This course takes as its subject matter a sale of goods by a seller in one country to a buyer in another, and examines the contractual relations between various parties that may be involved in the making and performance of such a sale. Accordingly, it is concerned first with the relations between buyer and seller, emphasising the special features of the sale which are due to its international character. Secondly, it is concerned with the carriage of goods from the seller to the buyer, once again emphasising the special rules which govern international carriage. So as to keep the course within reasonable bounds, it deals only with carriage by sea; it does not cover the special rules governing international carriage by air, road and rail. Thirdly, the course deals with an aspect of banking law. Payment in international sales is often made, not directly by buyer to seller, but through the mechanism of a banker’s commercial credit; the law relating to such credits forms the third part of the course.
Looked at from another angle, the course is concerned with the special problems that arise in overseas sales because the parties are often comparative strangers to one another, and because there is often a long interval of time between the despatch of goods and their receipt. During that time, the parties are exposed to certain financial and physical risks. The financial risk to which each party is exposed is that of the other’s insolvency: to protect himself against this risk the seller will want to be paid as early as possible while the buyer will want to pay as late as possible. One major topic for discussion is the way in which the law and commercial practice seek to reconcile these conflicting desires. So far as the physical risks are concerned, there is the possibility that the goods may be lost or damaged or delayed in transit. Sometimes that risk has to be borne by one of the parties to the contract of sale; sometimes it has to be borne (at least in part) by the carrier; and exactly how it is to be borne has obvious repercussions on the decisions to be made by each party with regard to insurance.
Although its name might suggest something different, the course is about a branch of English domestic law. Our concern is with the English rules governing international transactions (though these rules are often applied to contracts which have no physical connection with this country). It follows that the materials and methods of this course are almost entirely those of the traditional law course, i.e. that it consists largely of a study of decided cases and legislation, though the latter is to a considerable extent influenced by international conventions. Internationally accepted customs and practices figure prominently in the banking section of the course; but the course contains nothing that anyone with the standard equipment of a common lawyer cannot handle.
The course has three principal attractions. Firstly, it raises not only complex and fascinating analytical issues but also fundamental issues of legal policy. Secondly, a study of International Trade will help candidates very considerably with their understanding of the law of contract, particularly in the areas of privity, breach, frustration and remedies. Thirdly, the course forms a useful background to one of the most intellectually satisfying types of legal practice.
Lecturing and other guidance is important in this subject because there are no suitable student books for students to study it for themselves at the right level. The books available are either too simple, or are large practitioners’ works in the use of which students need guidance.
Lectures in Michaelmas Term usually cover carriage by sea and on letters of credit. There are handouts for each set of lectures. In the Hilary Term (second of the year) there is normally a weekly class where the three contracts are treated together and their interaction studied. For this there are separate lists of cases and questions. Tutorials (which include practice in analysing problems) are also available in that term, and that is the term in which the bulk of the student’s own personal work on the subject (other than attending lectures) should be done.