CURRENT LEGAL PROBLEMS LECTURE SERIES 2011-12:
Obligations in Commercial Contracts: A Matter of Law or Interpretation?
Professor Catherine Mitchell Hull Law School
on Thursday 2 February 2012, from 6-7pm
UCL Law Faculty
Bentham House, Endsleigh Gardens
London WC1H 0EG
Accredited with 1 CPD hour by the
Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board (Pending)
About this lecture:
English commercial contract law is undergoing its own ‘interpretative turn’. According to Lord Hoffmann, disputes concerning implied terms in contracts and the extent of the defendant’s liability for loss on breach are resolved by searching for the meaning of the parties’ agreement. The process is one of contextual interpretation of the contract (understood in a broad sense), rather than the external application of autonomous legal rules derived from authoritative precedents. On the one hand this agreement-centred approach can be regarded as the natural consequence of a definitive principle of contractual liability – obligations are assumed by the parties, rather than imposed on them on a priori grounds. On this basis, Lord Hoffmann is simply reasserting the facilitative character of commercial contract law. On the other hand this approach raises questions about the scope and limits of the legal regulation of commercial activity by courts. At its most extreme, the interpretative approach espoused by Lord Hoffmann admits of only an attenuated commitment to commercial contract law as a repository of non-instrumental normative values. Instead, commercial contract law is perceived only as a loose grouping of pragmatic considerations, given a superficial veneer of coherence by reference to a substantively empty concept such as the ‘reasonable expectations of the parties’. This lecture will trace the development of this interpretative turn and assess some of its possible implications, both for the operation of other rules of contract law and for our general understanding of the role of the law in regulating commercial activity.
About the speaker:
Catherine has been teaching at Hull Law School since 1992. Her main teaching responsibilities are in Contract Law, Jurisprudence and Foundations of Commercial and Corporate Law. Her research interests lie primarily in the field of contract law. Previously published work includes a book, Interpretation of Contracts (Routledge Cavendish, 2007), as well as articles and short papers on exclusion clauses, third party rights, restitutionary damages and entire agreement clauses in contract. Recent work has included a paper examining the role of narratives in contract law, published in Legal Studies, and an article exploring the distinction between the ‘real’ and the ‘paper’ deal, published in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. She is currently working on a monograph, due to be published by Hart, exploring the connection between contract law and commercial practice.
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