Defences in Private Law

James Goudkamp and Fred Wilmot-Smith are funded by the University of Oxford's John Fell Fund, from August 2013 to March 2017

A series of workshops is being convened in Oxford regarding ‘defences’ to civil liability. Defences are a vitally important part of the law of civil liability because they frequently determine how much compensation (if any) a victim of a civil wrong can recover from the wrongdoer. For instance, should the compensation paid to a cyclist who is negligently knocked down by a motorist be reduced because the cyclist was not wearing a helmet? Should a journal or newspaper be able to rely on a defence of responsible journalism if they publish an article that (despite careful research) contains defamatory statements?

To date, defences to civil liability have not been studied systematically as a single field of research. Experts on one type of defence rarely engage directly with experts working on other types of defences. The workshops aim to bring researchers together to develop a new international network that will consider the links between defences and examine how the defences impact on the limits of civil liability as a whole. We wish to examine defences across all of the four main branches of civil liability: torts; contract; equitable wrongs; and unjust enrichment. The papers that will be delivered at each workshop will be published in four separate edited collections (one for each workshop) by Hart Publishing.

The first workshop was held in January 2014 at All Souls College and the focus was on defences in tort. A second workshop was held in January 2015, concentrating on unjust enrichment. Contract law defences were treated in the third workshop, which took place in January 2016. In January 2017, the fourth and final workshop, concerned with defences in equity, will be held.


Three books have resulted from the series of workshops so far.