- I did not have the good fortune to know Jill Poole. In an attempt to compensate for that disadvantage, when Adam Shaw-Mellors did me the honour of inviting me to give this lecture, I read her books on contract law. That may have been an optimistic approach, as legal textbooks seldom reveal much about their authors. But in Jill’s case I was rewarded. From her books, particularly the disarming introductions, I learnt much about her, and also about her children and her obvious pride in them. I noted, for instance, that in her many practical examples illustrating points of contract law we do not find that, say, A offers to sell his bicycle to B for £150 but that Alex offers to sell his bicycle to Becky for £150. I also got a very strong sense of Jill’s passionate enthusiasm for contract law and of what an inspiring teacher of the subject she must have been.
- I share with Jill Poole a belief in the vital interest and importance of our law of contract. It is not too much to say that human prosperity depends on the ability to make contracts which are enforceable through a fair and effective system of law. Without such a system, trade and commerce cannot flourish. Increasingly in international commerce, parties are free to choose the law that will govern their contract, and very often – for what we like to think are sound reasons – the law they choose is the law of England and Wales.
- Last year Lord Thomas of Cwngiedd, giving the first of these lectures, took as his topic “keeping commercial law up to date”. He emphasised the importance, particularly at a time of rapid technological and economic change, of ensuring that English commercial law moves with the times and remains attractive to businesses both here and abroad. Lord Thomas focused on the institutional arrangements and procedures needed for that purpose: on what should be done, for example, to maintain the expertise of our judges and on the need for procedural innovation. In this lecture I would like to continue the same general theme as Lord Thomas – the theme of keeping our commercial law up to date in times of rapid change – but by addressing some matters of substance rather than procedure.