The Ninth Biennial Conference on the Law of Obligations will be held at Melbourne Law School from 17–20 July 2018. The conference will be co-hosted by Melbourne Law School and the Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford, and will be co-convened by Professor Andrew Robertson (University of Melbourne) and Dr James Goudkamp (University of Oxford). In 2018, the Obligations Conference and the Public Law Conference will, for the first time, be held in the same location in consecutive weeks. The third biennial Public Law Conference will be held at Melbourne Law School from 11-13 July 2018.

Call for Papers

Obligations IX will address the theme Form and Substance in the Law of Obligations. Form and substance are distinguished in various ways and for various purposes in the law of obligations. A distinction is sometimes drawn between the form of a legal instrument, transaction or relationship and its intended or actual legal effect. For other purposes, a distinction is drawn between the form of a doctrine (eg, legal or equitable, element of a cause of action or defence) and its substantive effect. The main focus of Obligations IX, however, is on the relationship between form and substance in the sense of rules and reasons. Thirty years ago, Atiyah and Summers explored the relationship between formal reasoning (the application of rules without reference to the justifications that underlie them) and substantive reasoning (direct reference to considerations of purpose, justice or convenience). Atiyah and Summers examined the relative balance between form and substance in English and American law, legal theory and legal scholarship, and the causes and consequences of the divergent approaches taken. They argued, in essence, that English law was highly formal and US law highly substantive, in each case excessively so. The aim of Obligations IX is to consider the relationship between form and substance in the law of obligations, both at a general level and at the level of specific subject areas and doctrines. One question that may be explored is whether English and Commonwealth law has, in the past thirty years, developed a greater focus on the justifications underlying rules and doctrines, and is therefore moving towards a better balance between form and substance in the common law of obligations. Other questions that may be addressed include how the distinction between form and substance should be understood and whether it offers valuable insights. Consideration might be given to the relative strengths and weaknesses of formal and substantive analysis in particular contexts.

Both established and early-career legal scholars are invited to submit proposals to present papers addressing the conference theme, either at a general level or in relation to any aspect of the law of contract, torts, equity, or unjust enrichment. Offers of papers considering issues of form and substance in civil law systems are also welcome. Anyone wishing to offer a paper should submit a working title and an abstract (of no more than 500 words) by email to by 30 June 2017. Papers will be selected on the basis of quality, originality, engagement with the conference theme, and fit with other papers being presented at the conference. Those offering papers will be notified by 31 July 2017 at the latest whether their applications have been accepted. A waiting list may be established, depending on the level of interest. Proposals received after 30 June 2017 will be considered for inclusion in the waiting list.

Speakers whose offers of papers are accepted will be expected to meet their own travel and accommodation costs and pay a discounted registration fee. Speakers will be asked to submit fully written draft papers by 15 June 2018 for distribution to conference delegates via a password-protected website. It is expected that a small number of selected papers that are tightly focused on the conference theme will be published in an edited collection following the conference.