St Hilda's College
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Principal's Research Seminar 2023

1 December 2023

Research Lecture

This year, the lecture was conducted by Dr Johannes Ungerer, who holds the Erich Brost Lectureship in German Law and European Union Law at the Faculty of Law and St Hilda’s College. His research delves into private law from comparative, international, and interdisciplinary standpoints, encompassing Common Law and Civil Law traditions as evidenced in his publications and presentations. Dr Ungerer has co-organised conferences on private international and comparative law, including events like "Default Rules in Private Law."

English courts typically apply English law to disputes among private or commercial parties. However, contrary to common belief, this isn't always the case. In cross-border cases, it may be necessary for English courts to apply the national law of a foreign country, such as Germany, Japan, or Peru. This raises numerous questions about when, why, and how this occurs.

During the lecture, which was attended by students and scholars from a wide range of disciplines as well as the Principal and the College’s Visitor, Dr Ungerer explained how private international law helps to answer these questions in cross-border cases. He argued that private international law can be best understood drawing on behavioural economics, in particular the concept of nudging. Given the complexity of the legal matters at stake, nudging in private international law pertains to the practice of influencing or guiding parties involved in international transactions in order to determine the applicable law or the court to decide the case.

Dr Ungerer showed that private international law creates an environment subtly encouraging or prompting involved parties to follow a particular legal system that is beneficial. This can be achieved through mechanisms like default rules, information provision, or framing of choices. For example, in contract law, the rules might nudge the parties towards the laws of a specific jurisdiction which is closely connected to govern the contract, thereby influencing the resolution of potential disputes. Nudging can be viewed as a means to streamline legal processes, establish predictability, and offer a level of convenience for parties engaged in international transactions, all while respecting their autonomy in decision-making.

Dr Ungerer's full research paper can be found here.