but excluding renvoi, whether of remission or transmission, that the courts of that country might themselves apply if the matter were litigated before them.” (emphasis added)
That comment was clearly an obiter dictum, since their Lordships held that the governing law in that case was English. Lords Roskill, Brandon of Oakbrook and Brightman agreed with Lord Diplock’s reasons for his ultimate conclusion. However, with characteristic thoughtfulness, Lord Wilberforce discussed how he considered an English Court would have approached the question if the proper law were that of Kuwait. He said151:
“There is nothing unusual in a situation where, under the proper law of a contract, resort is had to some other system of law for purposes of interpretation. In that case, that other system becomes a source of the law upon which the proper law may draw. Such is frequently the case where a given system of law has not yet developed rules and principles in relation to an activity which has become current, or where another system has from experience built up a coherent and tested structure - as, for example, in banking, insurance or admiralty law, or where countries exist with a common legal heritage such as the common law or the French legal system. In such a case, the proper law is not applying a “conflicts” rule (there may, in fact, be no foreign element in the case) but merely importing a foreign product for domestic use.”
Earlier, Jenkins, Romer and Willmer LJJ also expressed the view, in obiter dicta, that had it been necessary to decide the point, they would have been disposed to hold that the principle of renvoi found no place in the law of contract152. They observed that in consequence, while Cuban law was the governing law, that comprised only its “domestic” law and excluded its conflict of law rules. In expressing that view they relied on criticisms in Dicey’s Conflict of Laws153 and of Mr (JHC) Morris and Dr Cheshire in their article154 of the contrary view of Privy Council in Vita Food155. The Mr Morris, to whom the Lords Justices referred, became a distinguished editor of the 7th and later editions of Dicey. The article by him and Dr Cheshire was lauded by Lord Collins of Mapesbury in his Biographical Note to the 15thedition of Dicey, Morris & Collins on The Conflict of Laws156. In their article, Mr Morris and Dr Cheshire asserted that the Privy Council had completely failed to appreciate the purpose of the proper law in expressing its opinion in Vita Food157 and said: “The function of the proper law is to govern the essential validity and interpretation of the contract”158. They declaimed their Lordship’s use of the conflict of laws rules of the governing law saying that it was “novel and unsound”159. The current edition of Dicey, Morris & Collins adopted another commentator’s description of the Privy Council’s decision as a lapsus calami160.
However, it is important to remember what Gummow and Hayne JJ observed in Neilson161thatDr Morris and his successors as editors of Dicey had “exhibited a marked antipathy to renvoi”. The source of Lord Diplock’s assertion in Amin Rasheed162 is probably what was in the 10th edition of Dicey & Morris. Subsequently, Lord Collins, then Lawrence Collins J, in Mattos Junior v MacDaniels Ltd,163 discussed approvingly (and unsurprisingly given his position as general editor of the work) that Dicey & Morris advocated that in all but exceptional cases the theoretical and practical difficulties of applying renvoi outweighed any supposed advantages it might possess. He cited (in obiter dicta with approval) Millett J’s observation in MacMillan Inc v Bishopgate Investment Trust Plc (No 3)164 that the doctrine of renvoi had not been applied in contract or other commercial situations. Millett J said165:
“It has often been criticised, and it is probably right to describe it as largely discredited. It owes it origin to a laudable endeavour to ensure that like cases should be decided alike wherever they are decided, but it should now be recognised that this cannot be achieved by judicial mental gymnastics but only by international conventions.”
Another English text, Cheshire, North and Fawcett: Private International Law166 contains the criticism that “no sane businessman or his lawyers would choose the application of renvoi”. However, Professor Adrian Briggs gave a salutary answer to that criticism in his article “In Praise and Defence of Renvoi”167that:
“… whilst the unsupervised administration of a dose of renvoi might be capable of upsetting the sensible intentions of commercial men, principled use of the technique may be the only way of giving effect to them. Yet the present state of English law is that this is simply not possible.”
Prof Briggs was criticising an earlier version of the Rome I treaty and s 9(5) of the Private International Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1995 (UK) that substantively abolished renvoiin English law168.
The only Australian case involving the possible connection of renvoi to contract law is O’Driscoll v J Ray McDermott SA169. There, the Western Australian Court of Appeal, in considering a contract, the proper law of which was Singapore, referred to Neilson170 but, as Murray AJA noted171, there was no issue of renvoi raised.
So, the question is now open in Australia of whether the doctrine of renvoi will be treated as a matter of substance affecting the existence, extent and enforceability of foreign maritime liens and contracts172.