Title: Freedom of Contract and the Contract Institution

Speakers: Dr Ryan Catterwell

Time and date: 1-2pm, Thursday 27 May 2021

Where: Law School Board Room (W353), Level 3, Forgan Smith Building, The University of Queensland, St Lucia


This paper argues that the common law of contract can be understood in terms of synergy and balance between two conflicting principles, namely, the principle of freedom of contract and the idea that contract law is an institution through which relationships are regulated according to changing societal norms. The two principles work in synergy to provide justification for the law of contract, as a matter of theory. Synergy between party autonomy and institutionalism can also be seen in the development of key doctrines underpinning each principle. And the development of the common law of contract can be understood as a matter of balance between the two principles, with the balance shifting over time. The trend in recent developments is a move in favour of party autonomy. Whether this signals a further shift in that direction, or a reflexive move back towards the contract institution, remains to be seen.

About the speaker

Dr Ryan Catterwell is the author of a book titled "A Unified Approach to Contract Interpretation" published by Hart Publishing. He holds a PhD in contract interpretation from the University of Sydney. He is published on contract law in leading Australian and English journals.

Dr Catterwell's research interests include private law, commercial law, contract theory, legal interpretation, logic and law, and law and technology. In broad terms, his research seeks to explain the law by employing a blend of theoretical and empirical methods. Ryan also applies his doctrinal research in exploring the extent to which legal reasoning can be automated.

About Australian Centre for Private Law Events

The mission of the ​Australian Centre for Private Law is to foster the development and understanding of the private law through advanced theoretical, doctrinal, empirical and historical research, and the dissemination of that research through education and professional outreach. By supporting the work of its Fellows, the ACPL seeks to promote research in all areas of private law and to establish itself as a research centre of national and international importance. The core initiatives of ACPL are:

Research: To advance a deeper understanding of the structure, principles and policies of the private law through advanced theoretical, comparative, and empirical analysis.

Education: To promote, facilitate and disseminate the results of that research for the benefit of Australia’s social and economic fabric.

Professional Outreach: To engage the judiciary and members of the legal profession in discussion about the values, goals and methods of private law and the respective roles of the judiciary, the legal profession and the academy in the interpretation and reform of private law.

The ACPL embraces all branches of private law, including the law of contract, torts, trusts, equity, property, unjust enrichment, including theoretical and jurisprudential dimensions and contextual applications thereof.


Level 3, Forgan Smith Building, The University of Queensland, St Lucia
Law School Board Room (W353)