IECL Annual Lecture 2022

The Institute of European and Comparative Law has launched a new lecture series, adding another landmark to the Faculty’s annual events diary. The inaugural “IECL Annual Lecture” was held on 5 May 2022 at Brasenose College and was delivered by Professor Pascal Pichonnaz (University of Fribourg, Switzerland). Last year, Professor Pichonnaz was appointed President of the European Law Institute, an independent organisation composed of judges, academics and leading practitioners which aims to guide the evolution and improve the quality of European law understood in the broadest possible sense.

In his lecture, Professor Pichonnaz addressed a highly topical legal question which is currently on the agenda of the European Law Institute, namely the “Real Challenges for a New Regime of Product Liability in the Age of Artificial Intelligence”. He explained why the European Product Liability Directive of 1985 (Council Directive 85/374/EEC) and the relevant implementing legislation at national level is not well-suited to cope with the challenges posed by the rise of modern digital technology, and he outlined the options for reforming it in light of recent proposals for EU legislation laying down harmonised rules on artificial intelligence and for regulating digital markets as well as digital services.

The lecture covered a wide range of pertinent questions and issues on which choices will in due course have to be made. Its four main parts focused in particular on:

(1) the problems generated by “products including digital elements” (eg, what counts as a “refurbished product” in such an environment?);

(2) the definition of a “defective product” where the relevant defect is caused by problems with the software (eg, a faulty update or a lack of updates);

(3) the causal relationship between the relevant defect and the loss or damage that results from it (eg, whether and where the burden of proof should be reversed); and

(4) the prospect of defendant who have been held liable seeking recourse against third parties (eg, the supplier of a software).

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session and a lively debate, during which the speaker and members of the audience canvassed the various pros and cons of reforming the existing product liability regime incrementally, as opposed to devising a wholly new scheme for coping with the challenges posed by artificial intelligence and the digital era in general.

The Institute is tremendously grateful to Professor Pichonnaz for delivering a most informative and hugely stimulating first ever IECL Annual Lecture.