A. V. Dicey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A. V. Dicey

Albert Venn Dicey in academic robes.jpg
Albert Venn Dicey

4 February 1835 (1835-02-04)
Died7 April 1922 (1922-04-08) (aged 87)
Occupation(s)Jurist, professor
Known forAuthority on the Constitution of the United Kingdom

Albert Venn Dicey, KC, FBA (4 February 1835 – 7 April 1922), usually cited as A. V. Dicey, was a British Whig jurist and constitutional theorist.[1] He is most widely known as the author of Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1885).[2] The principles it expounds are considered part of the uncodified British constitution.[3] He became Vinerian Professor of English Law at Oxford, one of the first Professors of Law at the London School of Economics, and a leading constitutional scholar of his day. Dicey popularised the phrase "rule of law",[4] although its use goes back to the 17th century.


Dicey was born on 4 February 1835. His father was Thomas Edward Dicey, senior wrangler in 1811 and proprietor of the Northampton Mercury and Chairman of the Midland Railway. His mother was Annie Marie Stephen, daughter of James Stephen, Master in Chancery. He owed everything - the expression is his own - to the wisdom and firmness of his mother.[5] His elder brother was Edward James Stephen Dicey.[6] He was also a cousin of Leslie Stephen and Sir James Fitzjames Stephen.

Dicey was educated at King's College School in London and Balliol College, Oxford, graduating with Firsts in classical moderations in 1856 and in literae humaniores in 1858. In 1860 he won a fellowship at Trinity College, Oxford, which he forfeited upon his marriage in 1872.

He was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1863, subscribed to the Jamaica Committee around 1865, and was appointed to the Vinerian Chair of English Law at Oxford in 1882, a post he held until 1909.[3] In his first major work, the seminal Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, he outlined the principles of parliamentary sovereignty for which he is most known. He argued that the British Parliament was "an absolutely sovereign legislature" with the "right to make or unmake any law". In the book, he defined the term constitutional law as including "all rules which directly or indirectly affect the distribution or the exercise of the sovereign power in the state".[7] He understood that the freedom British subjects enjoyed was dependent on the sovereignty of Parliament, the impartiality of the courts free from governmental interference and the supremacy of the common law. In 1890, he was appointed Queen's Counsel.[8]

He later left Oxford and went on to become one of the first Professors of Law at the then-new London School of Economics. There he published in 1896 his Conflict of Laws.[9] Upon his death on 7 April 1922, Harold Laski memorialised him as "the most considerable figure in English jurisprudence since Maitland."[10]

Political views[edit]

An undated photograph of Dicey from the Harvard Law School Library's Legal Portrait Collection

Dicey was receptive to Jeremy Bentham's brand of individualist liberalism and welcomed the extension of the franchise in 1867.[11][12] He was affiliated with the group known as the "University Liberals," who composed the Essays on Reform and was not ashamed to be labeled a Radical.[13] Dicey held that "personal liberty is the basis of national welfare." He treated Parliamentary sovereignty as the central premise of the British constitution.[14]

Dicey became a Liberal Unionist and a vigorous opponent of Home Rule for Ireland and published and spoke against it extensively from 1886 until shortly before his death, advocating that no concessions be made to Irish nationalism in relation to the government of any part of Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom.[15] In March 1914 Dicey stated that if a Home Rule Bill was passed it "would be a political crime lacking all moral and constitutional authority...the voice of the present House of Commons was not the voice of the nation."[16] He was thus bitterly disillusioned by the Anglo-Irish Treaty agreement in 1921 that Southern Ireland should become a self-governing dominion (the Irish Free State), separate from the United Kingdom.

Dicey was also vehemently opposed to women's suffrage, proportional representation (while acknowledging that the existing first-past-the-post system wasn't perfect), and to the notion that citizens have the right to ignore unjust laws. Dicey viewed the necessity of establishing a stable legal system as more important than the potential injustice that would occur from following unjust laws. In spite of this, he did concede that there were circumstances in which it would be appropriate to resort to an armed rebellion but stated that such occasions are extremely rare.[17]


  • Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (8th Edition with new Introduction) (1915)
  • A Leap in the Dark, or Our New Constitution (an examination of the leading principles of the Home Rule Bill of 1893) (1893)
  • A Treatise on the Rules for the Selection of the Parties to an Action (1870)
  • England's Case against Home Rule (1887)
  • The Privy Council: The Arnold Prize Essay (1887)
  • Letters on unionist delusions (1887)
  • A digest of the law of England with reference to the conflict of laws (1st ed. 1896, 2nd ed. 1908);
  • Letters to a friend on votes for women  (1 ed.). London: John Murray. 1909.
  • A Fool's Paradise: Being a Constitutionalist's Criticism of the Home Rule Bill of 1912 (1913)
  • Lectures on the relation between law and public opinion in England during the nineteenth century (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan. 1914. Retrieved 8 March 2023 – via Internet Archive.
  • The Statesmanship of Wordsworth: An Essay. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1917. Retrieved 7 April 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  • Dicey, Albert V.; Rait, Robert S. (1920). Thoughts on the Union between England and Scotland. London: Macmillan – via Internet Archive.
  • "England in 1848". The Quarterly Review. 234: 221–242. October 1920.
  • J. W. F. Allison, ed. (2013). The Oxford Edition of Dicey. Oxford: Oxford U.P. ISBN 978-0199685820. Vol. 1 includes the first edition of Introduction, with the main addenda in later editions; vol. 2, The Comparative Study of Constitutions, provides largely unpublished lectures on comparative constitutional law, intended for a further book; both volumes have extensive editorial commentary.



  1. ^ Walters, Mark D. (2012). "Dicey on Writing the "Law of the Constitution"". Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. 32 (1): 21–49. doi:10.1093/ojls/gqr031.
  2. ^ Dicey, A. V. (1885). Lectures Introductory to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1 ed.). London: Macmillan. Retrieved 5 April 2018 – via Internet Archive.; Dicey, A. V. (1915). Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (8 ed.). London: Macmillan. Retrieved 5 April 2018 – via Internet Archive. The 8th edition, 1915, is the last by Dicey himself. The final revised edition was the 10th, 1959, edited by E. C. S. Wade: Dicey, A. V. (1959). Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (10 ed.). London: Macmillan.
  3. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Dicey, Edward s.v. Albert Venn Dicey" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 178.
  4. ^ Bingham, Thomas. The Rule of Law, p. 3 (Penguin 2010). See Dicey's An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, p. 173.
  5. ^ "A Great Jurist: Professor's Dicey Career. Constitutional Law". The Times: 14. 8 April 1922.
  6. ^ Neale, Charles Montague (1907). The senior wranglers of the University of Cambridge, from 1748 to 1907. With biographical, & c., notes. Bury St. Edmunds: Groom and Son. p. 28. Retrieved 4 March 2011.
  7. ^ Williams, George (2010). Australian Constitutional Law and Theory. The Federation Press. p. 2.
  8. ^ "No. 26018". The London Gazette. 28 January 1890. p. 475.
  9. ^ Dicey, A.V. (1896). A Digest of the Law of England with Reference to the Conflict of Laws; with Notes on American Cases by John Bassett Moore. London: Stevens and Sons Limited. Retrieved 6 April 2018 – via Internet Archive.; Dicey, A.V. (1908). A Digest of the Law of England with Reference to the Conflict of Laws (2nd ed.). London: Stevens and Sons Limited. Retrieved 6 April 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ Sugarman, David (1983). "Review: The Legal Boundaries of Liberty: Dicey, Liberalism and Legal Science". The Modern Law Review. 46 (1): 102–111.
  11. ^ Follett, R. (2000). Evangelicalism, Penal Theory and the Politics of Criminal Law: Reform in England, 1808–30. Springer. p. 7.
  12. ^ Saunders, Robert (2016). Democracy and the Vote in British Politics, 1848–1867: The Making of the Second Reform Act. Routledge. p. 161.
  13. ^ Stapleton, Julia (2001). Political Intellectuals and Public Identities in Britain Since 1850. Manchester University Press. p. 27.
  14. ^ Weill, Rivka (2003). "Dicey Was Not Diceyan". The Cambridge Law Journal. 62 (2): 474–493. doi:10.1017/S000819730300638X.
  15. ^ "Speech of Professor Dicey, at the Liberal Unionists' meeting, in the Music Hall, Birkenhead, December 10, 1887. on JSTOR".
  16. ^ Phoenix, Eamon & Parkinson, Alan (2010), Conflicts in the North of Ireland, 1900-2000, Four Courts Press, Dublin, Pg 33. ISBN 978 1 84682 189 9
  17. ^ "A. V. Dicey: Law of the Constitution". 1889. Retrieved 12 April 2011.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Vinerian Professor of English Law
Succeeded by