WHY SHIPPING LAW STILL MATTERS
Sir David Foxton*
On the 125th anniversary of the Commercial Court, this paper considers how shipping disputes came to acquire their central role in developing English commercial law; how the significance of shipping law has changed over the century and a quarter since the “Notice as to Commercial Causes” was published in February 1895; and why shipping law remains central to the continuing strength of English commercial law.
It is my great privilege to have been asked to deliver the 38th Donald O’May lecture, organised by the Institute of Maritime Law at Southampton University. I am acutely conscious that I follow a set of far more illustrious predecessors, and I can only hope that, like flotsam and jetsam, I am dragged along in their wake. My personal engagement with shipping law began inauspiciously. In 1988, as Sir Bernard Eder’s pupil at what was then 4 Essex Court, I attended a conference with the future Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, at the start of which he introduced me to a number of men—and I am afraid they were largely men in those days—from the West of England. I had no idea what a P&I Club was, and proceeded to share my memories of growing up in Taunton, to find I had entered a world where the West of England meant something far removed from scrumpy on a Sunday afternoon and Ian Botham hitting sixes out of the County Ground. The prospect that I would ever deliver the Donald O’May lecture was vanishingly remote.
The title of this lecture was originally going to be “Does shipping law still matter?” However, as the lecture is one of the great occasions in the maritime law calendar, named in honour of one of the most distinguished and highly regarded of maritime solicitors, and the lecturer is the general editor of Scrutton on Charterparties and Bills of Lading
I decided that it was unlikely that my audience would be sitting on tenterhooks waiting to find out what my answer to that question would be. As we are celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Commercial Court, which has done so much to develop and promote English shipping law, it is an appropriate occasion on which to consider three topics: how shipping disputes came to acquire their central role in developing English commercial law; how the significance of shipping law has changed over the century and a quarter since
Why shipping law still matters