Main Body

1.2 About the book

In 1799, the Chancellor of Uppsala University (Sweden), Count Axel von Fersen, wrote that: “one ought to prevent that too many people choose the path of learning … by making that path long and difficult, and thereby discouraging them, so that they remain farmers or craftsmen.”[1] This book takes the completely opposite view, and is aimed at making the relevant legal principles as accessible as possible, to as wide a range of people as possible.

Where the book is used for teaching purposes, it should be noted that it is not intended to be used in isolation. The book is aimed at giving an overview of the relevant legal principles, and at constituting the point of departure for both further research and for class discussions.


1.2.1 The jurisdictional scope of the book

The book addresses the relevant Australian law on the topics covered. However, in discussing those pieces of legislation that are virtually identical amongst the Australian States and Territories (e.g., the various Sale of Goods Acts), it mainly refers to the relevant Queensland Acts.


1.2.2 The use of cases

While the influence of statutory law is increasing in Australia, case law is arguably still the most important source of law as far as the law of obligations is concerned. Indeed, many of the principles dealt with originate in cases decided several decades ago. Thus, one of the major challenges facing students of the law of obligations is to remember what each relevant case deals with; or perhaps more importantly, which case is relevant in relation to a particular topic.

To assist with this, care has been taken to include some central background facts about all key cases mentioned in the book.


1.2.3 The “Rules” found in this book

Students of law are constantly faced with the difficult task of developing an understanding of complex legal concepts and principles. The way such concepts and principles are presented to the students vary from teacher to teacher. However, typically, students in Common Law countries are introduced to key cases and the teacher assists them to identify the relevant legal concepts and principles flowing from those cases. After the examination of the key cases students are assumed, or assisted, to understand:


1) How the concepts and principles identified from the cases interrelate; and

2) How the concepts and principles identified from the cases create a comprehensive system of regulation.


The development of this approach is natural in, and its prevalence typical of, a country following the Common Law tradition where case law historically was the dominant source of law.


This book turns that process around and starts by providing a “map” of how the relevant concepts and principles within a particular area of law interrelate and create a comprehensive system of regulation. In other words, while the typical Common Law approach is to go from micro issues to macro issues, this book goes from macro issues to micro issues. This way the reader gets an immediate appreciation of the “bigger picture” of how the relevant area of law operates and of how the concepts and principles identified from the cases interrelate.


To provide that “map”, each chapter/part contains a “Rule” representing, in a sense, a proposed codification (i.e., expressed as articles in a piece of legislation) of the common law as it stands. The so-called “Rules” outlined in this book are consequently nothing but a convenient expression of the relevant legal principles that flow from common law, or other sources of law.


Constructing such “Rules” can be difficult and controversial as the relevant legal principles are not always undisputed. Thus, to an extent, the author has been forced to favour one possible interpretation of present rules over another possible interpretation. While they hopefully provide a convenient summary of the relevant legal principles, the reader must consequently approach the “Rules” with some caution.

  1. H Lindqvist, Axel von Fersen (Rimbo: Fisher & Co, 1991), at 200. Original text in Swedish: “man borde förhindra att alltför många går den lärda vägen [...], genom att göra denna väg lång och svår, och därigenom avskräck dem, så att de förblir jordbrukare eller hantverkare.”


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Svantesson on the Law of Obligations Copyright © 2022 by Dan Svantesson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.