Unfair Terms in Contracts: the Maritime Perspective
Response of the British Maritime Law Association
The Law Commission’s Consultation
Paper No 166:
“Unfair Terms in Contracts”
The British Maritime Law Association (BMLA) was founded in 1908. Its purpose is and always has been to promote the study and the advancement of British maritime and mercantile law: to promote and consider with foreign and other maritime law associations proposals for the unification of maritime and mercantile law in the practice of different nations: to afford opportunities for members to discuss matters of national and international maritime law: to collect and circulate amongst its members information regarding maritime and mercantile law and to establish a collection of publications and documents of interest to members.
Membership consists of representatives from the following groups: shipowners, shippers, merchants, manufactures, insurers, insurance brokers, tug owners, shipbuilders, port and harbour authorities, bankers, classifications societies or other societies or bodies interested in the objects of the Association. The Association also has a number of individual members who may be employees of corporate or institute members or barristers or others without a corporate identity.
The Association has two principal functions. First, it acts as an adviser to U.K. Government bodies responsible for maritime legislation or regulation and secondly, it co-operates with its international parent body, the Comité Maritime International (CMI) , in research and drafting of international instruments for the harmonisation of maritime and mercantile law.
For further information about the BMLA, please see <http://www.bmla.org.uk/>.
The Law Commissions’ Consultation Paper No. 166 on unfair terms in contracts did not fall within the remit of any of the BMLA’s Standing Committees and so an ad hoc Sub-Committee on Unfair Contract Terms was established. Its membership was as follows:
Nicholas Gaskell, David Jackson Professor of
Maritime and Commercial Law, Institute of Maritime Law,
· Donald Chard, Senior Manager, Legal and Documentary, Chamber of Shipping
· Patrick Griggs, Secretary of BMLA, President of Comité Maritime International (CMI), former Senior Partner Ince & Co, London
Ian Hyslop, Legal Director, Through Transport
Mutual Services (
· Andrea Skeoch, solicitor, North Insurance Management Ltd (managers for North of England Protecting and Indemnity Association Ltd)
A working document, explaining the Law Commission’s
proposals and outlining some implications for the maritime industry, was
produced for the Sub-Committee by Professor Nick Gaskell and Darren Wall (
The BMLA welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Consultation Paper. It is anxious to avoid the possibility that the maritime implications of the proposals are only taken into account at a late stage in drafting the legislation, as apparently happened with the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 (UCTA) itself.
The task of the BMLA Sub-Committee was to assess the present proposals, to identify if there are any gaps which need to be covered, or any other implications of the new business-business proposals.
Although in the time available it was not possible to receive comments from every maritime interest, nor any specific comments in relation to Scots law, the Sub-Committee has tried to produce a response which represents a broad general view from the maritime sector. It would welcome the opportunity to comment further on any proposals in a subsequent Law Commission Report.
In a general sense it can be said that the existing contract legislation, namely the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 (UTCCR) and UCTA, can apply where there is a contract between a maritime business and an individual “consumer”. By contrast, most (but not all) maritime contracts between business are not covered. The BMLA notes that there is a distinction between (i) whether the legislation applies at all, and (ii) the effect of the legislation when it does apply.
There are various provisions in UCTA which may have the effect of excluding from the operation of the Act certain maritime contracts. These provisions include ss. 26-29 and, particularly, Schedule 1, paragraphs (1)-(3) (relevant extracts of which are set out below).
(a) any contract of insurance…;
2. Section 2(1) extends to--
(a) any contract of marine salvage or towage;
(b) any charterparty of a ship or hovercraft; and
(c) any contract for the carriage of goods by ship or hovercraft;
but subject to this sections 2 to 4 and 7 do not extend to any such contract except in favour of a person dealing as consumer.
3. Where goods are carried by ship or hovercraft in pursuance of a contract which either--
(a) specifies that as the means of carriage over part of the journey to be covered, or
(b) makes no provision as to the means of carriage and does not exclude that means,
then sections 2(2), 3 and 4 do not, except in favour of a person dealing as consumer, extend to the contract as it operates for and in relation to the carriage of the goods by that means.
These categories of contract excluded by ss. 26-29 and Schedule 1 from the operation of UCTA will be referred to in this response as “maritime operative exclusions”, in order to avoid terminological confusion about ‘excluding maritime exclusions’. The definitions used in these “maritime operative exclusions” have not given rise to any great concern within the industry and, although they are not entirely free from doubt, the BMLA welcomes paragraphs 5.65 and 5.66 of the Law Commission’s Consultation Paper which recommends the maintenance (inter alia) of these “maritime operative exclusions”.
Accordingly, the BMLA agrees with paragraph 5.66 of the Consultation Paper and strongly recommends that the “maritime operative exclusions” in UCTA should be maintained.
As these views coincide with the Law Commission’s own proposals, the BMLA does not propose to set out detailed arguments in favour of maintaining the current position; moreover, it is not aware of any significant criticisms. The general defence of freedom in commercial contracts is set out in Section 5, below. In summary, however, it can be said that the maritime industry is highly competitive, that clauses operate to allocate risks as part of the price, that certainty of interpretation is regarded as being of crucial importance, that standard contracts are often created after international negotiation and that the market is content with the use of standard terms. Where there have been concerns about unlimited freedom of contract, these have been settled internationally (e.g. through the Hague Rules 1924 and Hague-Visby Rules 1968) and the market would generally prefer that international solutions be sought. Indeed, in the case of towage contracts, the market has itself produced a range of forms (see e.g. the work of BIMCO in producing ocean towage contracts such as Towcon and Towhire) which offer choice or balance where the parties want it. The BMLA is aware that a status quo recommendation may be stigmatised as conservative, but is of the view that contractual change and uncertainty often results in legal costs.
The BMLA notes that paragraphs 5.70 and 5.72 of the
Consultation Paper invite comments on the retention of ss. 26-27 of UCTA,
concerning international supply contracts and choice of law clauses. Section 27
is of vital significance to the maritime sector and any change to it could have
significant effects on the choice of
UCTA (and the new proposals) could apply to a variety of maritime contracts not covered by the “maritime operative exclusions” (e.g. for shiprepair, wreck removal and terminal operations). The application of the legislation to these contracts has apparently given rise to few reported cases in practice. However, it should be borne in mind that UCTA currently only regulates exemption and limitation clauses, while the new proposals may follow consumer law by (broadly) requiring all terms to comply with fairness requirements. While the maritime industries may have viewed the limited operation of UCTA with some equanimity, they are rather more concerned at the range of terms which might be covered.
The BMLA Sub-Committee has considered a wide range of maritime contracts in order to assess whether the specific expressions used in the current “maritime operative exclusions” will be appropriate to the future. The definitional question will be of significantly greater importance if the Law Commission continues to recommend an extension of the range of terms which may be challenged. This is because a much larger range of terms could then fall for regulation (in those contracts to which the legislation is applied).
These definitional concerns of the industry are met in two ways in this response.
First, in a number of areas the BMLA recommends that clarification of the “maritime operative exclusions” be sought.
Secondly, the BMLA recommends that some flexibility be granted to the Secretary of State in relation to the content of the “maritime operative exclusions”.
The existing legislation protects consumers to the extent that the “maritime operative exclusions” are specifically restricted. Thus, towage contracts made between a business and a consumer are within the scope of UCTA, as the “maritime operative exclusions” in Schedule 1 are expressed not to apply to consumer-business contracts. The maritime industry accepts that some standard terms suitable for businesses might not be appropriate for consumers and supports the retention of legislative protection for consumers. That is, it would not urge or support the extension of the “maritime operative exclusions” to consumer cases.
The BMLA notes that there is apparently no intention to
re-enact s.28 of UCTA on the basis that its contents, being of an interim
nature, have been overtaken by the entry into force of the Athens Convention
1974 for the
The BMLA does not object to the proposals clarifying the position of consumers. Where consumers are already protected to some extent, it is difficult to see why they should have a lower protection in future. Thus, the BMLA agrees that the Directive concept of “reflecting” a Convention is unclear and difficult to apply and supports the proposals to clarify the position in paragraph 4.70.
However, the BMLA supports what it takes to be criticism of R & B v. UDT  1 WLR 321 in paragraphs 5.9-5.12 of the Consultation Paper. It is entirely inappropriate for a business to be treated as if it were a consumer with the result that certain terms are automatically ineffective. Moreover, the test set out in that case is unrealistic and difficult to apply. The BMLA therefore supports paragraph 5.12 of the Consultation Paper.
