New Schlegel Chair at the University of Bonn

Birke Häcker is the Schlegel Chair - for Civil Law, Common Law and Comparative L
Birke Häcker is the Schlegel Chair - for Civil Law, Common Law and Comparative Law at the University of Bonn. © Photo: Barbara Frommann/University of Bonn all images in original size .
The University of Bonn has once again appointed an outstanding Schlegel Chair. Lawyer Dr. h.c. Birke Häcker came from the University of Oxford, where she headed the Institute of European and Comparative Law. She will establish new research fields and generate fresh impulses at the University of Bonn. Her main areas of expertise are core private law and comparative law with a special focus on the English common law. However, she is also particularly interested in the interfaces between private law and commercial and business law, tax law, as well as public law. She views herself as a bridge builder between the disciplines and the legal cultures in various different jurisdictions.

Birke Häcker studied and taught law for many years in both Great Britain (Oxford) and in Germany. "I greatly enjoy moving back and forth between these two completely different legal worlds, and as a result my research spans German law as well as English law and the common law more broadly," she explains: "This is where my passion for comparative law originated." She is interested in systems with significantly different historical backgrounds and characteristics, especially the German, English and French legal traditions. Before moving to the University of Bonn, Birke Häcker held the Statutory Chair in Comparative Law at the University of Oxford and was until the end of 2022 the Director of Oxford’s Institute of European and Comparative Law.

Her new Schlegel Chair in Bonn covers several different key areas. From the historical-comparative as well as the doctrinal perspective, Birke Häcker wants to investigate and develop the best possible understanding of questions in German and English private law. She views herself as someone who likes to build bridges between different legal "worlds" and who can mediate between the various traditions, institutions and legal cultures. In addition, from her base at the University of Bonn she wants to continue contributing to the discussion surrounding the developing and fast-evolving field of "Comparative Common Law", the study of which she helped launch and shape. This field is dedicated to comparing the legal systems of many English-speaking countries around the world - systems which are not so much focused on statutory law, but are to a significant extent based on precedents set by past judicial decisions.

Various legal systems, different results

The new Schlegel Professor finds her research into comparative law particularly interesting because it is not at all uncommon for different legal systems to arrive at what are, nominally at least, completely different value judgements and outcomes. One example: The prevailing principle in Germany is that a delictual liability presupposes (almost by its very nature) some form of negligence or personal fault on the part of the individual defendant in question. As a result, to give an example, parents are - contrary to popular opinion - not automatically liable for what their children do, but only if they violate their own duty of parental supervision. This, however, is a special and distinctive feature of German law. "Other legal systems adopt a different approach," says Prof. Häcker. In French law, for instance, parents have for some time now been held strictly liable for the actions of their children, and this does not seem to have created any problems from the insurance perspective. Many other legal systems also adopt a very different approach to German law when it comes to imposing vicarious liability on employers for the tortious conduct of their employees. "This is a vivid reminder that we cannot and should not assume that the legal system we are familiar with is the measure of all things." Time and again, the field of comparative law uncovers sore points of national law, and it can occasionally also guide the way towards possible reform.

Birke Häcker is an alumna of the University of Bonn. "I have fond memories of studying here for my German law degree," she says. "I am very excited by the prospect of leading the Institute of International and Comparative Private Law into the future together with my colleague Susanne Gössl (also recently appointed) and to forge new international links." The atmosphere in the Faculty of Law and Political Science is vibrant, and there is a feeling that the future is bright. "As part of its Excellence Strategy, the University has ensured that the new Schlegel Chairs are well funded. Right from the beginning, the University leadership was extremely supportive of the concept and research programme I presented. All this opens up fantastic academic perspectives and opportunities."

The new Schlegel Professor is in the process of establishing a new visiting fellowship programme at the Institute of International and Comparative Private Law, in order to attract outstanding legal scholars from around the world to the University of Bonn. In addition, teaching also plays a key role for Professor Häcker: "We are training future generations of lawyers to tackle the challenges of tomorrow," she says. In a globalized world, it will be increasingly important for lawyers to be able to communicate and exchange ideas with colleagues working in other systems.

Path to the University of Bonn

Birke Häcker studied law at the Universities of Tübingen, Oxford, and Bonn. In 2001, she was awarded a coveted Examination Fellowship by All Souls College, Oxford, which enabled her to write her doctorate at the University of Oxford and to start teaching there. She has held further academic positions at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (LMU) and at the Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance in Munich. Her practical legal training and second state examination in law were completed in Bavaria. In 2016, she was appointed to the Statutory Chair in Comparative Law at the University of Oxford, where she became Director of the Institute of European and Comparative Law in 2018. She accepted the return offer from the University of Bonn in 2022 and in January 2023 took up the Schlegel Chair in Civil Law, Common Law and Comparative Law as well as the Directorship of the Institute of International and Comparative Private Law. She is an editor of the "Zeitschrift für Europäisches Privatrecht" (ZEuP) and has received numerous awards and distinctions, including an honorary doctorate from the University of Stockholm, being elected an Honorary Bencher of Lincoln’s Inn in London, and being awarded the Therese von Bayern-Prize by LMU Munich.