Global Law of Contract
The first product of our interest in codifying contract law was a model Australian Contract Code (ACC), published by the Victorian Law Reform Commission in a discussion paper in 1992. The ACC contained only 27 Articles which, we claimed, were a comprehensive statement of Australian contract law that could replace the myriad detailed rules of the existing case law, with gains rather than losses in utility.
The ACC aroused opposition because of the generality of its provisions. Whether a limited number of general rules is more effective than a multiplicity of detailed rules has been the subject of speculative inquiry for a very long time. We decided to approach this issue empirically by conducting carefully designed experiments in contract dispute resolution, involving 1800 participants. Our results, reported in Models of Contract Law (2005), indicated that codifying contract law in Australia in the form of a limited number of general rules would make it easier to understand and apply than the existing law, without diminishing fairness or predictability. We explored the broader implication of these results in 'The Common Law of Contracts: are broad principles better than detailed rules? An empirical investigation' (2005).
We are currently engaged in an Australian Research Council funded project designed to extend and replicate our Models of Contract Law results. We have also extended our research to cognitive psychology, by endeavouring to discover whether 'coherence based reasoning' models explain the superior utility of general rules of contract law. The legal enforcement of contracts is the foundation of commerce in nearly all developed economies. The growth of transnational commerce has led to increasing pressure for the transnational harmonisation of contract and trade law. The broad rules which we drafted for the ACC seemed to us to reflect not merely the common law on which they were based, but to constitute the basic components of contract law in most other developed legal systems. We are currently testing this hypothesis by a detailed comparison of contract law in China, the EU, the USA, and Russia. For this purpose we have created a Concordance of four major contract codes.
To find out more and receive a detailed account of our research program, email Gloc-Project@newcastle.edu.au.