For all UK businesses, the field of commercial law is central. It deals with all of the legal rules that affect business, commerce (including e-commerce) and trade. Robust commercial laws are required for an economy to function well and thrive.
There is no statutory definition of commercial law, and it would not be easy to formulate one. It is a complex body of law that encompasses several substantial legal areas. The common denominator is that all of these are involved in regulating the conduct of individuals and companies engaged in business, commerce and trade.
The most common areas of commercial law, which themselves consist of well-refined systems of legal rules and regulations, include (but are not limited to):
Commercial law also constantly interacts with other important areas of law like EU law, Trusts Law, Criminal Law and Property Law.
As one person put it, commercial extends to "all those legal principles, from whatever branch of law they are drawn, which regularly surface in commercial disputes." (Goode, Commercial Law, 1982).
Modern Commercial law in the UK is highly respected worldwide, is the foundation of many other jurisdictions’ commercial laws, and has had a far-reaching impact.
Its roots are found in the successful merchant communities that existed in medieval times. Special laws, specifically designed to support trade, were developed by the merchants called Lex Mercatoria (the Law Merchant). Trade disputes would be heard and decided by special merchant-elected judges, and decided in accordance with trade customs.
Until the 18th century, this merchant or trade law was a separate body of law, distinguishable in England from the common law. This would have created a challenging split, and trade disputes were likely not common before the ordinary courts.
Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, often referred to as "the father of modern commercial law", radically altered this state of affairs in the late 18th century. He is chiefly responsible for integrating Lex Mercatoria with the common law in such a way that it was accessible to both merchants (business people) and lawyers. As a result, key principles from merchant law were adapted and integrated into English common law making modern commercial law decisively oriented towards the facilitation of commercial activity, and aimed at being predictable, flexible and pragmatic. These principles are very much alive today.
Businesses commonly engage with commercial law, often on a daily basis, in some of the following ways:
All of the above demonstrates why, in large law firms, the commercial law department will often be split into different specialisms, or different industry focuses. Commercial lawyers will also commonly focus either on the transactional nature of commercial law (providing advice on legal requirements and drafting contracts) or on handling commercial law disputes.
The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.