People - 26.04.2017 - 00:00 

In memoriam Claudio Soliva

Claudio Soliva was Professor of History of Law at the HSG from 1980 to 1994. The legal historian had an influence on the law studies of several thousand Swiss lawyers. He died on 7 April 2017. An obituary by Lukas Gschwend.

27 April 2017. On 7 April, the Chur-born legal historian Prof. em. Dr. iur. Claudio Soliva-Wolf died at the age of 89 after a short and serious illness. After his Matura examination and primary school teacher training in Chur, Soliva started to study law at the University of Zurich in 1953 and was awarded a doctor’s degree by that university in 1959. After research stays in the Netherlands, Soliva habilitated in 1965 and was appointed assistant professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Zurich three years later. In 1974, Soliva was appointed professor, and from 1981 until his retirement in 1995, he was Full Professor of Swiss and German History of Law and Private Law at the same university.

Chair of History of Law

At the same time, Soliva was also Professor of History of Law at the then St.Gallen Graduate School of Business, Economics, Law and Social Sciences (HSG), where he had lectured as early as the 1970s. The introduction of a full law curriculum at the HSG entailed that legal history became a compulsory subject, for which a chair was established in 1980. Soliva appreciated the invariably friendly, respectful and solution-oriented HSG culture and made a personal contribution towards HSG law studies soon being held in high regard in the legal world. Outside academia, he made his legal competence and manifold talents available to the general public in his capacity as President of the military Division Court 12 and as President of the Law Sources Foundation of the Swiss Lawyers’ Society, as well as working as an expert, arbitrator and member of various federal and cantonal expert committees.

Talented university teacher

In academic terms, Soliva had been influenced by his teachers, the Romance scholars Julius Georg Lautner (University of Zurich) and Robert Feenstra (Leiden University), as well as by the legal historian and criminologist Karl Siegfried Bader (University of Zurich). With his study of the federal municipal and land law of Zurich’s burgomaster Johann Jakob Leu, Soliva made an essential contribution to the history of legal studies in 18th century Switzerland. His particular academic interests were in the history of legal science and ideas. Whenever he carefully explained the history of positive legislation, it was always important for him that students should develop a historically critical understanding of the legal idea behind every law. He also made an effort to provide students not only with the European dimension of legal history that remains customary to this day, but also with very substantial insights into the specifically Swiss development of law.

Soliva was an extremely talented university teacher. He worked with visualisation aids at a time when this was still regarded as exotic in law studies. Students particularly benefited from his teaching talent in exercises and seminars. He could also be very demanding, however, and did not flinch from treating an auditorium full of students who were passive and failed to interact, to a lecture in the narrowest sense of the term – which he justified by stating that minimalists did not merit more than the minimum.

Critically reflecting research

Soliva combined traditionalism and non-conformity in a very special manner. His enormous erudition and knowledge of legal sources remain unforgotten. His outstanding memory of German and Latin formulations enabled him to detect plagiarism in works by legal scholars of the 17th and 18th centuries and to attribute them to their proper sources. When asked why, with all his knowledge, he had not published even more himself, he quipped that he had indeed read far more than he had written and that he regarded it as disquieting that in many younger academics, the opposite could be observed. After his retirement, he continued the scrutinising and reflecting research work that was typical of him in that immediately after he had relinquished his chair at the University of Zurich, he started to study theology and devoted himself to the critical analysis of Greek and Hebrew sources.

Soliva had an influence on the law studies of several thousand Swiss lawyers. He rekindled the spirit of the classical university also in the mass-processing atmosphere of modern legal studies. Under his leadership, the collection of Swiss legal sources experienced a new editorial heyday. Students remember his work with gratitude.

Lukas Gschwend is Full Professor of History of Law, Sociology of Law and Criminal Law, as well as Vice-President for Studies & Academic Affairs, at the University of St.Gallen.

Photo: Claudio Soliva at his farewell lecture on 5 July 1994

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