For generations of law students ’Pettit’ was Equity and the Law of Trusts, first published in 1966. It was the magnum opus of Professor Philip Pettit, who has died at the age of 92. He personally saw the work through 12 editions, the final one being published in 2012 when he was 87.
Philip Henry Pettit was professor of equity at the University of Bristol from 1966 to 1983, when he took early retirement and moved to the then new independent University of Buckingham until retiring in 1990. He was for many years one of the country’s leading lights in legal studies, and served as president of the Society of Public Teachers of Law.
He was born on 28 February 1925 in Wallingford, Berkshire (now Oxfordshire). His father and grandfather owned a department store in the town, which had been founded by his great-grandfather and his brother in 1856. He was educated at Wallingford County Grammar School and in 1942 he went up to Exeter College, Oxford to read Modern History. However after completing his first academic year in Oxford he left for service in the Royal Navy, where his experiences ranged from three months minesweeping to postings to Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and later Aden. He was released from service in 1947, with the rank of Sub Lieutenant, and returned to Exeter College. However he changed to read jurisprudence, which obviously suited him well for he was awarded a first in 1949. While at Oxford he met Patricia Litt (St Anne’s) and they married in 1950.
He was called to the bar by the Middle Temple in the following year. However the Chancery Bar was then going through a lean time and work was slow to come so in 1952 he obtained an assistant lectureship in law at King’s College in the University of London, continuing such practice at the bar as he had. In 1966 he was appointed to a new third chair in the Faculty of Law at Bristol University as professor of Equity. He served two terms as dean of the faculty and was also a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1980-1983. In 1983 he took early retirement from Bristol, as people were then being encouraged to do, and became professor of equity in the new independent University of Buckingham, where he served a term as dean of the law school before retiring on reaching the age of 65 in 1990.
He was elected President of the Society of Public Teachers of Law (subsequently renamed the Society of Legal Scholars) in 1982-3, and acted as an external examiner for many universities.
His first publication was a chapter in A Century of Family Law published in 1957. He made numerous contributions to the leading legal journals, and regularly wrote a chapter for the All England Law Reports Annual Review from its inception in 1982 until it ceased publication in 2013. He contributed to the prestigious Halsbury’s Laws of England. He was the first general editor of the Denning Law Journal and remained on the Editorial Advisory Board right through to the 2017 volume. He contributed a paper at the First International Conference on Equity, held in Jerusalem in 1990. Its proceedings were subsequently published under the title Equity and Contemporary Legal Developments. He published Landlord and Tenant under the Rent Act 1977 in 1977, a second edition being published in 1981 under the title Private Sector Tenancies. His main publication was Equity and the Law of Trusts, which was first published in 1966 and which reached its 12th edition in 2012, long after his retirement from university teaching. He was a lawyer member of rent assessment panels from 1967 to 1995.
Following his retirement from university teaching, Pettit continued to contribute actively to legal studies through numbers of publications, and indeed no fewer than six editions of Equity and the Law of Trusts were published after his retirement. Only in the last three or four years of his life did he really retire, at which point he turned his energies to researching his family history. He also had more time to visit local places of interest with his wife and family and to enjoy music and especially opera, an enthusiasm that he and his wife had developed together from their earliest days.
Professor Pettit is survived by his wife Patricia, two children, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Professor Philip Pettit, legal scholar, was born on February 28 1925. He died on November 28, 2017, aged 92.