Roman-Dutch law and the Common Law World

Research Project

Casebooks on contract law are plentiful. For early examples of how cases and those writing about them contributed to doctrinal development and instigated legal change, one might look to John Smith’s Leading Cases, first published in 1837. Others followed the same format of picking out individual cases which were felt to be illustrative of a common law rule. Christopher Langdell, pioneer of the case study method at Harvard, published Cases on the Law of Contracts in 1871. In Leading Cases in the Common Law, published in 1996, Brian Simpson examined nine cases. A more recent development is the seris of edited collections called Landmark Cases in.... One might notice that the texts mentioned thus far have been from common law jurisdictions.

This project contributes to this well-established body of literature but it brings with it a new approach. Rather than focusing on describing, analysing or challenging the linear development of the common law, this study engages in a comparative method. It examines cases in jurisdictions where English law intersected with Roman and Roman-Dutch law. It focuses principally on shedding light on key cases in the contract law of Guyana and Sri Lanka. These colonial jurisdictions were often considered as the recipients of ideas from the metropole. Despite being distant from each other, these jurisdictions were linked by a shared legal background. They blended Roman-Dutch and English law, although in the nineteenth century, Guyana (British Guiana as it was then known) and Sri Lanka (Ceylon) were formally part of the British Empire.

This project, therefore, not only compares the law being made in these mixed jurisdictions to that of England and the Netherlands, but also to each other. It considers how contract law developed in these jurisdictions. What were the competing influences of Roman law, Roman-Dutch law and English law on doctrinal thought? This study does much to showcase the legal trends, unpick the comparative similarities and differences, but it ultimately explains why Roman-Dutch law persisted in some jurisdictions but was extinguished in others. It contributes to debates on the importance of culture, ethnicity and moral values of society (and their relationship to legal rules), the training and socialisation of those in the legal profession, and the embedding of judge-made law and stare decisis as a tool for eroding the structure of the civil law.

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