The R & B v. UDT issue raises the question of the appropriate treatment of business-business contracts generally.
The BMLA notes with great concern
the proposal in paragraph 5.25 to extend the types of unfair terms that may be
subject to challenge, at
least in so far as the extension relates to maritime contracts. In this area of
commerce, parties often negotiate on the basis of standard
form contracts which are available on the market and in respect of which legal
advice and insurance is widely available and taken. In maritime
contracts legal certainty has been prized by commercial parties, both by those
As Lord Steyn recently stated in The Starsin  UKHL 12 ,
“Legal policy favours the furtherance of international trade. Commercial men must be given the utmost liberty of contracting. They must be left free to decide on the allocate [sic] commercial risks.”
Although the BMLA has noted that most maritime contracts would not be affected by the proposed changes, as a result of the existence of the “maritime operative exclusions”, it has also noted that the maritime industry’s relatively neutral view of UCTA is also conditioned by the fact that UCTA applies only to exclusion and limitation clauses. These are often self-contained provisions whose scope is easily identifiable and subject to negotiations. If the scope of the legislation is radically extended in the way envisaged by the Law Commission, that legislation will have a much greater effect on those maritime contracts which are not presently within the “maritime operative exclusions”. Examples of activities which could be much more greatly affected than at present would include shiprepair, shipbuilding, container terminal operations and the whole range of maritime services (including Ship’s Agency, Shipbroking, Stevedoring, Surveying, Classification Societies, Bunker Supply).
Although many maritime contracts are presently unaffected by the legislation as a result of the “maritime operative exclusions”, the possibility that new legislation would extend to a whole range of terms (not simply exclusions and limitations) will inevitably mean that much greater attention will have to be paid to the precise definitions in those “maritime operative exclusions” and also to the interpretation of ss. 26-29, which themselves are not entirely clear in their application. It follows that the proposed change is not neutral so far as maritime contracts are concerned.
The more that clearly drafted
provisions are open to challenge, the more possibility there is of increased
legal costs. Moreover, ironically, the prospect of challenge in an area where
English freedom of contract has been prized, could well result in a reduction
in selection of the
It follows that the BMLA strongly opposes the extension of the terms covered by the legislation proposed in paragraph 5.25 of the Consultation Paper.
The BMLA Sub-Committee undertook to identify the broad range of contracts which its members may undertake, to see which are presently excluded from the operation of the legislation by the “maritime operative exclusions”, to assess whether there are any ambiguities in those “maritime operative exclusions” and to identify contracts which ought to be added to that list.
In addition, it considered whether those contracts currently outside the “maritime operative exclusions” would face significant adverse effects by the limitation of freedom of contract as a result of the expansion of coverage of protection beyond exclusion clauses.
The BMLA Sub-Committee considered a wide range of maritime contracts. It was not considered necessary in this response to discuss all those which were considered. In all the responses which follow in this Section, the BMLA emphasises (for the reasons given in Sections 3 and 5, above), how it may be important to pay more attention to the precise wording of the “maritime operative exclusions”.
The BMLA recognises that it is always possible to identify ambiguities. In most cases, an appropriate response to them is that their elucidation will merely be a matter for the courts. In other cases, legislative change or clarification may be appropriate. Some of the drafting suggestions may have reduced significance if the proposal in paragraph 5.25 is not accepted.
The “maritime operative exclusion” refers to contracts of “marine salvage”. The concept of salvage has undergone some changes as a result of the 1989 Salvage Convention. The Convention is incorporated in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 Schedule 11. In particular, the Convention created a variety of new liabilities including those under Art. 14 for special compensation for preserving the environment. Article 6 also allowed wide freedom of contract as a special incentive to salvors. Article 7 sets out an internal regulatory code for salvage contracts.
As a result of the new concepts introduced, there is some doubt about the precise meaning to be attributed to the word “salvage” (e.g. in UCTA). It is to be noted that the Supreme Court Act 1981 s.20(2)(j) was amended to take account of this. Similarly, the Arrest Convention 1999 Art. 1(1)(c) amended the definition of salvage in the Arrest Convention 1952 to include “salvage operations” as defined by the 1989 Salvage Convention, and “special compensation”.
