Autonomy in Private International Law: Maria Hook on the Choice of Law Contract


It is no particular surprise that many see private law as being ultimately about the exercise of private autonomy by individual agents. At the core of private law lies the idea that individuals are allowed to know better than the State or anyone else what suits their needs and interests, and to act accordingly. At the same time, private law balances individual autonomy with countervailing considerations. In recent years, an extensive philosophical debate took place on what is the basis for this autonomy and its consequences for interpersonal relationships. In a recent book published by Bloomsbury/Hart, Maria Hook of the University of Otago applies the idea of autonomy to the field of private international law. In an informative, systematic and highly readable book, she explains that the current law fails to give due regard to the contractual choice of law agreement. Against the current view that choice of law clauses are primarily governed by PIL, Hook argues that these clauses must at least also be seen as falling within the law of contract. This allows her to apply, for example, rules on formation, validity and remedies to the clause, thus providing the reader with an innovative and fresh approach to the topic. The book, that is comparative throughout, thus offers a lot to both European private law and PIL experts.

Readers of the MEPLI blog will get a 20% discount when ordering the book online – use discount code CV7.


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‘Till Death Us Do Part’? On the Value of Fixed-term Marriage


The divorce rate in most European countries, Australia, Canada and the US ranges between 40 and 50%. This is the main reason why in a recent book psychologist and relation therapist Susan Pease Gadoua and journalist Vicki Larson argue that lifelong marriage is an outdated and unrealistic ideal that leads to ‘blaming, shaming, and sense of failure’ in case the partners are not able to live up to it. Gadoua and Larson therefore propose that the legislator should step away from the one-size-fits-all model of marriage and introduces a ‘starter marriage,’ a marriage that is renewed or terminated after a set period the parties have agreed upon. This fits in with a proposal made by legislators in Mexico City to adopt a temporary marriage contract that allows the spouses to automatically exit their marriage after two years or have their marriage renewed. This would have the clear benefit of not having to go through a painful and expensive divorce, in particular because the marriage contract would have to contain provisions on how to deal with children and property after the initial term has ended.

The rule that marriage is for life is one of those provisions that everyone takes for granted and that has received little attention in the legal literature. The proposals by Gadoua and Larson and of the local legislator in Mexico City prompt us to think through whether lifelong marriage is indeed a good idea. At a time when family relationships are increasingly contractualised, lifelong marriage (wedlock) could perhaps be supplemented with the new type of marriage of wedlease. It will, just as in case of any relationship coming to an end, require protection of the potential children and of the weaker spouse against the financial consequences of the separation, but this does not stand in the way of accepting wedlease as such. Apart from saving the high financial and emotional costs of divorce, its introduction will have the distinct advantage that (future) spouses have to better think through the consequences of their marriage and have to reconsider their commitment at set intervals.

In a paper that will soon be published on SSRN I argue that short-term marriage is indeed a worthwhile experiment. The paper seeks to find the origins of lifelong marriage and then argues that the motives behind this age-old institution are no longer convincing in the present time.

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New MEPLI Book: The Citizen in European Private Law

Two years ago the Faculty of Law at Maastricht University organised a series of events around the European Year of the Citizen. One event was co-organised by MEPLI and devoted to the role of private actors (citizens, consumers and companies) in private law. It is hardly a surprise that these private actors often set their own rules, revert to private enforcement and choose the applicable law. This is a well-known phenomenon in fields such as contract law, consumer law, company law and family law. Until now, however, few attempts have been made to look at these phenomena together with a view to arriving at conclusions that go beyond one specific field. This book, that collects the papers presented at the conference, is a first attempt to fill this gap.



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New MEPLI working paper by Jan Smits on The Expanding Circle of Contract Law

People and corporations are increasing held liable in private law for the external effects of their actions, in particular in cases that involve some fundamental aspect of “justice” such as severe violations of labour standards or threats to the environment. These public interests are traditionally guarded by the state, but are now increasingly enforced by private individuals, in particular in cross-border situations where the injustice takes place in a “far-away” country. This contribution, now out as a MEPLI working paper, explores what is the potential of contract law in dealing with this “private law justice across borders.” It asks whether the doctrine of privity of contract should be traded in for an approach that better takes the externalities of contracts into account. It is argued that current contract law is ill-suited to deal with this challenge and should adopt new techniques to expand the circle of people contract law seeks to protect.



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New book: Mateja Durovic on Unfair Commercial Practices and Contract Law


In 2005 the continuous quest of the European legislator to protect the consumer on the European internal market resulted in EU Directive 2005/29 on Unfair Commercial Practices (UCPD). At the time it was issued, the UCPD was special because of the fact that it offers maximum-harmonisation and because of its broad scope. It essentially prohibits any unfair commercial practice that infringes upon the economic interests of a consumer. To this end it adopts a complicated three-step mechanism to test the unfairness of a commercial practice. A point of uncertainty, however, has always been how the UCPD relates to the many other EU-directives in the field of contract law. A recent book published by Mateja Durovic is the first to systematically examine the ambiguous relationship between the directive and contract law. In four substantive chapters she examines the notion of the average consumer, the duty to trade fairly, the duty of information and remedies. This study thus provides an admirable and clearly written account of how one directive, and its interpretation by the Court of Justice, influence the national laws of the member states.



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English Contract Law for Civil Lawyers: on John Cartwright’s ‘Contract Law’

One of the best-known books on comparative law published in the last century is F.H. Lawson’s A Common Lawyer Looks at the Civil Law (Ann Arbor, 1953). This book contains the five lectures that Oxford comparatist Harry Lawson delivered at the University of Michigan Law School. Upon re-reading this book, one is struck by the emphasis that Lawson puts on the pedagogical utility of comparative legal study, something also very much emphasised in today’s reaching and research. It would be no exaggeration to state that Lawson’s plea has become a reality in the curriculum of many European law faculties.

Just published is a new edition of John Cartwright’s Contract Law: An Introduction to the English Law of Contract for the Civil Lawyer (Hart Publishing 2016). This book offers a interesting variation on the theme that was explored by Lawson more than 60 years ago. This time it is not an English jurist teaching his readers about the civil law, but an English scholar and solicitor educating an audience of civil lawyers about English contract law. John Cartwright may be in the best possible position to do so, as he is not only teaching at Oxford, but also taught at the University of Paris II and still teaches at Leiden University. The book assumes that in order to teach English contract law in a meaningful way to an audience of civil lawyers, one needs to speak to these civil lawyers in their own language, taking into consideration their own frame of reference. It is good to emphasise that other views on this are certainly feasible, including the one that the best way to learn about the law is not from one national perspective, but rather in a continuous dialogue between the different views of common law and civil law, without using one of the two as the intermediating language. Having said this, this particular book excels in offering an easy to read and up-to-date introduction to not only English contract law, but also to the English legal system as such. Much recommended!

The publisher is happy to offer the readers of the MEPLI blog a 20% discount when ordering the book online: click here and use code CV7 at the checkout.





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