Conflict of Laws

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Jacobus Bomhoff

Please note: Seminars in Michaelmas Term 2019 will be taught by Dr. Paul MacMahon and Dr. Rishi Gulati.


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law and LLB in Laws. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is available to General Course students.


Interested students may wish to consider taking this course as an option in their third year. That said, over the past years many second year students have taken this course without any problems. The only required background understanding relates to (English) law of obligations. Basic issues of EU law relevant to the course will be covered in class. It is also available as an outside option to third year students where regulations permit and with the permission of the course teacher.

Course content

Conflict of laws – also known as private international law – is the area of law concerned with private law cases that cross borders. Conflict of laws differs from public international law in that it deals with transactions between private individuals, rather than with those directly implicating States or international organizations.

What rules should an English court apply to a contract between companies from different countries, or to a tort claim arising out of an environmental disaster abroad? Should foreign celebrities be allowed to sue in the English courts when they feel they have been defamed in an article posted on an American website? Should the English courts recognize judgments from other countries, even when they conflict with English ideas of right and wrong? It is questions like these that make up the subject of the conflict of laws.

The field’s central technical questions are (1) jurisdiction (will an English court or a foreign court hear the case?), (2) choice of law (should the court apply its own law or that of a foreign country?), and (3) the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments. During the course, these three questions will frame reflection on a range of topics, including commercial/practical issues (how can companies structure their cross-border transactions?), but also questions of a more political nature (to what extent should States be able to regulate matters beyond their own borders?) or with a strong social/cultural dimension (how should foreign cultural values be accommodated in English law?).

Although conflict of laws has a long history within English law, for some areas many of the relevant rules have changed dramatically in recent years under the influence of EU legislation and case law. This means that conflict of laws should also be of particular interest to those wishing to study the interaction of English law and European law. To the extent that some of these rules will change after Brexit, the course will also look at these new developments.

During the course, we will look at (1) jurisdiction in international commercial litigation under the traditional English rules and under European law, (2) choice of law issues in contract and tort, (3) recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments under European rules and at common law, and (4) comparative aspects and theoretical foundations of conflict of laws (looking at US and Canadian law in particular).

Most of the material for this course (cases, literature extracts, text, and further reading references) is contained in a Course Reader which is uploaded in instalments on the course Moodle page.



20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT. 2 hours of seminars in the ST.

There will be reading weeks in Week 6 of MT and Week 6 of LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT and 1 essay in the LT

Indicative reading

Briggs, The Conflict of Laws (3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2013); Cheshire, North & Fawcett, Private International Law (15th ed., Oxford University Press, 2017)

Resources: www.conflictoflaws.net (Topical references, cases and reviews)


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the summer exam period.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2018/19: 23

Average class size 2018/19: 23

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills