Modern contract law is marked by differentiation between types of contract. In the United Kingdom, housing contracts, employment contracts and particularly consumer contracts are now governed by specialist regimes. Many of the consumer measures derive from European Union legislation but UK consumer protection often goes further and the measures are expected to survive Brexit. We can expect more differentiation with further legislation to deal with new issues. The same is probably the case in almost all jurisdictions.
The general law of contract is thus effectively confined to contracts between businesses and between private individuals. But on many key issues the national laws of contract differ markedly, especially as between civil law countries and traditional common law jurisdictions such as England and Wales, Hong Kong and Singapore. Now that both digital products and services are being supplied on an international basis and now that small businesses and consumers make transnational contracts, the question arises whether we can expect further attempts to reduce the costs of transnational contracting, for example by more harmonisation measures; by the expansion or revision of the Vienna Convention on the International Sale of Goods or the adoption of other “optional instruments”; or by “soft law” principles encouraging a gradual convergence. In Europe convergence is happening, but only between “like-minded” systems; on the key issues the English common law remains quite different. This is because typically English law is dealing with high value contracts made by sophisticated players, often operating in volatile markets. These parties can be expected to look after their own interests. Other jurisdictions deal more with small businesses making low value contracts, when more protective rules are appropriate. Thus we can expect continued divergence. Jurisdictions thinking of modernising their law should consider what type of case their law will most often have to handle.