Standard salvage contracts such as the LOF 2000 do not contain much that would ordinarily be subject to UCTA (e.g. exclusions or limitations), but the possibility that some other clauses might in future be covered means that the precise definition of “salvage” may need to be reconsidered. Although the courts might be expected to avoid fine distinctions this cannot be guaranteed. This possibility may be important in the context of the LOF 2000 and the SCOPIC agreement where uncertainty is particularly unwelcome.
The BMLA supports the proposal to continue the salvage “maritime operative exclusion”. The BMLA considers that it may be necessary to amend this “maritime operative exclusion” to take account of developments since the 1989 Salvage Convention, e.g. to refer more generally to “salvage operations”.
The BMLA notes that there might
be some uncertainty in connection with wreck cases. The recovery of valuable
sunken artefacts is generally considered as salvage in English law and the
“maritime operative exclusion” would probably apply to contracts to undertake
such work. Some reconsideration might be needed if the
A further issue is the extent to
which salvage related contracts should also fall within the “maritime operative
exclusion”. In commercial terms it is difficult to see why the international
wreck removal contracts developed by BIMCO since 1977, such as Wreckcon and
not be treated in the same way as salvage and towage contracts which are within
the “maritime operative exclusion”. In form and substance they are very similar
to Towcon and Towhire, which are “contracts of marine towage”. The only
distinction may be that in
The BMLA proposes that consideration be given to adding “wreck removal contracts” to the list of “maritime operative exclusions”.
Towage is one form of maritime service contract where traditionally wide exemptions have been used. Modern “towage” contracts, however, cover a variety of services provided by tugs, including standing by and escorting. In practice, it may be difficult to distinguish these services. The BMLA takes the view that when towage services also involve other related services, the “maritime operative exclusion” applies, but the position is not entirely clear. There is a potential definitional problem which may need to be clarified by wording to cover contracts which involve towage and related services.
Supply ship contracts often involve tugs or craft capable of towage. Most of these contracts would presumably be considered as falling within the charterparty “maritime operative exclusion”. It follows that supply ship contracts (e.g. Supplytime) which incorporate towing provisions would be covered by the “maritime operative exclusion” and no clarification is needed. But, as with wreck removal contracts, if supply ship contracts are not covered, it is difficult to see why not.
The BMLA supports the proposal to continue the general towage “maritime operative exclusion”. The BMLA considers that some consideration be given to clarifying the position of towage related services and supply ship contracts. It may well be that commentary in a subsequent Law Commission Report will provide sufficient clarification without the need for legislative amendment.
The BMLA supports the proposal to continue the general “maritime operative exclusion” for charterparties and contracts for the carriage of goods in a ship.
Although there is no single definition of charterparty in English law, this question is more appropriately left to the courts rather than attempting any definition.
The BMLA assumes that typical long-term Contracts of Affreightment (COAs) are covered, either as charterparties or as “any contract for the carriage of goods in a ship”. Again, some commentary in a subsequent Law Commission Report will probably suffice to remove any doubt. Alternatively, reference could additionally be made to the categories in the Supreme Court Act 1981 s.20(2)(h), e.g. “contracts for the use or hire of a ship, including [any charterparty].” On balance, the BMLA does not consider that any change is necessary to the definition in Schedule 1 paragraph 2(b).
The expression “contract for the carriage of goods in a ship” is not without definitional problems, but the view of the BMLA is that few problems have arisen so far in practice and that it is probably not worth tinkering with a definition that can sensibly be applied by the courts. Moreover, wider issues of reform of carriage of goods by sea law are under the consideration of UNCITRAL which is working on a draft Instrument, originally prepared by the CMI.
Once again, the definitional issue is probably of greater significance if the proposal in paragraph 5.25 is followed.
Many international contracts for
building new ships, or for the ship sale and purchase of second hand ships, will
fall within s. 27 of UCTA, although it is not clear that this provision would
always apply to a
In so far as shipbuilding and ship sale and purchase contracts are already outside the legislation, the BMLA supports the proposal to continue their exclusion from the operation of the legislation.
However, the BMLA considers that it is difficult to see why international shipbuilding and ship sale and purchase contracts should not be treated in the same way as other maritime contracts and thereby be added to the list of “maritime operative exclusions”, so as to fall completely outside the legislation. Although it has not been possible to consult the specific industry sector, the BMLA provisionally recommends that consideration be given to adding commercial shipbuilding and ship sale contracts (at least those with an international element) to the list of “maritime operative exclusions”.
