
school at Birkbeck, where he played the role of eminence grise to
younger, more assertively radical post-modern scholars.

As an
adviser on land reform, Patrick came into his own. Much of his work was
in Africa, but it also included projects in Asia, the Middle East, the
Pacific and eastern Europe. He worked in more than 35 countries in the
developing world. His services were so valued because he could move
effortlessly between policy advice and technical drafting, and because
of his sensitivity to local conditions.

In 2001, he was made an
MBE for services to African land use and environment. But the real
reward lay in the admiration and respect he won from countless officials
and politicians with whom he worked and the realisation that he had
helped to bring about reforms that improved the lives of so many.

in Bournemouth, Patrick suffered the death of his mother at the age of
seven; his father was John McAuslan, a City financier. Patrick went to
Shrewsbury school, where he joined such friends and contemporaries as
Christopher Booker, Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton and Paul Foot on a well-trodden path on to Oxford.

they forged careers in satirical and radical journalism, Patrick seemed
to have embarked on a more traditional path. Yet his academic career
was, in its own way, to prove equally radical. Outwardly conventional
and in many respects an intensely private, shy and modest man, he had a
wry sense of humour, which could be cutting in the face of pomposity.

was working in Kuwait until a week before his death. He is survived by
his wife, Dorrette, whom he married in 1968, and their daughter, Fiona.

• John Patrick William Buchanan McAuslan, legal scholar and law reformer, born 19 January 1937; died 11 January 2014