Graduation Address McGill University

Article excerpt

EDITOR'S NOTE

Professor Reinhard Zimmermann is currently the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law in Hamburg, Germany. In 2010 he received an Honorary Doctorate of Law from McGill University, and the following text is transcribed from his speech to the graduating class. Professor Zimmermann is a leading expert in both the common law and civil law traditions, and has taught at many of the world's finest law schools throughout his career. His position as one of the world's leading figures in comparative law gives his words much weight, and this speech represents the spirit that has evolved within the McGill Law Journal, especially since the inception of the McGill Law transsystemic program a decade ago.

MOT DE LA REDACTRICE

Le professeur Reinhard Zimmermann est actuellement directeur du Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law a Hambourg, en Allemagne. En 2010, il a recu un doctorat honorifique en droit de l'Universite McGill. Ce texte est la transcription du discours qu'il a prononce devant la cohorte de finissants. Le professeur Zimmermann est un expert eminent de la common law et du droit civil. Tout au long de sa carriere, il a enseigne dans de nombreuses ecoles de droit qui figurent parmi les meilleures au monde. Sa notoriete mondiale en tant qu'expert du droit compare donne un gage de credibilite a ses paroles. Ce discours represente l'esprit qui a evolue au sein de la Revue de droit de McGill, et ce, surtout depuis la creation, il y une decennie, du programme transsystemique au sein de la Faculte de droit.

Chancellor Arnold Steinberg, Principal Heather Munroe Blum, Chair of the Board Kip Cobbett, Dean Daniel Jutras, Mr. Justice Nicholas Kasirer, distinguished faculty members, parents, friends, and most of all fellow graduates.

The theme of my graduation address is legal history and comparative law. Let me very briefly confront you with three characteristic texts and their impact.

Some grain merchants sail from Alexandria to the famine-stricken island of Rhodes, where grain has become a very precious commodity. May the merchant whose vessel arrives first sell his grain to the starving Rhodians without indicating that various other vessels are about to arrive with the result that the price of grain will drop dramatically? Or is he under a duty of disclosure? This is a problem raised by Marcus Tullius Cicero in his work De officiis and it has been discussed, over the centuries, by generations of lawyers. Today it is as relevant as it was in Roman times, in France or Germany as much as in England or Canada. Situations where we have an asymmetrical distribution of information occur particularly frequently in business-to-consumer relations. And European Union legislation has thus established a comprehensive system of duties to inform in order to redress that imbalance. The extent of such duties, and whether they also exist in business-to-business relations remains subject to considerable dispute.

Passons au deuxieme texte. Une personne depose une epee chez un ami. Quand elle revient trouver son ami apres quelques semaines, elle est devenue folle. Ce cas a ete discute, lui aussi, par Cicero. Selon Cicero, l'ami n'est pas oblige de rendre l'epee. C'est un texte etudie avec la meme intensite a travers les siecles que mon premier exemple. Le texte de Cicero constitue l'un des points de depart de la doctrine de la clausula rebus sic stantibus. Celle-ci prevoit que tout contrat conclu est sujet a une condition tacite selon laquelle les circonstances fondamentales, a base desquelles le contrat a ete conclu, n'auront pas change. Cette doctrine a ete renforcee par St. Thomas d'Aquin d'un point de vue de la philosophie morale. En effet, St. Thomas d'Aquin ne considerait pas comme pecher l'inexecution d'un contrat lorsque les circonstances avaient change. Les redacteurs du code civil allemand avaient rejete la doctrine de la clausula rebus sic stantibus. …