John Kleefeld, ‘The Donoghue Diaries’

Donoghue v Stevenson is justly the most well-known legal case, at least in Commonwealth legal systems, and its fame rests largely on the judicial opinion of Lord Atkin in the case and his enunciation of the neighbour principle, which heralded the modern law of negligence. Among Donoghue devotees, it is well known that May Donoghue’s counsel cited only seven cases in written argument — in contrast to the roughly two dozen cited by Lord Atkin. So even without Atkin’s cryptic modesty (“I speak with little authority on this point, but my own research, such as it is …”), we can infer that he must have pursued his own research agenda. What has so far been an inference is now a certitude, with the startling discovery of a bundle of papers relating to the case. Written in a spidery and sometimes illegible hand and merely initialled “JRA” (that is, James Richard Atkin), they reveal Atkin’s research process, his innermost thoughts about the state of the law, his efforts to lobby his judicial colleagues, and his excitement as the judgment took shape. The Donoghue Diaries — transcribed by the author before being lost in a fire — are therefore a must read for legal historians, lawyers, jurisprudes and all aficionados of the legal imagination. Footnotes have been added for clarification or reference, and citations and other conventions have been updated where warranted.

Kleefeld, John C, The Donoghue Diaries (2013). Juridical Review, 3: 375-450 (2013).

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