“Revolutions in Private Law” was the theme for the 8th Biennial Conference on the Law of Obligations. Scholars, jurists and practitioners gathered at the University of Cambridge, UK from 19–22 July 2016 to discuss the various paradigm shifts in private law and torts. Coincidentally, it was also a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Goff and Jones’ Law of Restitution (now in its 9th edition as Goff & Jones: The Law of Unjust Enrichment).
The Cambridge Freshfields Lecture was delivered by the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, former Justice of the High Court of Australia and Editor-in-Chief of The Laws of Australia. In his lecture, “Legal Obligations, Legal Revolutions”, he identified the 10 revolutions that have occurred in the field of tort law over the last 50 years:
- the decline of the unifying role of the House of Lords and Privy Council in the Commonwealth;
- the rise of comparative law sources;
- clearer acknowledgement of the legitimate creative role of the judge in expressing the common law;
- the impact of human rights law, and judicial review on concepts of law;
- the decline and fall of the civil jury trial for resolving factual disputes;
- new approaches to the construction of expanding legislative provisions;
- the adoption of greater realism about the function of tort law;
- the intrusion of artificial statutory limitations on liability;
- the impact of new technology on the law; and
- the greater inclination of lawyers and litigants to criticise and to express high expectations of “justice” in the law.
Discussion on these themes and more can be found in his Foreword to the recently published Torts – The Laws of Australia (3rd ed), edited by Dr Paul Vout and published in July 2016.
The next Obligations IX Conference (17–20 July 2018) will see the event return to its roots at Melbourne Law School, where the series first originated in 2002. The theme of that conference will be “Form and Substance in the Law of Obligations”.
As part of his attendance at the Obligations VIII Conference, the Hon Michael Kirby presented copies of Torts – The Laws of Australia (3rd ed) to Professor Sarah Worthington and Professor Andrew Robertson, two of the convenors of the conference, as well as to Professor Peter Cane and his wife Professor Jane Stapleton. Professor Robertson will also convene the 2018 Obligations IX Conference.
The presented book has been authored by experts in the field to provide a comprehensive and highly accessible introduction to the key principles of tort law, grouped into topics including the interactions of tort and contract law, negligence, occupiers’ liability, product liability, breach of statutory duty, strict liability, nuisance, trespass and intentional torts, defences, damages, and concurrent torts.
The third edition of the text explores the impact of common law developments in the last 10 years, including pivotal cases such as Brookfield Multiplex Ltd v Owners Corp Strata Plan 61288  HCA 36; changes to the law of occupiers’ liability under Strong v Woolworths Ltd  HCA 5; and also covers changes to breach of statutory duty, as reformed by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth).
The latest edition is available through the Thomson Reuters eStore (in print and ProView ebook format).
The material is also published as Title 33 “Torts” of The Laws of Australia legal encyclopaedia, a free trial of which is available here.