Lloyd's Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly


Francis Rose

Edited by Charles Mitchell, QC (Hon), FBA, Professor of Law, University College London, and Stephen Watterson, Professor of Private Law and Fellow of Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge. Hart, Oxford (2020) lix and 365 pp. Hardback £120.
This is a collection of 20 essays—if “essays” is the appropriate description. In being presented with a collection of essays on the law of contract, Sir Guenter Treitel queried it, on the basis that an essay was what he had written in fear and trembling for his tutor 
Dr JHC Morris. But that was a very different world.
Nicholas Gaskell begins this book with a disaster. Indeed, in the maritime world, there is perhaps none more famous—the sinking of RMS Titanic in 1912—albeit this is primarily by way of introduction to reviewing the consequences of collisions involving RMS Empress of Ireland (in 1914) and one leading to an explosion in the harbour at Halifax, Nova Scotia (in 1917). As somewhat specialist interests, Maritime Law, and certainly Admiralty Law, may appear to constitute a small world, yet, as Professor Gaskell’s survey shews, it is not a specialist topic (or, in terms of a university syllabus, a distinct component of English Law like Contract or Land Law) but indeed a whole world. His particular discussion of two relatively obscure First World War Canadian Privy Council collision cases reveals more broadly how many maritime law situations depend upon their individual facts, their evolving historical context, an awareness of how Admiralty Law and the general law deal with common issues, practice and, of course, the peculiarities of Admiralty Law such as one-ship companies and limitation of liability.
The most familiar area of maritime law, which overlaps with and indeed has significantly contributed to the common law of contract, is the law of carriage of goods by sea. The law of contract, which is generally assumed to be the basis for commercial law, though is just as much a product of it, is essentially concerned with bilateral relationships. However, commercial situations are rarely simple, particularly in international trade, which commonly involves a variety of circumstances, players and contracts, with some of these referred to, perhaps misleadingly, as subcontracts or collateral contracts, and with tort law filling some gaps. The key to understanding this complexity is generally identification of specific facts, relationships and contracts, and their interpretation, and not making assumptions. Thus, the Hague Rules are commonly assumed to regulate liability for the carriage of goods by sea. However, they do so of course only insofar as they apply. In particular, they basically apply to parties to a bill of lading contract. Yet such contracts, like all contracts, depend upon the parties’ agreement, which does not necessarily provide that carriage or related duties are performed in fact by the person contracting for carriage


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