Index of Content

Chitty on Contracts

General Editor : H. G. Beale
Sweet & Maxwell, 29th Edition, 2004

When I was an undergraduate trying to understand the law of contract, the standard student text was Cheshire and Fifoot. Cecil Fifoot was my tutor and I cheekily asked him to recommend something which set out the principles more simply. Patiently he told me that ‘‘Nutshells’’ were not the answer because their authors had no room to explain. Better to read a big book which had space to amplify. Since then I have gone to Chitty first, whenever I have had a contract problem in teaching or practice. That was the 21st edition. Five editions under Professor Guest transformed what had become old-fashioned into the most comprehensive text on the English law, fit to be mentioned with the massive work of Corbin for the United States. This 29th is the second edition for which Professor Beale has had overall responsibility and it is the best yet and up-to-date to the middle of 2003. Regular supplements are promised so that, with easy internet access to more recent law, there is no excuse for anyone concerned with any aspect of dispute resolution failing to acquire the understanding of contract law they need in practice.

General principles are in the first volume. Among the topics of the second, on specific contracts, are outstanding treatments of arbitration (Professor Guest), construction contracts (Professor Uff and Simon Hughes) and bills of exchange and banking (by Professor Ellinger and Professor Hooley). You cannot get better than that.

There are some mysteries. The heading of the Table of Cases in both volumes says: ‘‘Where a reference indicates significant discussion of the case in the text, it is in bold.’’ That seems to work in the second volume but not at all in the first, where it is used to distinguish only a dozen or so of the more than 9,000 cases. Three of those are to one case: Director General of Fair Trading v First National Bank [2002]1 A.C. 481. It would be odd if there were no ‘‘significant discussion’’ of a case like Williams v Roffey [1991] 1 Q.B. 1. There is, in three or four places, though the references are not in bold. A good idea gone wrong. One full treatment is at (3–068), where it would still be worth preserving the distinction between ‘‘forgo’’ and ‘‘forego’’.

The practitioner could sometimes be better served by a bolder questioning if not forthright jettisoning of bad law, such as that represented by Dickinson v Dodds (1876) 2 Ch.D. 463, (at 2–088) which represents bad scholarship on a potentially important practical point which no court has been unwise enough to follow in well over a century, though who knows how many parties have been misled.

The price of £350 may seem steep even for a practitioner. In 1954, a poor student could just about afford to invest in Chitty. But times have changed for the better in one way. When I asked Fifoot why Chitty then was printed on paper close to cardboard, he said he had asked the same question of the publisher’s representative at a late stage of a promotional dinner and he had confessed that the weight of the paper was determined by the optimum size of the volume, which in turn depended on what practitioners would pay for what they expected their big book on contract to look like. There is no such padding here. Every rice-paper page of the 4,500 in this splendidly produced book is worth its price of less than 8p.

The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators Journal
Reviewed by the Editor
November 2004

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