Friday, 30 October 2009

Supreme Court And Common Carriers

In a very recent decision Ports of Auckland Limited v Southpac Trucks Limited (SC 18/2009 [2009] NZSC 112), the Supreme Court has clarified the effect of the Carriage of Goods Act 1979. In a very lucid decision, the court overturned the Court of Appeal and restored a High Court judgment, which had itself overturned a District Court judgment. Justice Blanchard began with some praise for the drafters of this legislation and of the work of the Report of the Contracts and Commercial Law Reform Committee which recommended the new statute. He effectively considered that the research and drafting of the statute was a model of law reform, at least in part because of the use of persons with considerable insurance and commercial experience. I interpose to suggest that this may well be in contrast to much recent law reform which appears to derive from academic theory rather than experience at the coalface. The judgment itself is a model of clarity, and emphasises the purposive approach to interpretation of this statute. There is little recitation of previous case law, at least in part because Justice Blanchard refers to there being little need to approach the courts for interpretation due to the quality of the legislation drafting. The court went directly to the issues, without the need to conduct a detailed analysis, recognising that as the legislation had been designed to make the law of carriage of goods functional for the affected parties, then they should hold that what the carriers and insurers intended should be upheld. Incidentally I notice that the costs in the Supreme Court were 25% of the amount at stake. Some insurer was determined to break through the established meaning of the legislation, but in the end, came second.

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