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The inaugural lecture of Professor Jason Chuah

Modern English private maritime law is largely characterised by the twin pillars of contract autonomy and commercial certainty. These characteristics make it extremely appealing to the international shipping community. However, English private maritime law has, in recent times, been buffeted by the imposition of concepts and principles alien to its distinctive character. This is especially so with many different bodies, international and regional, private and public, seeking a role in law and policy making in maritime matters. The incrementalism in law making leads in turn to incrementalism in contracts. The body of applicable rules gets increasingly bigger and less manageable. Doctrinal law will typically grapple with forced change and artificial legal transplants by using ever more strained constructions and reasoning. In his lecture, Prof Chuah argues how this could lead to patchy and inconsistent judicial solutions, a gradual loss of international judicial comity, a deterioration in the quality of shipping contracts and an indirect derogation from the goals of harmonisation. Commercial uncertainty often also is commercial injustice. Legal change is not resisted but it must be properly justifiable and proportionate and where possible, doctrine in maritime law should be modified organically. Assuming that it is not the intention of law makers to cause doctrinal chaos, what are the causal factors for the emerging state of play? Understanding these factors should contribute to better law making in this very important field. Law makers need to see law not only as rules but doctrine.

Professor Jason Chuah is Head of the Department of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of Westminster. He is currently Chair of the London Universities Maritime Law and Policy Research Group. He is an editor of “Finance & Credit Law Journal” (Informa), “Shipping & Trade Law” (Informa), “Journal of International Maritime Law” (Lawtext), International Trade Law and Regulation (Sweet & Maxwell), “International Company and Commercial Law Review” (Sweet & Maxwell) and “European Journal of Commercial Contract Law” (Paris). His forthcoming book Commercial Law (co-author Prof Michael Furmston) (Pearson) will be published in 2010.

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