Concern over Oxbridge dominance at UK’s oldest law journal


Scholar criticises lack of anonymised peer review at Law Review Quarterly

November 23, 2021

Jack Grove


A leading UK law journal has been accused of failing to guard against bias by not introducing anonymous review practices, amid concerns that Oxbridge-linked authors are “grossly over-represented” in the publication.

Established in 1885, Law Review Quarterly is the UK’s oldest law journal. It describes itself as being “widely acclaimed as a leading platform for scholarly legal debate in the UK and throughout the common law world”.

But the journal has recently faced questions about its selection of academics connected to the universities of Cambridge and Oxford. In its latest edition, 31 of the 45 contributing authors were current or former Oxbridge academics, students or recent graduates – which one legal scholar, who wished to remain anonymous, said was not atypical.

“Oxbridge represents only about 1 per cent of the overall legal community, but, in issue after issue, its academics are grossly over-represented in the UK’s oldest and most famous law review,” he told Times Higher Education.

“If you compare this to Ethics, a journal the same age [1890] but edited blindly and subjected to double-blind review, the difference is striking,” he said, adding that: “Even though it is a Chicago University Press journal, its academics appear in it statistically no more than academics at any other institution.”

Law Review Quarterly is edited by Peter Mirfield, a retired Oxford law professor, while all of the publication’s six editors during its 136-year history – two served for 50 and 35 years respectively – have been based at Oxford. The only other person listed as an editor or as being on its editorial board is a University of Cambridge academic.

“One wonders whether the use of a single editor on this journal and the lack of diversity in its editorship over the years risks an unhealthy self-replication,” the academic told THE.

While the journal is independent from the University of Oxford – it is published by Sweet & Maxwell, a Thomson Reuters-owned imprint – the journal’s strong links to the university, its lack of editorial diversity and its importance within legal studies was likely to benefit Oxford, he continued.

“It certainly has implications for the research excellence framework because those publishing in a prestige title like this are more likely to be viewed positively by reviewers,” he said.

The journal did not respond to a request for comment, but a Thomson Reuters

spokeswoman explained that the publication had an “editorial advisory committee, with eight distinguished members, that is available to be consulted on the general editorial direction and to advise on any significant changes to the editorial policies of the journal that might properly be considered”.

The spokeswoman confirmed that the journal did not operate a blind peer-review system.