As in the case of international shipbuilding, and ship sale and purchase, contracts, above, the BMLA considers that it is difficult to see why shiprepair contracts should not be treated in the same way as other maritime contracts and be added to the list of “maritime operative exclusions”, so as to fall outside the legislation. BIMCO is currently drafting international standard form shiprepair terms (in the same way it has done for towage and wreck contracts).
The BMLA provisionally recommends that consideration be given to adding shiprepair contracts (at least those with an international element) to the list of “maritime operative exclusions”.
The BMLA notes that employment contracts are generally outside UCTA and UTCCR, but that the Law Commissions are considering whether they should be covered by the new legislation.
Maritime employment contracts may in part be subject to
special provisions such as the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. The market for
seafarers is very competitive and any provision which makes the
The BMLA therefore recommends that contracts of employment should not be made subject to any new regime.
It is difficult to predict the range and scope of maritime contracts in a developing commercial world and there is a possibility that contracts within the broad maritime range are held technically not to fall under one of the existing heads of the “maritime operative exclusions”. An example of an unforeseen difficulty is over the definition of “charterparty”. In The Tychy  2 Lloyd's Rep. 11, the Court of Appeal sensibly characterised a slot charter as a charterparty for the purposes of arrest, but experience with the list of maritime claims in the Arrest Convention 1952 shows that there can be inconsistencies in interpretation.
In order to avoid such inconsistencies, the BMLA recommends that a power be granted to the Secretary of State to clarify or extend the relevant “maritime operative exclusions” if it appears from experience that there are doubts about whether contracts within the broad maritime categories fall within one of the “maritime operative exclusions”. While it is aware of a general legislative reluctance to include such clauses, the BMLA considers that in such a technical area of law there is no real danger in retaining some flexibility. For the avoidance of doubt, the BMLA would not support the removal of any “maritime operative exclusions”.
Professor Nicholas Gaskell
British Maritime Law Association Sub-Committee on Unfair Contract Terms
Members of Sub-Committee
 See generally, Gaskell, Asariotis, Baatz, Bills of Lading: Law and Contracts (2000), paragraph 1.22.
 E.g. whether a particular term is automatically void or must pass a test involving reasonableness or fairness.
 See Bills of Lading: Law and Contracts paragraphs 1.22-1.25; 8.30-8.31; 8.69.
 See Section 5, below.
 See Section 6, below.
 See Section 7, below.
 In particular, Mr. John Wren, of Shipping Policy.
 See Bills of Lading: Law and Contracts paragraph 1.24.
 See paragraph 5.5 of the Consultation Paper for examples.
 See also Lord Diplock’s statement as to certainty and the role of the courts in commercial contracts, in Federal Commerce & Navigation v. Tradax  AC 1, at p.8, paragraphs F-H. This passage contrasts with his view of adhesion contracts cited by the Law Commission in paragraph 2.6 of the Consultation Paper.
 And see Section 3, above and Section 6, below.
 As set out in paragraph 5.22 of the Consultation Paper.
 It has already been recommended that the list should not be narrowed, see Section 2, above.
 See paragraphs 5.5 and 5.25 of the Consultation Paper.
 Thus, it is content that all relevant marine insurance contracts, including hull and machinery, cargo and P & I cover (including FD&D), should fall within the operative exclusion in Schedule 1 paragraph 1(a): in any event , marine insurance contracts are widely identified in the Schedules to the Insurance Companies Act 1982.
 Cf. The Tesaba  1 Lloyd's Rep. 397.
 See http://www.bimco.dk/.
 See the
 Cf. The
 A potential overlap between s. 26 of UCTA and Schedule 1 paragraph 2(c) could well be clarified: see Bills of Lading: Law and Contracts paragraph 1.22. On combined transport bills see Bills of Lading: Law and Contracts paragraphs 8.30-8.31.
 See The Zinnia  2 Lloyd's Rep. 211.
 Doubts might arise when repairs and maintenance involve the sale and supply and fitting of new parts and, for instance, the contract falls within s. 26(4)(b).
 Law Commissions’ Consultation Paper, paragraph 4.80-4.81.