Martin Kelly (MA LLM MSc)

Thesis title: The loquacious legislature: are statutes ‘always speaking’?


Originally from south-west Scotland, I read Natural Sciences (Chemistry) at Magdalene College, University of Cambridge (1995-98). I then studied law at The College of Law, York (1998-2000) and trained as a solicitor with Bates, Wells & Braithwaite in the City of London (2000-02). On qualification as a solicitor, I moved to another London firm, Farrer & Co, where I worked in the International Private Client team and was a member of the Partnerships Group and the Private Equity Group (2002-06). I then moved to Price Waterhouse Coopers to specialise in VAT law - firstly in London (2006-07) and then in Edinburgh (2007-10). I also qualified as a Trusts & Estates Practitioner (TEP) in 2004; completed a part-time LLM in Revenue Law at King's College, London (2004-06); and taught on the University of London LLM course (2006/07). I left legal practice in 2010 to do an MSc in Philosophy, at the University of Edinburgh, specialising in the philosophy of language. I'm now a PhD Candidate in the School of Law, where I've taught on the Critical Legal Thinking (1st year); Jurisprudence (2nd year); Advanced Legal Methods (3rd year); Advanced Legal Writing (3rd year); and Theories and Philosophies of Legal Research (LLM) courses. I was the Convenor of the Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group from 2013 to 2016.


MA in Natural Sciences (Chemistry), University of Cambridge

Post-graduate Diploma in Law, The College of Law (York)

Diploma in Legal Practice, The College of Law (York)

LLM in Revenue Law, King's College London

MSc in Philosophy, University of Edinburgh

Research summary

I'm interested in theoretical aspects of law, and especially the connection between law and language. I approach this primarily from the perspective of adjudication: how do, and how should, judges resolve legal disputes? Judges must do so 'according to law' and, to do this, they must identify the content of the law. This is closely connected to the meaning of language that has been given legal 'life' - by being used in making a statute, contract, deed etc. It follows that judges need rules or methods for taking something done with language and deriving from it a legal content.  In my research, I use tools developed in linguistics and the philosophy of language to explore what these legal rules or methods might look like.

Current research interests

In my PhD thesis, I examine the question of whether legislation is 'always speaking': should legislation be given its current meaning, or the meaning it had when originally enacted? The thesis has two goals. First, I argue that there is not just one but three 'always speaking' questions: one for each of three different aspects of 'meaning' (application, content, and character). Second, I analyse UK law in the light of this tripartite notion of meaning. I show that, while the application of legislation is almost always intended to change over time, and the character of legislation is almost always intended to be fixed at the time of enactment, the content of legislation is often intended to change over time. This allows the courts to apply legislation that uses context-sensitive concepts (such as ‘reasonable behavior’, ‘safe system of work’, ‘unfit for human habitation’, ‘welfare of the child’, ‘offensive behavior’, and ‘consent’) according to current, rather than historical, standards.

Affiliated research centres

Current project grants

Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) - PhD grant

  1. M Kelly ‘Mixed-up Wills, rectification, and interpretation: Marley v. Rawlings’ (2017) 38(3) Statute Law Review 265
  2. M Kelly ‘Special issue on legal interpretation: editorial’ (2017) 38(3) Statute Law Review iv
  3. M Bailey & M Kelly ‘Setting the standard’ (2009) 152 De Voil Indirect Tax Intelligence 20
  4. M Bailey & M Kelly ‘Override: over the top or over the hill?’ (2008) 146 De Voil Indirect Tax Intelligence 23
  5. M Bailey & M Kelly ‘Review of 2007’ (2008) 141 De Voil Indirect Tax Intelligence 30
  6. J Randell, N Skerrett, & M Kelly ‘VAT exemption for asset management” (2007) 894 The Tax Journal 6
  7. C Hargreaves & M Kelly ‘Where now for VAT & financial services?’ (2007) 888 The Tax Journal 13
  8. J Randell, N Skerrett, and M Kelly ‘Neutral prospects for securing VAT exemption?’ (2007) 877 The Tax Journal 19
  9. M Kelly ‘Hold-over relief and main residences” (2005) 2 Private Client Business 60
  10. J Carrell and M Kelly ‘Book review: Taxation of Foreign Domiciliaries by James Kessler QC’ [2003] Offshore Tax Planning Review
  11. S Lloyd and M Kelly ‘Rocking the boat’ (2001) 32 Trusts and Estates Law Journal 13
  1. ‘The loquacious legislature: are statutes ‘always speaking’?’ Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group work-in-progress session (25 March 2019)
  2. 'Do legislatures have intentions?' Social Ontology and Philosophy of Law Workshop, University of Glasgow (24th August 2018)
  3. 'What do courts ordinarily mean by 'ordinary meaning'?' Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group Past Convenors’ Conference (11 September 2017)
  4. 'What is the 'literal rule' of statutory interpretation?' Edinburgh—Harvard Doctoral Colloquium on Legal Philosophy (25 February 2017) and Oxford—Edinburgh Doctoral Colloquium on Legal Philosophy (23 October 2016)
  5. 'Mixed-up wills and legal interpretation: Marley v. Rawlings' Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group Work-in-Progress Session (4 March 2016) and ‘Current Issues in Legal Interpretation’ Workshop (1 June 2015)
  6. 'Text, act, and context: what is the object of legal interpretation?' Edinburgh Postgraduate Law Conference (14 January 2016).
  7. 'A solution to the 'Mikado' problem: updating construction and the separation of powers' Edinburgh Postgraduate Law Conference (1 December 2014) - winner of "Best Blog Post" prize
  8. 'Missing fire: legislative errors and the 'golden rule' of legal construction' Edinburgh Legal Theory Graduate Workshop (11 September 2014)
  9. 'Is the existence of theoretical legal disagreement compatible with legal positivism?' Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group Work-in-Progress Session (30 August 2013)
  10. 'Drawing the sting: Dworkin on semantics' Edinburgh—Oxford Doctoral Colloquium on Legal Theory (18 January 2013)