Brian Bercusson, 1947-2008

October 9, 2008

Brian Bercusson, one of the world's leading authorities on European labour law, has died.

Although he was born in Montreal in 1947 and initially educated in Canada and Israel, Professor Bercusson built his entire academic career in Europe.

He came to England to study for an undergraduate degree in law at the London School of Economics in 1967, which was then at the heart of student political activism. He went on to the University of Cambridge to do his PhD and became a research fellow at Christ's College in 1974.

While still at Cambridge, Professor Bercusson wrote his thesis, which was published by Mansell as Fair Wages Resolutions in 1978. The book provided an in-depth look at the effect of wage-regulation systems, specifically on the most poorly paid. Some of its themes were to remain central to his concerns throughout his working life.

He moved up the academic ladder by taking appointments at Brunel University and Queen Mary, University of London, before gaining a professorship at the European University Institute in Florence in 1986. A man of wide-ranging cultural sympathies, he also worked as a visiting professor in both Stockholm and Paris.

Alongside his academic activities, he devoted much time and energy to the education of trade unionists, first with the public-sector union Nalgo and subsequently across much of Europe. His talents included a rare gift for making legal intricacies clear and accessible to non-specialists.

Although a frequent critic of British opt-outs and the arm's-length approach to legal developments within Europe, Professor Bercusson returned to the UK in 1994 to become professor of European law at the University of Manchester. He later became professor of European social and labour law at King's College London in 2000.

He combined his scholarly work with a consulting role at Thompsons, the trade union solicitors, and was a leading player in a network of European labour lawyers he had helped to create. With the support of the European Trade Union Institute, they produced A Manifesto for Social Europe in 1996 and fought to combat decisions by the European Court of Justice that restricted union rights.

Aileen McColgan, professor of human rights law at King's, described him as "the leading scholar in European labour law within the UK, almost the academic father of European labour law, who knew more about its history and development than anyone else. He had a tremendous grasp of minutiae as well as the bigger picture." He was, she recalls, "a wonderful scholar and a lovely avuncular man who looked just like a professor is supposed to".

Professor Bercusson died suddenly in the family home in Tuscany on 17 August and is survived by his wife, Catherine, and their daughters Sarah and Amelia.

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