In November 2013 an extraordinary book slipped onto the shelves just in time for Christmas. This atypical offering is a beautifully illustrated song book. The brainchild of Professor Stephen Todd, (Professor of Law University of Canterbury and Professor of Common Law, University of Nottingham, UK), the book features, as its title says, leading cases set to music.
The story behind the songs
The initial idea to sing the torts was sparked by the call to produce an item for the Canterbury Law Revue some twenty years ago. That first song was a hit. Over time more were written and then entire operas, albeit short ones. Now legions of Todd’s students on both sides of the world have been sung to, an experience they rate as A+: “awesome” and “amazing”.
Professor Todd says he applied certain criteria in choosing suitable cases for treatment. They needed to be interesting, amusing, bizarre or important as well as appropriately fitting the light verse make-over they were going to receive. That ruled out anything too nasty, tragic or the ultimate crime; too boring.
A long-time aficionado of the famous Victorian duo Gilbert and Sullivan (G &S) comic operas, he recognised they provided a perfect template to carry his message. In doing so he joins a long line of people lampooning the original works which is fitting in itself as they began as parodies of grand opera: a flummery of political satire and deadpan absurdity. Through him the legacy lives on.
Cases & topics
In all 42 cases spanning the years 1893 (Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co  1 QB 256) to 2011 (British Chiropractic Association v Singh 1 WLR 133) get the Todd channeling G & S patter treatment.
The topic range is extensive including negligence, privacy, trespassing, harassment, branding, food quality, defamation, and the question of whether God is a person. Well known companies and personages make appearances: McDonalds, Pepsico, News of the World, the Mirror, Naomi Campbell, Max Mosley, Lord Atkin, and of course numerous singing Judges.
Music & illustrations
In true ‘not only but also’ fashion the book includes music (adapted from Sullivan’s score by John Pattinson) to accompany the songs and a whimsical series of quirky illustrations reminiscent of the work of Quentin Blake for Roald Dahl by Murray Nicol.
At present there is not a professional quality recording of any of the works. Negotiations are tentatively underway to fill this need but it is far too early to announce who is going to do the honours and when the recordings will be ready. We will certainly keep you posted!
In the meantime showing real Kiwi spirit Professor Todd recommends a DIY approach. As he says in the preface: “The songs work better when they are actually sung and including the score makes singing them possible or at least a good deal easier.” He even gives a karaoke option for those who cannot play their own accompaniment.
Listen to excerpts of songs
We are delighted to showcase a collection of songs sung by Counsel in Concert from the Wellington launch of Leading Cases in Song.
Leading Cases in Song in the news
NZ Law Society reviews Leading Cases in Song: “Professor Todd, author or co-author of some of New Zealand’s leading legal texts, has produced a thoroughly entertaining collection of songs based on well-known cases and set to tunes from Gilbert and Sullivan operas.”
Listen to Radio NZ Jim Mora’s interview of Stephen Todd for his “Afternoons ” show.
“Professor puts cases to music” – the news website Stuff features an article on Leading Cases that originally appeared in the Christchurch newspaper The Press.
For more about Leading Cases in Song
For more about the author
Stephen Todd specialises in torts and song. He divides his teaching time between UK and New Zealand: holding a fractional position as Professor of Common Law at the University of Nottingham UK as well as another as Professor of Law at the University of Canterbury.
Stephen is the general editor and principal author of Law of Torts in NZ now in its 6th edition.
In 2006 he became the fourth recipient of the John Fleming Memorial Prize for Torts Scholarship. This prestigious international prize is awarded every two years on the recommendation of a Committee drawn from around the world.
Singing the law
A quick web foray netted more who share the joy of singing the law.
- In New York, Derrick Wang, who has just graduated from the University of Maryland’s Carey School of Law is composing an opera based on the sparring of Justices Scalia and Ginsburg.
- In Nashville, Tennessee, a conference of lawyers inspired a little bit of country on tort reform.
- Mark DeAngelis, Asst. Prof. in Residence, Business of LAW University of Connecticut, USA uses songs to teach.
- And some students use song to learn. Here’s a torts song from an unidentified American student