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Institute of Commercial and Corporate Law

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Society of Legal Scholars Annual Seminar 2017: The Future of Commercial Law: Ways Forward for Harmonisation

Durham Law School is very pleased to host the Annual Society of Legal Scholars Annual Seminar 2017 on February 27-28, 2017. The Seminar theme is on the future of commercial law harmonisation. Its emphasis is on future agendas for key international harmonising bodies, including but not limited to the United National Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT). The Seminar will also focus on domestic law harmonisation, with a look at the Secured Transactions Law Reform Project as well as harmonisation efforts that the United States has undertaken in its Uniform Law Commission.

The Seminar organisers are Professor John Linarelli, Chair in Commercial Law and Dr. N. Orkun Akseli, Senior Lecturer in Commercial Law.


States have sought to harmonise commercial law across their borders at least since the prior era of economic globalisation of the nineteenth century. With the global economy creating an interdependent world, the law governing market transactions has taken on an ever more importance. The era of economic globalisation we inhabit today is vastly more interconnected than ever before. Trade, finance, and investment are the main drivers, which are in themselves not new phenomena, but what is new is how these economic activities are accomplished. The character of economic globalization has changed and these changes have increased interdependence and linkages between states. Global value chains have become much more prominent and production processes have become increasingly fragmented across state borders as a result. Outsourcing and offshoring have risen dramatically as preferred methods of operation for many multinational enterprises. The services trade has increased. Cross-border technology flows have increased substantially, which require not only fair and effective intellectual property protection but also a substantial architecture for contract and finance, as well as for facilitating transactions in cyberspace. What is most valuable about goods are not the tangible aspects of the good but the technology and branding embedded in the good. It is not the plastic surrounding the mobile phone but the design and the technology which provides for most of its value. Cross-border financial flows have been on a steady rise with the demise of the old Bretton Woods order in the 1980s and the rise of global capital markets. Finally, the need for government engagement in both old-style ‘hard’ infrastructure and in the development of ‘soft’ infrastructure for markets seems ever more paramount. The rules for markets are constitutive of markets themselves and the terms and conditions for contracting need to be set in a way that is fair to contract parties as well as to stakeholders more generally.

The changing configurations of economic globalisation prompt us to ask whether fundamental changes need to be made to the way that harmonisation of transactional law should proceed. Intergovernmental organisations have reached an important tipping point. They have likely taken their work on harmonising international trade law as far as it could feasibly go without some substantial rethink of an agenda to service the institutional needs of states and stakeholders. We believe the time is now for that rethink.

The issues facing harmonization efforts are both technical and political. Economic globalisation is a driver of harmonisation of law across borders, but law at its core is a state-driven phenomenon, linking closely to sovereignty, self-determination, and government accountability to citizens. An inevitable tension is present in any international harmonisation project, with self-determination driving the need to make law at the lowest level practical for reasons having to do with popular consent and accountability, whilst recognising the need for uniform law to be at work in the global economy to reduce transaction costs, make enforceable agreements where people want them to be enforced, establish clear rules for property and contract across borders, and provide institutions of a contemporary nature for the creation and facilitation of credit. Apart from political considerations, harmonisation has to work and these are issues of a technical nature. Harmonising bodies need to prepare instruments that both facilitate economic exchange and foster development for low and middle-income countries. Intergovernmental organisations like UNCITRAL have to bridge these tensions.

The Seminar engages with the challenges posed in harmonisation of commercial law and to contribute to greater understanding of the problems faced by states, international organisations, and private sector actors in the harmonisation process. This will require an analysis of restructuring of the agenda for developing the institutions for the global economy along three lines: the innovation economy, the production network (interdependent) economy, and the infrastructure economy. Our focus is on understanding the future of commercial law harmonisation in a way that gives effect to the interests of stakeholders and thereby incentivises both innovation and higher standards for the modernisation of law.

The Seminar assembles participants from a world-class group of legal scholars, legal practitioners, policy makers, and government/IGO officials.

We are honoured and delighted that Professor Emeritus Sir Roy Goode will deliver the Keynote Address for the Seminar.

Speakers include:

  • Professor Teresa Rodriguez de las Heras Ballell – University of Madrid Carlos III
  • Mr Spyridon V. Bazinas – UNCITRAL
  • Mr Richard Calnan – Norton Rose
  • Dr Anca Chirita – Durham University
  • Dr Richard E Craven – Leicester University
  • Professor Neil Cohen – Brooklyn Law School
  • Professor Louise Gullifer – University of Oxford and the Executive Director of the Secured Transactions Law Reform Project
  • Mr Stuart Kerr – Jones Day Washington DC
  • Mr Richard M. Kohn – Goldberg Kohn
  • Professor Souichirou Kozuka – Gakushuin University
  • Professor Ignacio Tirado Martí, Ignacio, Autonomous University of Madrid
  • Professor Ralf Michaels, Duke University
  • Ms Caroline Nicholas - UNCITRAL (Confirmed)
  • Professor Anita Ramasastry - University of Washington
  • Professor Chris Reed – Queen Mary University
  • Professor Ingeborg Schwenzer – University of Basel
  • Dr Andrew J.M. Steven – Scottish Law Commission
  • Dr Sean Thomas - Durham University
  • Mr Vijay Srinivas Tata – World Bank
  • Mr. Mahesh Uttamchandani – World Bank
  • Professor Anna Veneziano – UNIDROIT
  • Professor Catherine Walsh – McGill University
  • Jeffrey Wool - Universities of Oxford and Washington