Professor Gareth Jones, 1930-2016Faculty of Law

Tributes have been paid to Professor Gareth Hywel Jones, accomplished legal scholar and former Vice-Master of Trinity College, who died on 2nd April at the age of 85.

Elected Downing Professor of the Laws of England in 1974, he held one of Cambridge’s senior chairs until 1998. The current Downing Professor, Sarah Worthington, said of Professor Jones: “Like many great men, Gareth Jones wore his eminence lightly… He leaves a void, but provides an inspirational role model.”  

Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Graham Virgo, who taught a restitution law course alongside Professor Jones until his retirement, paid tribute his colleague, saying: “Gareth Jones had a profound influence on my own academic career. He was constantly supportive and interested.

“Long discussions with him about some complex legal issue helped me to clarify and formulate my own ideas. His legacy in the law generally and the law of restitution particularly is clear.”

Born in South Wales’s Rhondda Valley on 10th November 1930, the grandson of two colliery managers, Jones arrived at Cambridge via grammar school and University College London in 1951, matriculating at St Catharine’s College.

A decade later, Jones would return to Cambridge as a Teaching Fellow at Trinity College.

Having decided against going to the Bar – on his 80th birthday in 2010, he said “there was little work and [he] had little money” – Jones had found his way into academia, first through a lectureship at Oxford before moving on to King’s College London.

By the time he was settling into his Cambridge flat in 1961, despite the lack of central-heating, Professor Jones had already met and begun collaborating with Robert Goff on what was to be one of the principal achievements of his career: The Law of Restitution, the seminal English text of restitution law that has since been through eight editions.

Jones and Goff argued that the courts should rationalise parts of private law under the heading of restitution, a field founded on the principle of unjust enrichment – in layman’s terms, that a person who receives a benefit from another person, without having any right to that benefit, should in principle be required to return it.

The result of Jones and Goff’s book was what we now call restitution law, Professor Graham Virgo's area of expertise. Speaking to Varsity, Professor Virgo called Jones and Goff's book "magisterial", and said that it “remains a model of rigorous legal scholarship, pulling together disparate threads of legal authority to produce an elegant explanation of a complex body of law.”

“In July Cambridge will be hosting an international conference on the law of obligations,” Professor Virgo went on to say. “Part of that conference has been set aside for a celebration of the golden anniversary of Goff and Jones’s Law of Restitution. It will also be a celebration of Gareth Jones's life and career.”

While Goff – or rather, Lord Goff as he was by then – would go on to give the leading judgement in the case which finally established restitution’s place in English law, Lipkin Gorman v Karpnale Ltd [1991], Jones remained firmly in the realm of academia.

After a short-lived stint as Trinity’s Senior Tutor, he was in 1974 elected Downing Professor of Laws of England to his “surprised delight”.

In 1986, Professor Jones began his first tenure as Vice-Master of Trinity College, leaving the post in 1992 after six years, as Trinity tradition dictates. Four years later, he would reassume that same post for a further three years, resigning in 1999.

Trinity College’s Senior Tutor, Professor Catherine Barnard, paid tribute to Professor Jones, saying: “Gareth Jones was a remarkable man. Together with Lord Goff, he effectively invented the subject of restitution. He was a giant in the field. He was also a passionate supporter of the College who loved the job of Vice-Master. He is a great loss to the College.”