Comparative Private Law

Comparative Law is one of the most fascinating subjects in the legal syllabus. Comparative lawyers examine the differences and similarities of legal rules and doctrines across various legal systems. Students of comparative law soon realise that many of the legal issues that they have examined in the first two years of their degree are often resolved in a very different manner in foreign jurisdictions.

English private law in particular has certain features that exist in a radically different shape, or are not present at all in other jurisdictions. These include the doctrine of consideration, the structure of tortious liability and what is meant by fault and the entire law of trusts.

An awareness of such differences is vital for students if they wish to be prepared for the challenges of legal practice in a globalised world, where many of them will be faced with cross-border dealings on a daily basis. It also enables them, at a time when they are approaching the end of their degree, to build on the knowledge of English private law that they have been able to acquire in their first and second year. Studying comparative private law allows them to draw together various threads of the wider discourse on the foundations of private law and to reflect critically on the English law by comparison with other legal systems. 

The course focuses on a number of selected topics, drawn from the areas of contract (the conception of contract; performance, non-performance and remedies), tort (the structure of extra-contractual liability; product liability), property law (ownership, title and possession) and trusts (trust and fiduciary devices). English law is mostly compared to the private laws of France and Germany, the two most influential jurisdictions within the Western legal tradition other than England and the US.

Teaching is provided throughout Michaelmas and Hilary. For each of the selected topics there is an introductory two-hour lecture and a two-hour class contrasting English law with the solutions found in other jurisdictions. In 2018-2019 there will also be a special series of lectures on relevant aspects of the new French contract law (which came into force on 1 October 2016, with a handful of amendments in force on 1 October 2018).  Tutorials take place in Hilary Term and instead of producing four or more standard length tutorial essays students write two extended essays of 4,000 words on a topic of their choice.

The teaching also includes a general lecture series provided at the beginning of Michaelmas. This gives a general overview of the discipline of comparative law and provides a theoretical and methodological framework for the actual comparison to be made in the classes and tutorials.

Students work with a wide range of materials including primary sources, such as cases and statutes, and legal writings drawn from articles and textbooks. All materials are made available in English, so no knowledge of foreign languages is required.

Learning outcomes: an understanding of how certain fundamental aspects of private law are dealt with in jurisdictions beyond England and Wales and a capacity to reflect on the differences and similarities between practices in those jurisdictions and those of English common law.